My dear friend Erica suggested I read Everyday Justice by Julie Clawson, and since I value her opinion, I gladly picked it up. I started reading it on an afternoon when my three kids were being cared for by their grandparents, and I had some alone-time. I got a piece of cake from a tasty bakery and sat down with my dessert and a good cup of coffee.
Not long into the book, I could hardly enjoy one more bite of my cake nor sip my coffee without thinking about the impact my actions were having on the world at large. It kinda felt like I was eating cardboard rather than decadent three-layer chocolate bliss. And my coffee tasted like brewed guilt diluted with half and half of ignorance, rather than the nicest java.
Julie Clawson is kind enough to remind us all through the first chapter of her book, “Don’t panic” which I appreciated even as my snack cemented in my throat. She calmly and matter-of-factly details how many of the choices we make in our everyday lives have significant impact on the world at large. And I mean significant. We’re talking about slave labor, strip mining, long-term repercussions significant. But she also describes how difficult it can be to find alternatives that are mindful of both the environment and the workforce that is employed to deliver certain goods to local stores (one example Clawson used was trying to find a bra that was made with organic cotton AND produced using Fair Trade standards — much more difficult than she thought it would be).
I had to return the book to my pal, but some of the chapters that I remember include: cocoa, coffee, gasoline, debt, clothing and food, and there were probably at least six more chapters. Each of these included practical steps a regular person could take to change the kind of impact she makes.
Even though she told me not to panic, it was overwhelming to even consider reading the entire book through in one sitting. I read it bit by bit. There were way too many things that I should do but would mean a financial investment or complete change of routine, which, as the mother of three kids six and under, I just didn’t feel up to doing. Yes, I am that lazy. So I picked ONE thing to change, and I’ve done it, and it’s an everyday sort of thing.
A luxury that I enjoy is coffee. I’ve stopped buying it at coffee shops very often (is anyone else experiencing sticker shock at paying $4 for a medium latte??), and mostly brew it at home now. Because of this, I know about coffee, I like coffee, and I now like to drink it knowing that my financial investment in a specific company is not rewarding the inhumane or unethical treatment of the people doing the dirty work of producing it for me. Because of Everyday Justice, I’ve started buying Fair Trade coffee whenever I can, sometimes holding off on buying coffee if the store doesn’t offer Fair Trade, and from local companies if I can find it. One that has been pretty easy to find is City Kid Java http://www.citykidjava.com/, a company based in Minneapolis and an offshoot of Urban Ventures. If you haven’t heard about Urban Ventures, it is an amazing non-profit that has committed to breaking the cycle of poverty in their Twin Cities community. http://www.urbanventures.org/ I’ve since discovered that my church has started brewing City Kid Java too! Aside from that specific brand, I was also able to find Fair Trade coffee at Costco, Cub and Byerly’s, and it’s never been über expensive compared to the other brands.
It may not seem like an important change, but if you knew how much coffee I drink, you might realize that it is a bigger impact than you thought. And it was easy to do – it really only involved taking a step to the next two feet of the coffee shelf at the store, in addition to becoming aware of the issues that surround coffee production. Thank you, thank you. Okay, please hold your applause. Settle down now. Really though, I’m such a pathetic, typical American (not at all like you, Gentle Reader); I’m all for making a difference, especially if the work necessary to make that happen is only lifting my arm to the left rather than to the right. Whew! Tough stuff.
This book is one that you can pick up, read a chapter, then go around thinking about that chapter for weeks, or even longer. You don’t need to chuck your old life and implement all the suggestions she makes, but I would bet that if you read Everyday Justice you won’t be able to go away from it without at least wanting to do something different in your everyday decisions. In a way, it is a big pat on the back, because the book acknowledges the significance of the individual and the ability to make a difference in the lives of others just by buying gas from a different station or trying out the local Salvation Army store for certain items (note: once you start looking at thrift shops for things you need or want, it might become an addicting challenge). In any case, it is good to know some of backstory about the items we use everyday, and if nothing else, this book is informative and you’ll go away more knowledgable than you started off, which, in my opinion, Dear Reader, is nearly always a good thing. I highly recommend Julia Clawson’s Everyday Justice and I’d love to hear your reactions if you get a chance to read it.
If you want to check her out, here is an interview she did and I think it is pretty current.