Yesterday I decided to make some granola bars. I’m noticing as I get older that a lot of processed foods just don’t taste as good (never mind all the other implications). I’d eaten a garden-variety chewy granola bar and thought “Blech!” It tasted like cardboard. So I made some maple/brown sugar ones, and yes, they are much tastier. But I sat their after nearly breaking my arm getting them out of the pan (gotta get some parchment paper) thinking about if I really was doing anything worthwhile making them. A box of Quaker granola bars will put me out maybe $2.00. I probably spent $10 total on this batch of bars, with all the various ingredients. And I wasn’t using Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Oats either…I used Food Lion oats, Great Value (fake) maple syrup, etc. So I wasn’t choosing more environmentally friendly options. Time-wise it took over an hour to prepare and bake them. At the end, I have a big bag of undoubtedly yummier and mostly healthier granola bars that were more expensive, time-consuming and not really having less of an impact on the environment. I wasn’t sure if it was worth it.
Then this morning I read Rage Against the Minivan’s blog on the human cost of Halloween chocolate. It was pretty eye opening and disturbing to think that we so casually consume chocolate that comes at the hands of child labor. Kids who should be in school are instead harvesting cocoa so that we can have our Reeses. We Americans don’t like giving up stuff, and we certainly don’t like being reminded of the human cost behind a lot of our supposed “needs”. The blog’s author said she received more hate mail about her chocolate post than any other post she’s written. That makes me concerned for humanity, honestly. When we put something as trivial as candy over the lives of vulnerable kids and cloak it in terms of “our rights”. Hershey and Nestle obviously have their own spin on why they continue to use chocolate that is so tainted, but the bottom line is that they are doing the good, capitalist thing and trying to make money. Period. And they don’t really give a rip about how that occurs. Pretty much every industry in America (and around the world) is doing the same thing. They don’t care who, what, or how…they just want to see that profit increase.
It’s hard to know what to do when it seems like everything we buy, use, need or want is tainted with some cost to humans, animals, the environment. Especially with the internet age, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that much of what we enjoy in America comes at a very high cost to all these things. Even if you don’t care particularly about the environment or the humane treatment of animals, it’s hard to believe that we are so callous about the lives of other humans, particularly other children, when it comes to our consumer choices, but the bottom line is…those “kids in Africa” or “kids in Asia” who are forced into child labor just aren’t real to us and if we’re being honest, we really don’t care about them. We don’t. Because if we did, more people would actually do something about it. I would do something about it. I care…sometimes. But if I’m being honest with myself I am totally selfish and self-absorbed and my own life matters more to me on a daily basis than other people/animals/the earth.
Recently our church put out those Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. We used to do those all the time…until someone pointed out to me that we’re pretty much buying and shipping off to these poor kids the same crap that they or their parents are making for pennies in some godawful factory overseas.
Really, it all makes you just want to crawl into a hole and just die because the cost of living your life seems almost impossible to bear. Well, it makes me want to do that. I know there are plenty of people who don’t give it a second thought. And most days I’m too caught up in my own life to give it much more than a second (or third, or hundredth) thought.
So what to DO??? I have no idea. I don’t live close enough to a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods to make shopping there a reasonable event. And what about those people who are living paycheck to paycheck? Who have to buy cheap food to feed their families and kids and have no other choice? That isn’t us…but we’re also not in the position to be always spending $10 on granola bars. The car needs fixed or ballet costumes need paid for or the deck needs replacing…there aren’t a lot of us who can just be careless with our spending. I think about people who are shelling out multiple thousands of dollars for their kids’ private schools and I want to judge them (I DO judge them, let’s be honest) and I want to make them be the ones to do something about this because they seem to be able to just toss money around so carelessly…but there are people who are much less fortunate than we are and likely think WE toss our money around carelessly. Ack. How do we navigate these sticky, icky waters?
I have to remind myself to take things one thing at a time. To not feel like I have to solve every problem in a day, a week, even in my life. But, like Gandalf says in The Hobbit:
Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. (Gandalf, “The Hobbit”)
I am definitely ordinary folk. I do not have great power. But I can do small every day things to “keep the darkness at bay.” And that includes trying, even in small ways, to make life better for those vulnerable children and families in America and across the world.
So this week…I will return the candy I bought for Halloween and choose to just not give any out this year. I will try to make more thoughtful choices next year. I will sit down the kids and Bill and show them the video about child labor on cocoa plantations. I will try to avoid buying Hershey and Nestle (and I can’t imagine store brands are any better…) chocolate products (which will be difficult because I make a lot of cookies that involve chocolate chips, etc.). I will not always be successful. But I will try.
I will not participate in Operation Christmas Child. Ever again. I will instead find Christmas programs like World Vision that provides real, tangible things like chickens and blankets and medicine for people in need.
I will continue to try and make homemade, healthy things for my family and keep trying to make better purchasing choices.
I will keep listening and making myself aware of situations in America and around the world so that I’m not ignorant to the needs of others.
It may be just a little light, but hopefully it’s something. And if we all put our little lights together maybe we can keep that darkness at bay.
So here’s a story that’s going to make you think I’m a little…off. If you think that already, well it will just confirm your suspicions.
As a child I was unusually sensitive to certain things. Like I wouldn’t jump on my bed because I didn’t want to “hurt it’s feelings.” I was very protective of my stuffed animals…I taught them a fire escape plan for when my family was gone, so they could get themselves out in the event of a fire. Did you read that? I lined all my stuffed animals up on the floor and taught them how to open my window, jump out, and get far enough away from the house to be safe. When I received a new stuffed animal, I again, lined everybody up, introduced Mr. New Guy, and explained that, since he was new, I might be spending a bit more time with Mr. New Guy, but that didn’t mean I didn’t love the rest of them. I cried when I saw “dead” (my term) stuffed animals abandoned by the trash cans, sitting soggy and sad in the rain. I used my quarters to buy unwanted stuffed animals at yard sales. My most unusual acquisition however, was an incredibly ugly cat (I know it was a cat because it said CAT in big white letters surrounded by a red heart on its belly) that I bought at the Deerfield fair because I knew it was so butt-ugly that no one else in their right mind would buy it.
*a caveat though…sensitivity to inanimate objects did not mean I was a super sweet, kind person. My sister and I fought–viciously and often. I most definitely used the “r” word (didn’t everyone in the 70’s and 80’s? I swear the teachers did too) to describe those in special ed. I took part in tossing carpet fuzz down a kid named Eddie’s plumbers crack during story time in 1st grade. I got 3 days of detention for sending April McCauley an “anonymous” note in pink hi-liter that said “Go F- Yourself April!” in 6th grade. (hint: if you want something to be anonymous, don’t hand the note to the person’s best friend yourself. Or maybe LIE to the Principal when he asks if you wrote it, instead of bursting into tears.) Lots of proud moments in there.
Anyway, so I introduce my odd sensitivities to lead into one that is even more bizarre…it’s kind of easy to see how someone could get attached to stuffed animals. Cute, fuzzy. Right? But no, I also was particularly attuned to the distressing abuse of…
I would cry at birthday parties when we played those “stomp on as many balloons as you can!” games. The noise of a balloon popping sent me through the roof. I was afraid of it, yes, but it also made me feel inordinately sad. I refused to participate. But wait. There’s something even stranger still.
After one of these balloon massacres, I would go around and collect all the pieces of the “dead” balloons. And I would keep them. In a pink checkered fabric box I’d made in 4-H.
I had a collection of dead balloons in a balloon coffin.
If you’re not saying “W.T.F.” by now then perhaps you need to see someone.
Fast forward to today, and I work at the Maryland Science Center. A fun, hands-on science museum. Every day around noon we do something called our “Shock of the Day!” It often involves fire. And explosions.
Balloons filled with the explosive gas hydrogen.
I confess that even as a 41 year old woman I cannot blow up a balloon. I can not tie off a balloon. I am still totally freaked out by the possibility of balloons popping. And yet I am now paid to sometimes, am required to sometimes participate in an activity where you must a) fill balloons with an explosive gas. And maybe some cool powder that will turn green or sparkle. b) tie off said balloons. c) Explode those balloons with something called a Boom Stick–which is basically a candle attached to a broom handle with duct tape.
Can you say “My Worst Nightmare”????
At least today I got to do something totally mild which oh, only involved liquid nitrogen shooting a plastic bucket 50 feet in the air but thank God there were no balloons!
And no…since I know you’re wondering…I do not still have my balloon coffin. Or the current equivalent of a balloon coffin.
But perhaps I should start…I know where to find a lot of exploded balloons…