Consumption, the driver of capitalism


A friend of mine recently diverted my attention to an article that was written about things that were invented just to make people buy things. The article entitled “5 Beloved Traditions Invented to Make You Buy Stuff” written in the Mental_Floss blog. It was reading it with a sideways interest until I got to #3: Diamond Engagement Rings. As many of my personal friends know, I am not a big fan of the institution of marriage and I’m even less of a fan of weddings. However, this article almost put me over the edge when I read:

In addition to diamond engagement rings, De Beers also promoted surprise proposals. The company learned that when women were involved in the selection process, they picked cheaper rings. By encouraging surprise proposals, De Beers shifted the purchasing power to men, the less-cautious spenders.

Wow. Brutal. Seriously, I have no words for what I think of this. I already have not been a fan of DeBeers and their “A Diamond is Forever” bullshit, but to know that they use people like this is just over-the-top wrong. One has to wonder why stuff like this is not reported on in our mainstream media? I have my suspicions, but I’ll just keep those to myself. I had better cool off before I get myself  in trouble on my own blog.

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Coffee: my analysis of our caffeinated society

When I was in high school, my relationship with coffee was used as a way of filling my time. “Let’s go for coffee” sounded so grown-up and helped pass the time as a teenager when time was to be wasted. When I was a child, I loved the taste of coffee, but my mom wouldn’t let us have coffee. “It will stunt your growth!” she would say. Grandma used to let me sneek a cup here and there. At 4’11”, a lot of good not drinking coffee did me!

As a university student, I just didn’t bother to drink coffee. This was before Tim Hortons had taken over the campus and I really couldn’t be bothered to drink it. After all, I was a natural morning person – I didn’t need it! As my peers becamse caffeine-addicted, I avoided the whole situation. It seemed unnecessary for me and an extra cost, which student loans didn’t cover and I definitely didn’t need it. Also, it took more time to make it and my time was as precious then as it is now.

One day a friend of mine showed up to an event on campus and I was shocked. She looked like crap! I asked her what was wrong and she told me that she was doing a cleanse of some sort and was in caffeine withdrawl. I had no idea such a thing existed! Sure enough, it did. So when my mom called me a couple of years after that and was telling me about how she had developed a terrible headache since she had started a cleanse that she was doing. I asked her if she had cut out coffee and she said that she had. I told her she was in withdrawl. Yes, this is what addicition feels like – headaches, shakiness, inability to concentrate, nausea, and more. As a health-conscious person, I knew that I never wanted to start something that could make me feel that crummy!

Now that I work as a “professional,” I notice that everyone around me drinks coffee. I am generally a person that doesn’t go along with things just to make my life easier, but the pressure that I feel to drink coffee is heavier than ever before and my absense from it all makes me even more of an outcast. After all,”81% of Canadians drink coffee occasionally and over 63% of Canadians over the age of 18 drink coffee on a daily basis making coffee the #1 beverage choice of adult Canadians.” At best, I am in the 27% minority of adult Canadians, but am actually in the 19% of Canadians that never drink coffee.

My reasons for not drinking coffee are really quite simple: caffeine makes me kind of crazy. I remember going out with a friend and drinking coffee at a shop… by the end of our time there, I wasn’t making sense, I couldn’t keep track of what I was saying, and I was generally jabbering on about nothing. Afterward, I could hardly remember the conversation. It was worse than having a few beer at the local pub! It was that moment that I made a concerted effort to avoid caffeine, mostly in the form of coffee.

It was at this point in my life that I had also accumulated a political edge. Thanks to organizations like Oxfam, I learned about the terrible coffee industry that had taken over the greedy Western world. According to Oxfam, often less than 10% of what consumers pay for a cup of java actually reaches the farmer who grows the beans. Granted, this isn’t a lot less than the Saskatchewan grain farmer that grows wheat for bread. However, there are about 15 million small farmers that must sell their crops to mid-level traders for a tiny price. Is it a coincidence that the biggest coffee producing countries are also the poorest? Brazil, Colombia, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Guatemala, Mexico, Ethiopia, Uganada, and the Ivory Coast make up the top 10 coffee-producing countries. Big companies like Kraft, Procter and Gamble, and Nestle control over 60% of the total green coffee bean volume, accoridng to Responsible Shopper.

Coffee is a “cash crop” for these countries and farmers. A lot of the people who farm the coffee crops don’t actually own their land, which raises another issue of supporting that undemocratic system. The owners and farmers of the land are encouraged to grow coffee instead of food crops, thus increasing their income, but not feeding their families or the people of their country. Cash crops are dependent on market prices, which are always volatile. The coffee market is dependent on the farmers working for an unsustainable wage by growing an unsustainable crop. Even when Fair Trade coffee is available, I still cannot justify supporting an industry and “encourages” farmers to grow a cash crop as opposed to a food crop.

In addition to the “politics” of coffee, heavy caffeine use has been shown to have detrimental effects on the physical and psychological health of people. I mean, can anything that can cause withdrawal symptoms similar to hard drugs be good for you? There are many studies about how caffeine is not good for people. Not to mention how drinking coffee generally means that you consume less of other good-for-you beverages like water or juice. Our society, however, does not promote a healthy lifestyle. The fast-paced nature of our society and urbanization has increased sleep deprivation. From my observation, needing a “perk-up” in the morning and again in the afternoon is a big reason why people drink coffee – habit and socialization are probably not far behind. However, with 74% of Americans not getting enough sleep each night, it’s no wonder people need coffee to function in this pressure-filled society!

I try very hard not to judge people for drinking their cups of coffee everyday, but I have a hard time with the pressure that goes along with it. I have to admit that I tend not to talk about it at all, unless probed as to “why [I] don’t drink coffee.” In all honesty, nothing wakes me up better than a brisk walk or a swim in the pool or a run. It has never been more clear to me as it is now that I am in the minority as a non-coffee-drinker. I always think about what I put in my body, to the point of borderline obsessive, and am very concerned for my health on a daily basis. As a pro-active person, I  actually do what is best for me [most of the time], that I know of, and try to reduce my unhealthy behaviors. And while I “never say never” anymore, I won’t lie and say that I will “never” drink coffee, but I am pretty certain that I won’t be consuming it on a daily or even semi-regular basis. There are a lot better ways to wake up in the morning,  starting with getting enough sleep the night before and regular daily exercise!

Election Day is Here!

Today is the day – the day of “truth.” I know who I am voting for and I hope that many other people actually get to the polls. When I hear that people don’t want to vote, I am saddened and then angered. People fought long and hard to get us the vote, especially women. While our political system is not perfect and there aren’t a lot of  candidates that represent our personal viewpoints, it is imperative that we get out there and find the one that represents us the best of our options. And maybe one day, we will all have our viewpoints heard!

I have the pleasure of working as an “outside scrutineer” to help count the votes for Nettie Wiebe in the Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar riding.

GO NETTIE GO!!!

I’m sure that there will be more to write later in the day.

I’m a Womyn and I’m POLITICAL. Deal with it.

I have certain political tendencies. The upcoming elections in both Canada and the USA are a little overwhelming, but it is necessary to be part of the whole thing. So I am going to use this post as a place where I can keep track of the websites and links I keep having set in my lap. I will put a link on the side to this post.

This is an awesome video of American celebrities talking about voting in the American election, but is definitely transferrable to the Canadian election:

The Beyond Factory Farming Coalition asked a bunch of questions to the different parties. The Conservatives have not answered and the Bloc’s answers were translated into English from their French answers. It can be found here.

This is a website about how there are, literally, 100 reasons not to vote for Stephen Haper!

There is a collective of people from across Canada, who do not want Stephen Harper to be the Prime Minister again. They are called Not My Prime Minister.

The environment is a huge concern of mine. I really like this website called Vote for the Environment.

Update: October 29, 2008
With another election down and everything being basically the same, I can’t say I’m surprised, but I am a little disappointed. Here is a good article on the reason for electoral reform. It is very frustrating to rarely vote for a winning candidate (I have only voted once for someone who won). The candidate in my riding lost by a mere 253 votes, but as it is so poignantly clear, there is no conciliation prize for coming in second. There is no difference between second and 7th (there were 7 candidates in my riding). Alas, the show much go one. I will just hope that our next election within two years goes differently than this one. Maybe one day, we will have proportional representation, which this country so desperately needs.

This is a work in progress…

Adventures in Gas Prices

Being an environmentalist is hard work and trying to avoid hypocrisy is almost as hard. However, I do my best at biking to work and reducing my footprint on the earth. The fact of the matter is, however, that I have increased my footprint since getting a “real” job and acquiring “stuff” that accompanies the lifestyle of being a middle-class person.

Tonight I drove to my Thai yoga massage because I had to run home after I discovered that I had forgotten my yoga pants and wanted to be comfortable during my massage (no, the massage does not count into being middle class – I got massages even when I was a dumpster diving activist). As I was driving to my appointment, which was disappointing in itself, I saw that my gas tank was almost empty. I knew that gas prices were going up, but I thought that the one near my work wouldn’t have already gone up. After my massage I went there to check… $1.45/Litre. Ouch. So I decided to drive by the gas station near my house, nope, $1.47. In theory, I support the rise in gas prices. In practicality, I hate it. This causes a bit of inner turmoil to me.

As an environmentalist, I’m glad that people are starting to think twice before hopping in their car to go just down the street. However, as someone who drives pretty much only for work and “emergencies,” it is super annoying. I’ve made a budget of how much money I’m supposed to spend on gas and it is going to be eaten up in one fill if I fill it up right now.

Apparently gas prices are so high because of the hurricane near Texas. Hurricane Ike is its name. I have some friends in Texas who are under curfew because of the storm. Sometimes I’m glad to live in Saskatchewan, where we get somewhat scary lightening storms, occasionally hail, and rarely small tornadoes. It was like everything became connected for me: storms in areas rich in oil will make gas prices increase a lot. How predictable! Haven’t scientists been warning people of this storm for at least a day now? It’s just so interesting to me that we would not have been told that our gas prices were going to increase by at least $0.10/L. However, in some places, it’s increased more than that. Incredible. I love how the world all works – we are all connected! To me, it seems amazing that a storm that is thousands of miles away could affect me in my everyday living.

So did I get gas? No, I did not. I have decided not to buy gas until I absolutely have to, which is Tuesday because I have a meeting >200km away that I need to go to for work. This weekend, I will be completely car-free. Sometimes life’s little inconveniences just help make avoiding hypocritical behavior so much easier.

For the record, here is a map of the gas prices in Canada:

Canadian Gas Prices

Canadian Gas Prices

Politics on the Prairies

I have always said that Saskatchewan is bipolar in terms of politics. On the provincial level, the two big parties are the NDP and the conservatives (and whatever name they are running under). I can’t help but wonder if it’s not because of our extreme temperatures. In the winter, it can get down to -50oC and in the summer, it can reach up to +40oC. While we do spend a lot of time in between, we spend the duration of our time speaking about the extreme temperatures. It seems very much to represent our political views in this province. We’re either hot or cold. We love something or we hate something. We’re left-wing or we’re right-wing.

My other theory is that our family background tells us where we will stand politically. On my dad’s side, my great-grandfathers decided to “agree to disagree” on politics. My grandmother’s father being a lifetime member of the CCF (the old-skool NDP) with his being from Sweden and all. My grandfather’s father was a Liberal – “middle of the road” I suppose. In my family, we don’t really talk politics. My parents never used to tell each other how they voted and we weren’t allowed to discuss it. However, since I’ve become quite politically involved and very open and loud about it, my parent’s have disclosed how they have voted. While they generally agree on the fact that there really is no great party or candidate, I’m not sure that they always vote for the same party. Nonetheless, voting in elections has always been a priority for me, even if it is to abstain from picking one party.

I have to admit that I have left-leaning tendencies in a lot of ways. Ultimately, though, I don’t really like any of the parties. There are some good individual candidates, but rarely do I think “YES! That party stands for what I believe in!” Basically this is the case because I believe our political system is flawed. Our country is too vast and intricate for any one party to possibly represent everyone. I believe in smaller parcels of land. Maybe our city counselors and Rural Municipalities should have more of a role in the federal and provincial political system. Maybe everyone needs to take some lessons on how to get along with others and how to compromise. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I think that everyone in this whole country should learn that from a very young age. However, this will never happen in our current political and economic system – capitalism feeds on the fact that people don’t get along and that people think of themselves first, even if it is at the expense of another person.

I believe in compassion, compromise, trust, relationships, and love. We are all human and we’re all just trying to make it. Why can’t we all just get along?

All I’m saying is “give peace a chance.” What party believes in that?