Coffee's the first thing I have in the morning, as anyone who knows me or reads my blog knows. And most who drink coffee know that those beans doesn't grow within 100 miles of Los Angeles, where I live. This, I realize, must seem a contradiction of sorts for some readers. How can I say I'm doing the 100-mile diet when I drink coffee -- several cups of it -- every day?
Well. I should also add that I also eat chocolate and bananas, also stuff that's grown far, far away. The way I eat, in fact, stands in sharp contrast to the way J.B. MacKinnon and Alisa Smith, the two people who started the 100-mile diet craze, went about things. Those kids seriously took things to the limit, losing 15 lbs and all. In fact, they gave up their near-vegan lifestyles to support their new local one (cue tears from vegan readers)
As you already know, my answer to that was no -- and not just because I'm a caffeine addict! It's simply that I think there's a big difference between getting locally everything you CAN get locally, and limiting my purchases to only things I can get locally. For me, to reject everything that's outside my 100-mile radius seems like I'm saying global trade, in and of itself, is inherently bad. What I really believe is that the way "conventional" global trade is done today leaves a lot to be desired, in terms of preserving local economies, respecting the environment, upholding human rights, etc.
It's in this space between reality and fanatical idealism where the market for fair trade products lies. In many ways, what Jonathan Rosenthal, the top banana at the fair trade fruit company Oké USA, said about the inefficiencies of international trade helped me crystallize my thoughts on the issue. When asked, "Don't you think it is strange that people will cheer your environmental efforts when you transport fruit a thousand miles?" Rosenthal answered "Yes, I do":
For me, fair trade is an opening -- a window into reassessing choices we make about how we live in community with the rest of the planet. If we globalized a living wage across the planet, banana consumption -- like coffee and many other things -- would collapse. We aren't very close, in my view, to that kind of humane global system.
So then I ask how we should proceed, given the fact that 25 million people depend on the coffee industry, with all of its contradictions, and 10 million people depend on the banana trade.
If you can't get enough of the nitty gritties in the intersection between local, organic, and fair trade, watch the recent, fascinating talk between Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, and John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods. During the talk, Mackey argues that local is not always better, and announces Whole Foods' new commitment to fair trade certification.
And on a closing note -- Remember, the first rule of the 100-mile diet is there are no rules. It's tougher making these individual decisions, but much, much more rewarding.
[For more of Siel's adventures, check out greenLAgirl.com! -Ed.]