The Rampant Myth of Neutrality: How My Diet Can Change the World

 There’s this myth I’ve been believing my whole life. This idea that if I don’t actively pursue this way or that way then I am completely neutral. Over these past few years I started traveling to a few developing countries and met some poor farmers. I saw that the food I was eating and the products I was purchasing were actually contributing to the systems of oppression and exploitation affecting millions around the world.

I never knew I wasn’t neutral. But now I know. And this is how I realized it fully.

After World War 2, America started excelling in many areas, and in particular one that changed it forever: Gloablization. As the Industrial Revolution swept through America, production and our economy started booming. People were getting into the business industry and many were getting rich. Once America was conquered, it was time to explore the vast business opportunities around the world, especially in countries that were ripe for the plucking. Business men flocked to developing nations around the world starting businesses and factories to be worked by cheap laborers and taking advantage of the abundant resources available.

With our supply-demand based economy, businesses were pumping out whatever products the people would buy. Whatever the people wanted, the factories were pumping out. With such cheap labor and the ability to ship products anywhere around the world, corporations were becoming incredibly successful rapidly and the consumers were happy.

For the first time Americans were able to buy whatever they wanted for incredibly low prices. Strawberries, bananas, and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables were available all year long all throughout the country. It no longer mattered what was “in season” or not. If Michiganders wanted to eat pineapples in the wintertime, they now could.

By the 20th Century working Americans no longer spent hours working in looms making clothing, these jobs were given to workers overseas and then shipped to America. Because these international businesses were so new, restrictions and laws were not readily available nor easily enforced.

Corporations were so caught up in how to gain the largest profit, they began minimizing costs up and down the chain. Soon enough business integrity for the workers went out the window and the rise of sweatshops began.

What is a sweat shop? “A sweatshop is more than just a metaphor for a lousy job. Although there is no clear, single definition of the term, it generally refers to a workplace where relatively unskilled employees work long hours for substandard pay in unhealthy and unsafe conditions.” (http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/145)

Not only are millions of sweatshops operated by Americans around the world, they also exist in our own country. “The Department of Labor indicates that 50% of garment factories in the U.S. violate two or more basic labor laws, establishing them as sweatshops.” (http://www2.webster.edu/~woolflm/sweatshops.html)

As awful as the clothing industry is, it doesn’t stop there. This kind of business model is also happening elsewhere, especially with our food.

With Globalization, the food we buy in the grocery stores and in restaurants are now widely grown outside America generally in developing countries by poor farmers. So much of the food we consume every single day is grown by poor farmers who make less than $2 a day and are struggling to survive.

These farmers make such low incomes because all the money made from the food goes to the middle men (Western corporations) who do absolutely nothing but get rich, while the farmer’s get paid wages that are barely fit for survival.

But there is still hope. People are fighting to change this sad reality. One of these amazing changes is the Fair Trade Movement. Fair trade saw both of these problems and decided to do something about it. The coffee and chocolate industry are widely grown in developing countries by poor farmers and manufactured in sweatshops around the world.

So people decided that was enough and have started to create Fair Trade Agreements where the middle man is cut out of the system and farmers are able to make the wages they deserve for their hard work so that they can actually provide for their families.

Now there has been some chatter about how Fair Trade is not the perfect system, and they are absolutely correct. Fair trade is not perfect but those articles will also mention that is not because the system is exploited. Fair Trade is still on a journey of working out it’s kinks, but the more we support Fair Trade, the more those kinks will be able to work themselves out.

We live in a Supply Demand Society. Whatever we as people demand and purchase, our society will supply it for us.

–Our vote, our voice is in the way that we purchase. Whatever I buy, I am demanding. Every time I purchase a coffee that is not fair trade, I am declaring that it is okay to pay farmers harshly low wages so that I can drink cheap coffee. What I spend my money on, I am promoting. 

It’s simple economics.

For so long I never once thought about this. I actually believed the lie that I was neutral. I wasn’t an activist or extremist. I also wasn’t promoting exploitation. I was simply in the middle– neutral.

But I have finally realized that I am not neutral. My whole life I have been participating in a system founded upon exploitation. I have been purchasing foods and buying products that use sweatshops, slavery, oppression and exploitation.
Every time I spend my money on those things, I am promoting them. I am declaring to the world that I approve of the exploitation to the poor and that I want more of that. I am demanding more oppression.

It’s time for me as a follower of Jesus to love and care for the poor around the world and even in my own backyard. With sweatshops and slavery rampant in America and around the world, I have to change the way I spend my money.


There are so many of our favorite companies are partaking in this corruption.

From a little research I have discovered big name companies and brands such as Reebok, Nike, Walmart, Victoria’s Secret, Banana Republic/Old Navy/Gap, Guess, Hershey’s, etc. have been found with accusations for participating in these activities.

There are many more. It is no longer an excuse to be ignorant. Information and resources are at our fingertips. If we really believe the Bible and we really believe that Jesus loves the poor. If we really believe that God’s heart is to “see the prisoners set free and to loose the bonds of oppression” (Isaiah 58). Then we really have to change.

Is my fashion so important that I am willing to make thousands suffer for it? Is it so hard to change the way I eat?

I am either supporting exploitation or fighting it. We can make a difference. It is a LIE from the devil to believe that what we do doesn’t matter in the context of society.

Fair trade was started by one person and is now available all over America. It exists now because people started buying fair trade products.

Organic products weren’t in grocery stores 20 years ago, but now there are Organics sections in every large grocery store. Because people started buying organic food.

I can love the poor by the way I eat. I can love the poor by what I buy. 

We were meant to be salt and light to this world.

Let us start one dollar at a time. Let us really love the poor.

 

 

Resources:

http://money.howstuffworks.com/fair-trade1.htm
http://www.americanthinker.com/2010/09/the_destructive_fairtrade_move.html
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cif-green/2009/dec/12/fair-trade-fairtrade-kitkat-farmers
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/06/08/america-s-economy-is-outperforming-rivals-because-the-u-s-is-excelling-at-globalization.html
http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/145
http://www.unc.edu/~andrewsr/ints092/sweat.html
http://sweatshopsandworkersrights.blogspot.com/2011/06/statistics.html
http://gleaner.rutgers.edu/2012/04/sweatshops-and-child-labor-the-price-of-fashion/
http://www2.webster.edu/~woolflm/sweatshops.html

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ReThink ‘Poor’

What even is poverty? We hear this word all the time and the first image we see in our minds is a small dirty naked African child covered in mosquitos, completely destitute.

But is that really all there is to poverty? Simply the absence of money and material possessions?

As I’ve been working down here in SW Florida for over a year, I’ve been asking myself this question: what is poverty? My time here working for ECHO International has been incredible and everyday I’m learning and being more equipped to give my life to working with the poor to see Jesus redeem and restore lives back to Shalom.

This is crucial for me us to figure out.

“The way we understand the nature of poverty and what causes poverty is very important, because it tends to determine how we respond to poverty.” -Bryant Myers (Walk With the Poor)

As a follower of Jesus Christ, as a believer in God this is a necessary venture. God has explicitly shown us ALL throughout His Bible that we must care for the poor.

Proverbs 14:31 is simply one of many passages that depict this truth.
“Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors Him.”

The Bible is littered with verses like this. Completely trashed with them. A heaping land fill full of stories, commandments, mandates, rules, poems, historical documents, love letters all displaying God’s heart for the poor and our commission as followers of Jesus to honor and love those in poverty.

So if you’ve always thought poverty meant simply a lack of money, join me on this journey to unveiling what ‘poor’ is and who the ‘poor’ are.

I recently read an article from Forbes (here) that according to the 2011 census, America has 46.2 million people in poverty, 15% of our nation. Which that number has stayed roughly around the same over the years. Every year America spends half a trillion dollars towards poverty alleviation which if divided and passed out to the individuals considered “impoverished” then everyone would be out of “poverty”.

But maybe “poverty” is a little more complex than just money.

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, $2.5 billion actually ended up making it to Haiti (of the $9.3 billion pledged). However NPR quoted Haiti’s President Michel Martelly saying the funds aren’t “showing results.”

So if: poverty = lack of money; money is given for poverty alleviation = no results, sometimes even worse off.

Something is wrong about this equation.

Maybe, just maybe our definition of poverty is wrong. incorrect. mistaken. erroneous.

Now, these are just two examples of many. You can easily look at the world today and see that poverty is not disappearing at nearly the rate at how much money is thrown at it. Not even close.

We need to Rethink poverty. We need to realize that poverty is incredibly complex and astonishingly complicated.

There’s an amazing book out called When Helping Hurts. You may have heard of it. If you have not yet, you should definitely read it. It is absolutely brilliant.

In this book, Brian Fikkert gives a few samples of how some poor people describe their situation.

“For a poor person everything is terrible – illness, humiliation, shame. We are cripples; we are afraid of everything; we depend on everyone. No one needs us. We are like garbage that everyone wants to get rid of.” -Maldova

“When one is poor, she has no say in public, she feels inferior. She has no food, so there is famine in her house; no clothing, and no progress in her family.” -Uganda

“[The poor have] a feeling of powerlessness and an inability to make themselves heard.” – Cameroon

Usually for us North Americans when we describe poverty, we tend to emphasize the lack of material possessions and needs such as water, food, housing, money, medical care, etc.

Though these poor people are definitely in lack of many of these things, they are describing their situation as more psychological and social. They use words such as fear, shame, inferiority, humiliation, dependence, voicelessness, powerlessness, etc.

For so long we have been treating the symptoms of poverty without realizing there is a far greater underlying problem that needs to be addressed.

We have to look beyond the symptoms of poverty and look at the underlying issue. Poverty is dealing with the whole of a person- psychologically, emotionally, socially, physically, etc.

Bryant L. Myers, a professor and expert on transformational development explains that as the Triune God is inherently a relational being, existing as three-in-one from and for all of eternity; we as His creation made in His likeness are also inherently relational beings as well.

Reading through Genesis 1-3 you can see that God established four fundamental relationships when he created the Earth, Adam with Eve, and creation. Relationship between Adam and God, Adam with himself, Adam with Eve, and Adam with creation. These four relationships were in perfect union, resting in Shalom in the garden of Eden. In perfect wholeness.

We were created for union in these four relationships. That is the abundant life Jesus has called us to. That is Shalom, wholeness and completeness in the fullness of restoration.

When these four relationships are functioning properly, we as people are able to experience the fullness of life and to fulfill our callings of glorifying God with the worship of our lives. Perfect intimacy with God as our Father and Creator; an overwhelming pleasure in our identity as God crafted us to be; live-giving fellowship in unified community; and fulfilled stewardship over the dominion of creation given to us by our loving Father and Creator.

However, when Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, Each of these four relationships instantly became broken.

‘Where are you?’ asks God. Likely the first time those words were ever uttered from the mouth of God. Relationship between God and man, broken.

‘I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid myself’ says Adam. Insecurity, shame and guilt enter into this world for the first time. Relationship between man and self, broken.

‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit.’ Blame, enmity and strife enter in. Relationship between man and others, broken.

‘Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life…by the sweat of your face…till you return to the ground.’ says God to man. The perfection of creation in the garden of Eden now destroyed. Relationship between man and creation, broken.
Genesis 3 depicts the story of the first and greatest recession and depression this world had ever experienced. The world entered into extreme poverty.

What is poverty?

Poverty is broken relationships.

Broken relationships between our Creator God, with ourselves and our identity, with the people we share life with, and with the beautiful creation God gave to us.

Because of these broken relationships, it causes the systems we create to live in to also be broken: political, social, economic, religious, etc.

When we began to understand this perspective, we realize that poverty cannot be solved with material possessions but it is much more complex and complicated. There have been thousands of generations of poverty oppressing people, shackling them in the bondage of the broken systems they are stuck in.

But Jesus.

Jesus came to redeem. To restore. He came to bring restoration in these four foundational relationships. He came to make all things new.

Through Jesus we are able to have right and fulfilled relationship with God, self, others and creation.

Real lasting change always has to start and end with Jesus Christ. As a follower of Jesus we are called to see Jesus restore and redeem these relationships in ourselves and those around us.

That’s obvious to say, but we must internalize it and actually believe it. It must become our worldview, the lens through which we view poverty.

There are so many ‘poor’ everywhere in this world, even in America. In many ways I still behave as though I am poor.

Poverty in material-rich areas is often displayed through depression, obsession, bitterness, addiction, constant anxiety, dependence on substance, narcissism, isolation, etc.

It takes people loving each other and working together to see that we can all come out of poverty and into God’s extreme riches. We can enter into the fullness of life that God has created us for. The abundant life. Where there is an overflow of love, joy, peace, righteousness, rest, intimacy.

If this is all true, it puts us as followers of Jesus in a unique position. We are the few who understand the real solution to the disease of poverty. It is our mandate as followers of Jesus to carry on the mission of Jesus to ‘proclaim the good news to the poor…proclaim freedom for the prisoners…set the oppressed free.’ (Luke 4:18).

Let’s rethink ‘poor’ and allow us to really love people.

As I continue on the journey, I am learning how this abstract perspective can become practical in loving the poor with the people living around the world and with the poor we encounter on a daily basis. The material poor and the even more plaguing, poverty of brokenness.

 

*most of my ideas came from When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert & Steve Corbett and Walk With the Poor by Bryant Myers.