Wake up and smell the (fairtrade) coffee

This is another one from my ethical living blog.  Hope you enjoy.

Ah, coffee.
What would the world be without you?
OK scrap that: what would my world be without coffee? A dark and terrible place, I’m telling you. The working day would probably pass in a sleep-induced haze (either that or I would lose my mind in a fit of withdrawal symptoms).
But what about the world outside my rather limited, caffeine-driven one? How does coffee affect it? You might not think it is very important in the scheme of things.
The fact is that coffee is extremely important – and every time you buy a jar, you are making a decision that could affect millions of vulnerable and marginalised farmers across the world.
How does coffee affect people?
The fact is, traditional coffee trading is deeply unfair.
OK, I know most of us realise this – but how many of us really think about it? Really?
For products that are not fairly traded, there are no standards in place. When you buy such a product, you may be paying for:
– child labour
– sweatshops
– unfair and unstable wages
– exploitation
– damage to the environment
– and a whole lot more.
How many of us want to pay for those things? Not me.
Since 2001, the World Trade Organisation has been holding discussions about how to change the world trade system to benefit the poor. But countries such as mine (the UK), other EU countries and the US (among others) have resisted these changes. This means the growth of the fair trade movement is critical.
So why fair trade?
When you buy a fair trade product, the producer receives not only a fair and stable price, but in many cases a premium to invest in their community. This could go on anything from schools, food, tools, technology, water wells, healthcare and a whole lot more. The fair trade logo also gives a guarantee that social standards are in place, and that coffee production does not adversely affect the environment. It also guarantees producers have not been exploited, and no child labour has been used.
How do you know if a product is fair trade?
Many fair-trade products carry the international Fairtrade Mark, which looks like this:

It is awarded by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisations. Look for it next time you shop. Many fair trade products are the same price, or a little more expensive, than non-fair trade products. Those extra few pennies could make a world of difference.
And trust me – as a coffee fanatic, fair trade coffee tastes every bit as good as the unfairly traded equivalent. Examples of major fair trade brands include:
– Clipper
– Percol
– Cafedirect
– Traidcraft
– Equal Exchange

Most supermarkets stock their own fair-trade coffee, and some supermarkets (for example The Co-Operative and M&S) have the fair-trade logo on their entire stock of own label coffee. Other brands, such as Nescafe, also produce a fair-trade range.
In ’50 Reasons to Buy Fair Trade’ (which you can buy here…
http://www.amazon.co.uk/50-Reasons-Buy-Fair-Trade/dp/074532584X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1279536908&sr=8-1  I do not get any commission for a sale)
… Nicaraguan coffee grower Blanca Rosa Molina is quoted as saying that fair-trade ‘makes the difference between whether my family eats or does not eat.’
For the sake of a simple choice in the supermarket, what reason is there not to buy fair trade?
ARE there any reasons not to buy fair trade?
The fair trade system has received criticism from both ends of the spectrum. Some say that it is an artificial system which impedes growth and could lead to over production, and at the other end, others claim it does not go far enough in protecting vulnerable workers.
My thinking is: the fair trade system is not perfect (nothing ever is), but a world without it, would be a world that accepts brutal and unfair conditions. Just so we can have a cup of coffee in the morning.
I don’t want to be part of a world like that. Who would?
Martin Luther King is credited with saying:
‘When we arise in the morning… at the table we drink coffee which is provided for us by a South American, or tea by a Chinese, or cocoa by a West African; before we leave for our jobs we are already beholden to half the world.’
We are beholden to half the world. I truly believe we are forever indebted to the poor of the world; it is the unfair balancing of the trading system which means we in the west can live the luxurious lifestyles we do.
So next time you’re in the supermarket – take a minute to browse the shelves, take a minute to consider where your coffee is coming from, and who you could benefit with your choice.
It could be the most important thing you do all day.

Why free range eggs are not as ethical as you think

This is another one from my ethical living blog.  Hope you like it!

photo credit: Steve A Johnson

Let me begin by saying that free range eggs are much, much better than battery eggs.

This is something we all know – and most people who care about ethics opt for the free range option every time.  Battery hens  are crammed into a miserable existence, unable to raise even a single wing; in contrast, free range hens are allowed at least some movement and outside access.

But is the free range option actually more damaging to chickens,the environment and the animal rights movement in general?

Or would it be better to avoid eggs altogether?

Here are a few facts

1. Free range hens are usually kept in cramped, indoor conditions.  The only legal requirement is that they have some access to the outdoors.  However, this often means a few holes cut in the walls,through which only a handful of chickens will ever go.  This ‘outside’ area is often a tiny patch of bare earth.

2. Free range hens undergo painful and inhumane procedures – including being ‘debeaked’, which involves having the ends of their beaks cut off without anaesthetic.

3. For every free range hen born, a male chick is born.  As male chicks are unable to lay eggs they are usually killed soon after birth by a range of methods including gassing, strangulation, crushing or live shredding.  Those that are not killed are raised for meat, with none of the benefits that free range hens enjoy.

4. Free range hens are killed as soon as their egg-laying starts to wane – usually after about twelve months (their natural lifespan could be six-seven years).  This involves a long trip to a slaughterhouse without food or water, where they are killed using the same methods as non-free range hens.

5. While free range hens undoubtedly live in better conditions than battery hens, the existence of free range hens gives a’conscience soother’ to those people who would otherwise avoid eggs.  Therefore, like many other ethical ‘tickets’, such as carbon offsetting, it is diverting attention away from the real problem which is: the egg industry is cruel, no matter how it is carried out.

6. All eggs, free range or otherwise, are packed full of cholesterol.

7. Free range eggs still damage the environment – in fact more so, as more land and energy are required.  The meat industry is extremely damaging to the environment- more so than the world’s entire transport system including aviation.

8. Free range labels provide a smoke screen for farmers who actually engage in cruel activities.  An image is projected of happy, natural hens roaming the land, and ethically concerned consumers are deceived into believing they are making the humane choice.  If these labels did not exist, these same ethically concerned consumers would probably avoid buying eggs altogether.

Obviously, if you are going to buy eggs at all, free range eggs are the preferable option.  But if the demand for eggs remains so high, then supply has to match it – and the only way to ensure adequate supply is by cramming as many hens as possible into as small a space as possible.

Demand has to drop in order for supplies to drop – which is the only way to ensure hens are not subjected to horrific cruelty.

So next time you’re shopping, why not consider avoiding eggs, free-range or otherwise?

photo credit: nutmeg66

Veganism: the myths

This is a little article I wrote years ago on veganism. It’s a bit different to my other blog posts but I’m fond of it anyway and I think it’s worth saying. Hope you enjoy it!

Fruits and vegetables
photo credit: nutrilover

On the scale of exciting lifestyle choices, veganism doesn’t rank very highly. Even the nicest people can see vegans as relentlessly fussy individuals, who survive on lentils, preach about the evils of a cheese toastie and make life difficult in restaurants.

So why subject yourself to this way of life? Surely a vegan diet is nutritionally lacking, expensive, pointless and, let’s face it, boring?


Wrong. Whether you’re a bacon addict, or a vegetarian wondering whether to make the leap, we can all learn from vegans if we rid our minds of prejudice and separate fact from fiction.


Most of the time, I don’t mind tofu, chickpeas and soya milk. But occasionally, I have a cheese burger with all the trimmings.

Some people believe you can’t be a partial vegan any more than you can be partially pregnant or partially dead. Of course there are those hardy souls who never have a moment of weakness, and I applaud them. On the other hand, I don’t believe the odd drunken trip to a kebab van means there’s no value in making ethical choices the rest of the time.

Thornbury Kebabs

photo credit: ♫ Rum Rhythms ♫

The fact is, we can all cut down. Why not try substituting meat for tofu once a week? Or try using vegan spread instead of butter? It seems that more could be achieved if many people cut down, than if a few become strict vegans.

But what, I hear you ask, can be achieved by swapping steak for tofu? Life’s short, and surely there are worse things than eating meat and dairy products?
This leads me on quite nicely to my next point…


If you picture a cow being milked, you might see a contented cow and a milkmaid, complete with bucket. What’s wrong with it? Surely dairy production keeps farm animals around without the cruelty of killing them.

Unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth. Animals reared for dairy suffer premature death in the same way as animals reared for meat. Dairy cows, for example, are normally slaughtered after only five years (their natural lifespan is 20-25 years). Egg-laying hens, which can live up to seven years, are usually slaughtered after twelve months when their egg production starts to wane.

Dairy cows are kept in an almost constant state of pregnancy. They are separated from their calves after 24-48 hours, which is highly distressing to cows as they form a close bond with their young. Not only this, but male calves – born to maintain the lactation process – are usually shot soon after birth.

The same goes for egg-laying hens. Male chicks are usually killed soon after birth by one of a number of methods, including gassing, strangulation and live shredding.
If you’re not convinced by animal welfare arguments, think about the environment. Worldwide, agricultural livestock produces 18% of greenhouse gas emissions – significantly more than the world’s entire transport system including aviation. If we are concerned by how much we drive or fly, then we should certainly be concerned about our meat and dairy consumption.

Why free range eggs are not as ethical as you think

If that isn’t enough, consider that farmed animals currently cover over 30% of the earth’s entire land surface, and it has been estimated that an average diet requires five times as much land as a vegan diet.

In a world where populations are growing and resources are scarce, this is certainly food for thought.


2009-05-24 - Vegan Ice Cream Books - 0008
Photo credit: smiteme

I won’t lie: veganism can be boring. Who would prefer a bowl of lentils over a bacon sarnie? But with a little imagination, this doesn’t have to be the case. Indeed, experimenting with veganism can lead you to exciting dishes you would have never previously considered.

According to a friend of miny who is a strict vegan: ‘The trick is not to think how you can recreate your favourite dishes without the meat or dairy, but create new ones, like spinach and chickpea curry. Nuts add a lot of flavour and roasting makes most things yummy, like mushrooms or peppers.’

She also says there are a number of cheats available. ‘When you’re feeling nostalgic for your pre-vegan days, Holland and Barrett are great – they have vegan jelly beans, chocolate, etc. There are also lots of meat and cheese substitutes available.’

So if you really can’t do without your bolognaise or burger then take heart: there is an enormous variety of vegan ‘cheats’ around, which means you can recreate virtually any meal and still leave your conscience intact.


A balanced approach to veganism is actually extremely healthy. Red and processed meat, in particular, have been linked to an increased risk of bowel cancer. Additionally, saturated fat is mainly found in meat and dairy products, and this is the main dietary cause of high cholesterol.

Some claim that a vegan diet is lacking in protein and calcium, but it is easy to obtain these nutrients. Soya milk has added calcium, as do many cereals. Protein can be found in chickpeas, beans, lentils, tofu, wholewheat pasta and brown rice. Many vegans also eat more fruit and vegetables, which are high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, in order to add variety to their favourite dishes.

According to my vegan friend, she has eaten more healthily since becoming a vegan, mainly because she cooks most things from scratch. She therefore manages to avoid the pitfalls of pre-packaged food, namely artificial ingredients, sweeteners and salt.

While we might not have the time or inclination to do this for every meal, it is simple enough to prepare a batch of food and then freeze several portions.


Restaurant La Boheme
photo credit: Unique Hotels Group

I’m sure most vegans would agree: eating in restaurants can be a challenge. But again, a little forethought can go a long way. You don’t have to find vegan-only places to eat – Chinese, Thai, Indian and Middle-Eastern places usually have a good selection of vegan food.

There are also a number of good vegetarian restaurants around the country which cater for vegans as well. You can find information about these in the guidebook The Vegetarian Visitor or on the Vegetarian Society webpage (www.vegsoc.org) and the vegan society webpage (www.vegansociety.com).

The number of vegans – and consequently the number of vegan outlets – is constantly growing. In fact, becoming a vegan has never been easier.


I recently went vegan for a week and I discovered it’s much cheaper than you might expect. Compare the price of a standard tin of chickpeas with the price of decent lamb or beef – you’ll find it’s a lot cheaper. If you add them to one of the many vegan curry sauces available, some rice and vegetables, you immediately have a delicious meal that’s quick to prepare and very cheap.

Shop around. The price of vegan goods, such as tofu, has come down drastically. Lentils, beans, chickpeas and other pulses all come cheaply in a tin and can be used as a meat substitute in almost any dish. Not only are they cheap, but they can help with weight loss. What more could we ask for?


All in all, there are plenty of reasons for becoming a vegan and few for not doing so. Except, of course, the obvious: we’re all human, and while some of us have admirable strength of character, most of us cave in from time to time.

That’s why I’m advocating a cutting down approach. The principles of veganism are easy to follow most of the time, and there will be greater benefits if more people cut down, than if a few people become hardcore vegans.

Try it: live like a vegan when you can. See the benefits to your health, your conscience and your wallet. And live the rest of the time without guilt.
Now, about that cheese burger…

photo credit: TheCulinaryGeek