Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Ethical Consumption

Today one of Zak's comments and my visit to Organic Roots prompted a train of thought as I was walking home from school. The other day Zak was commenting on whether or not it's worth it to get a Costco membership because since you get everything in bulk you just end up consuming more than you normally would and therefore, in the end, end up spending more than you normally would. Well this may be the case for some people and some products, not necessarily for all.

Well I went to Organic Roots today for some gluten-free granola bars and it seems to be the opposite of the whole Costco idea. They didn't even sell most of their granola bars in boxes, they were all sold individually which made me wonder how much more expensive it actually is to buy granola bars individually. My guess is that it's more expensive. I also bought some Fair Trade/Organic chocolate chips (yeah! I finally found them). I realize that anything Fair Trade and organic is more expensive than your average Hershey's Chipits.

Then you think about how in our Western culture we consume a lot! If all the worlds population consumed like we do there would be nothing left on the planet to make stuff out of. We buy things in super bulk packages, we get every single cup of coffee in a throw away cup, we get a NEW bag for almost every single item that we buy (not just groceries but in the Mall too), we are hard on our clothes and throw them out after a year or two and think it's so easy just to get new ones, we buy excess food and just throw it out if it goes bad and it goes on and on.

What if we actually had to pay more for all of these things that we routinely use? Like my Fair trade/organic chocolate chips, yes they cost more, but because of that I will use them more wisely and not over eat the special chocolate chip cookies that I make with them. What if everything was sold in smaller portions rather than in massive quantities? We would actually think about how much we actually need rather than getting so much more than we need. I think that an important element of Fair Trade and Organic products is that we actually think of what we're buying and how much we're buying.

Sure, I think that it's very ethical to pay people on the other side of the world fair prices and grow organic produce to help the environment. But buying fair trade and organic makes the consumer think of other things too. It forces a person to focus on the day to day and not get sucked into the massive consumerism of our society and to only consume what is needed. In this way we can individually contribute to minimizing the massive ecological footprint that we in the West make in the world. We need to use our resources wisely and realize that we have soooo much more than we need.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Soapstone Carvers: Tara Projects, New Delhi, India

This month at our Ten Thousand Villages store in Edmonton we will be featuring the Soapstone Carvers from India in our Valentines display. They have created some beautiful hearshaped boxes from soapstone that are inlayed with mother of pearl and other semi-precious stones. Pictured above is the rectangular shaped box that is similar to the heart shaped box.

Soapstone is a soft stone with a smooth soapy feel and the true colour isn't visible until they carvers have finished and polished it off. One small box can take up to twelve hours to complete.

Many centuries ago, when the Taj Mahal was being built, many soapstone carvers were recruited from Persia to work on the intricate carving on the building. The descendnets of these people still live in India today where they continue the tradition of working with soapstone and creating intricate inlayed designs. Despite the beauty and detail of their work, soapstone carvers have been exploited and many of them live in poverty. Many of them live in conditions around open sewers and drains.

Tara Projects began to work with stonecarvers in the early 1990s and they pay these stone carvers a fair wage. They have created pension plans for the elderly, they provide much needed medical care, and they even fixed the drains and sewers. Tara projects provides work for about 250 stonecraft artisan families.

Tara Projects began working in New Delhi in the early 1970s. The project was established by social workers and University students to help the "untouchables" in their area. Ten Thousand Villages Literature describes how "This organization has become a leading voice opposing the use of child labour, and promoting the rights and status of women". Some of the services they provide to their workers includes informal education for womena and children and training in health and environmental awareness.

Please check out the link on the left hand side of my website called the "TTV Mumbai Marathon Trip". There is a group that has gone to India to visit the various artisan projects there. They should be going to visit Tara Projects later this week - so I'm sure they'll have more pictures up from that soon. Their pics will definitely provide more insight than mine. Some of them also just did the Mumbai 1/2 marathon today to raise awareness for Ten Thousand Villages and Fair Trade!! Congratuations to all of them.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Artisan Story: Kommaly Chanthavong - Phon Tong Handicraft, Laos

If you want to know where my passion is, it's Ten Thousand Villages. There is so much behind what you see when you go into the store. There are so many stories behind each product. There are SO many people who live better lives because of the store - it especially helps women who could not otherwise provide for themselves. Much of the time these women in developing countries do not have employable skills and they are not given a chance in the working world. Ten Thousand Villages partners with MCC and other organizations, which help women and other disadvantaged people groups develop skills so that they can make a living for themselves.

One amazing example of a woman with a vision is Kommaly Chanthavong. I had the pleasure of meeting her and hearing her story in Calgary in October. She lives in Northern Laos where she fled to as a refugee. Many of the women there were in the same situation as her and were in great need of work. Most of the women including Kommaly had learned silkwork from their mothers as girls don't go to school. Kommaly decided to use these skills and began her business with ten other women who decided to create silk scarves with her to sell. Now the group has expanded to more than 450 people in 35 villages. Here is a picture of Kommaly teaching us the Silk making process.

One of the exciting aspects of her business is that it is completely self sustainable. She works with the farmers who raise cattle and uses the manure to fertilize the mulberry trees which feed the silk worms. The mulberry trees are also used to make tea, which Kommaly has also found a market for. I tried it and it was quite good. Keep your eye's peeled for Organic Mulberry tea. All material from the silk making process that would normally be considered waste is used, including the larvae which are in the cocoons which the silk comes off of. The larvae are a good source of protein. The water that the larvae are boiled in is also very good for the skin - as witnessed by Kommaly's beautiful skin:) You can see the larvae in the picture below.

The cocoons are boiled and the cocoons becomes very sticky. All of the larvae stick together and one very thin and very long thread (see me holding it in the picture at the top of this post) is spun out of the the larvae that are in the pot. Below you can see one of the guys at the workshop spinning the thread.

As mentioned above, nothing is wasted in the silk making process. The berries from the mulberry tree are also used to dye the threads. All of the dyes are from natural elements.

Kommaly and the women who work with her have been very successful with their business and sell their Scarves to Ten Thousand Villages as well as buyers in other countries. Many of their scarves have won awards in various competitions.

I hope that you've enjoyed this bit of information. I think that it makes an item so much more valuable when you know the person that is behind it and how much it has helped them. So, keep this in mind when you see a silk scarf from Laos!