Sunday, July 08, 2007

Thoughts on Luxury . . .

I was at Nutter's the other day (a health food / bulk goods store) and I saw that they had some fair trade organic tea in pretty, recyclable tins. For $7.50 I could buy 22 tea bags in a reusable or recyclable tin and give the workers who grew and harvested the tea in India and Shri Lanka a fair working wage. At the grocery store I could get about 100 Tetley tea bags for the same price. I bought the fair trade tea, and it is delicious.

I found, however, that I suddenly felt the need to use my tea pot and brew the tea rather than dunking a tea bag in a mug and a sugar cube and sloshing water over it. After all, I had paid a higher price for this tea, so I decided I should make it properly and fully enjoy it. If I let my pot of tea go cold during the day, I felt the need to reheat the tea and drink it rather than just dumping it out and making a new pot.

I began to wonder why this was. Certainly, the tea was a bit more expensive, but it was far cheaper than 22 cups of Starbucks coffee. Then I realized that I was treating this tea like a luxury product rather than something I was entitled to, simply because it was beautifully packaged and thoughtfully produced.

This set my mind turning about the entire way we think and act in modern North American culture. We assume that we are entitled to a lot of things. Strawberries in February. Coffee and tea all year round. Chocolate bars whenever we want them for under a dollar. Meat at dinner time. A nicely decorated house. Flattering clothes in the latest styles. A good haircut (well, that might just be me). The list goes on and on and includes stuff, stuff and more stuff. And it had all better be reasonably priced so that we can have all our "needs" met within our budget.

My head began to spin as I considered the world wide implications of our consumer culture; the factories in China belching out smoke and pollution, the forests of the world being decimated to grow coffee, tea, and cattle, the poorly paid workers in India spending their days cranking out cheap t-shirts and cargo pants in the latest colour and length, the refrigerator trucks barrelling full tilt across the Americas carrying mangoes from Mexico to Northern Saskatchewan, the landfills stuffed with cheap plastic toys and polyester clothes that will still be there when my great great grandchildren are born.

And I began to wonder if part of the problem isn't that everything is manufactured so cheaply that it is difficult to treat it as a luxury. If I can buy a cheap t-shirt that fits for 9.99, why pay the luxury price of 30.00 to get a well tailored t-shirt made from organic cotton that will last for years? I can buy three 9.99 t-shirts for that next year. Why buy and savour one bar of belgian chocloate over a few weeks when I can pick up a Kit Kat bar at the corner store every day? Why buy one pair of well made, comfortable shoes that will last me for years when I can pick up five pairs of cool shoes for the same price and throw them out next year?

But if we were paying a fair price for a product, a price that took into consideration the value of the workers who made it and the true cost to the skies and soil of the materials in the product itself, we might treat it more carefully. We might savour and enjoy our food and treat our possesions with pride and care. If we did this, we would need to buy less because the enjoyment would not come from purchasing and having items, but from appreciating the things we consumed. And because the food would be healthy and well prepared, it would fill us up sooner. Because our clothes and furniture and houses would be well built, they would last longer. Over time, we would not have as much stuff, but the stuff we owned would be worth having. These simple things would then become luxuries.

Think of the overall, world wide impact that could be created if this mindset could become common place. Perhaps we could actually find a way of living that was sustainable for the planet and just for the people of the earth. We could learn to honour the labour of our neighbours across the world and appreciate the foods that can grown in our back yards. We could brew a pot of tea, and sit and drink it with a sense of appreciation for all that went into the making of the tea, becuase we paid a fair price for a good product.

Some days its amazing what can happen when you just open a tin of tea . . .

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