I took a break from blogging the last two weeks. The first ten days or so I was entirely disconnected from the on-line world. And it was so great, so refreshing. I need to make a point of doing this regularly – except that my job requires me to be on line, so I guess I'll have to schedule it for vacation periods.
Lately I've been contemplating whether eating bananas is morally tenable. This may sound like a strange question, so allow me to offer an explanation. During my time off line I read Julie Clawson's book Everyday Justice. I discovered Clawson's blog not too long ago and really like her perspective on justice as a central part of the life of faith. In this book she looks at how some of our daily choices have global impact and challenges the reader to consider what steps she or he could take to begin to live a more just life.
I came away from this book both encouraged and challenged. I am encouraged because I see that steps my wife and I have taken recently – as well as some choices we have long practiced – correspond to her suggestions. We've made some healthy steps to living justly. We're seeking to reduce our consumption, purchase more local and healthy foods, live more simply, reduce or eliminate pesticides and chemicals from our daily lives and many other steps. We've actively recycled for years. Not doing so, especially in a city such as ours where we can recycle so many things through the city's curbside recycling program – seems immoral. We are growing in our awareness that the life of faith includes caring for the other members of God's creation as well as for the non-human aspects of creation. Readers of this blog have followed my journey this year as I've grown in this awareness.
But reading Clawson's book reminded me that there's still far more I can do. I appreciate that Clawson doesn't write to lay a guilt-trip on the reader. She encourages each of us to begin making small changes in our lifestyle, recognizing that most of us cannot radically change our entire lives overnight. She also recognizes that there are limits to what each individual or family can and is willing to do. Repeatedly Clawson asks us to consider who pays the true cost for the various products we consume. She didn't leave me feeling guilty, but did give me plenty of ideas to consider for further changes.
Which brings me back to my question: is it moral for me to eat bananas? There are various facets to this question. The first concerns the manner in which bananas are grown. As Clawson examines in her book (though not specifically concerning bananas), I need to consider whether the bananas I consume were grown and sold to me in a way that values the dignity of the growers. Or is that super-low price at the local supermarket reflective of the meager amount that the farmers were paid, while the multinational fruit company made large profits? I must also consider whether in the process of growing the bananas the farmers used toxic pesticides (by compulsion or otherwise) which harmed themselves and their local environment. Who is paying the true cost of those bananas? If in my desire to pay a low price I am forcing the farmers to pay a high one, then eating those bananas could be an immoral act.
There are various ways to avoid passing the cost of my bananas to the growers, but these involve fair-trade and organic farming. We often try to purchase organically-grown bananas at our local store, which is a positive step, one I believe Clawson would affirm. But I'm still left with a nagging doubt, because no matter how much benefit the grower sees for my organically-grown bananas, I live in a place where bananas do not naturally grow. In fact I live a long way from such places. Which means any bananas sold in my local store have traveled a long way to get here. This means that lots of fuel has been used to transport them, contributing to global climate change and environmental degradation. My purchase of fair-trade, organically-grown bananas may be a more ethical choice and bring more benefit to the growers, but it still comes with a price tag that I am not immediately paying. But if I stop purchasing bananas altogether and many others chose to do so as well, we could eliminate the market for such bananas and therefore the source of income for banana growers, leaving them unemployed. What is a banana-eater to do?
I don't have an answer to this question, and Clawson doesn't offer one either. I don't fault her for this, because it reminds us that ethical decisions are multifaceted and rarely have simply solutions. I will try to purchase organically-grown bananas and look for those that have traveled less distance, but I cannot say that I will never purchase regular bananas from the supermarket. I am thinking more about the impact of my purchases though, which I consider to be a healthy first step. Living justly is not a matter of a few simple adjustments. It requires rethinking and reorienting our entire lifestyle, which takes time and deliberate effort. I encourage you to read Clawson's book and consider what steps you can take to begin to live your life more justly.