This week we were lucky enough to be able to afford Fair Trade bananas, and Fair Trade coffee, as part of our weekly shop. Why do I say lucky? Because Fair Trade goods are (rightly) more expensive than ‘standard’ goods, and when you have very little money with which to feed your family, you have to go by what you can afford first, and worry about niceities (like calories, or vitamins, or trading ethics) second.
In Aldi, where we normally purchase fruit, the bags of fair trade bananas are about 30p more expensive then the ‘standard’ fruits. And the jars of coffee are similarly higher priced. So what? It’s only 60p, I hear you say. But 60p is two tins of beans, or a bag of apples, or a loaf of the cheapest bread. 60p could, if you’re on a very tight budget, make the difference between ‘beans on toast for tea’ or ‘there’s nothing to eat till tomorrow’.
So much as I’d love to always buy fair trade, ethically sourced, organic, local, vitamin-rich foodstuffs, such things are out of reach for us most of the time, as they are for many people. If you’re at the point of turning the freezer off because there’s nothing left in it, you don’t quibble when you obtain something for the next meal.
This week we could afford the extra 60p to buy the bananas and coffee and support the farmers who are part of the fair trade scheme. Next week we may not be able to. Do I feel guilty for that? A little. But mostly it angers me, it angers me that the the UK government isn’t doing more to support the poorest people in society to make good, sensible, honest food choices. It angers me that all bananas and coffee (and everything else we import!) isn’t fairly traded and ethically sourced automatically. It angers me that a trip to the supermarket with money in your pocket has become an unobtainable dream for many of our nation’s poorest people.
Perhaps the point of fair trade should be that fairness needs to be felt on both ends of the food chain. Yes, pay the farmer a sensible, honest wage for his crops. But at the other end, is it really fair to dangle such lovely food in front of a hungry person’s face, food they know they’ll never be able to afford? I don’t think it is.
But what is worse is the realisation that in a supposedly civilised society, in a supposedly rich country, there are hungry people at all. And that really isn’t fair.