Monday, October 28, 2013

Choosing to Make a Difference, By Choice

Choosing to Make a Difference, By Choice:
 Shopping for a Healthier, Kinder, and More Humane World

One of the simplest and easiest ways to make a difference is by shopping, or, more specifically, the choices we make while shopping.  And, as most people shop nearly every day, or at least a few times a week, the difference we can make is huge. 

In one small but very important act, we can promote healthy living, compassionate treatment of animals, energy conservation, equality among people all around the world, and even raise money for our favorite charities. 

Essentially, in this act we are exercising our power of choice, a very important aspect of our freedom.  A more popular phrase for this is “consumer buying power”.  This basically states that as consumers (shoppers) we are shaping the market, as companies track what is being purchased.

Why, then, do so many people relent to practice this power of choice?

Honestly, I think most people don’t realize we have this power, or at least the power to communicate our beliefs and support our causes by our product choices.  For example, did you know that in just choosing one brand of coffee over another, you can also make the choice to endorse the rights of small farmers, reject the use of pesticides in food, and promote a charity!? 

Others, like my former self, may choose to ignore the facts as it is often both easier and cheaper to do so. 

However, despite the effort (which really is quite minimal) I have taken much enjoyment out of my new shopping habits.  I not only feel like I am making a difference (as miniscule as it may seem at times) but feel healthier and happier too.

To help you out on your journey of being a conscientious and kind consumer, I’m going to give you some of my favorite examples.  Before I do that though, I do want to make two notes:

1)      This is a very brief list.  If you really want to learn more, I suggest you read “Making Kinds Choices” by Ingrid Newkirk.  (My book review is one of the first in 2013: )

2)      I did not make all these changes at once.  It was a gradual progression.  Doing it all at once would be great, but may be overwhelming.  If so, just start with one and then slowly work some of the other suggestions in. 

And now, here are some of my tips for making a difference by your shopping choices:

Food: Buy Organic and Fair Trade When Possible

If you’ve been keeping up to date and staying informed on healthy eating, you probably already know you should be buying organic, or mostly organic, produce.  I’d also recommend buying as much organic anything as possible, from tortilla chips to coffee.  And seriously, if you really want to be healthy, by organic! 

But the benefits of buying organic goes beyond our well-being, it’s also like signing a petition to help others eat and feel better too.

By buying organic, we are saying no to pesticides and other harmful chemicals that make people sick and cause disease.  We are telling the companies that grow and make those products that we don’t want them, and instead are promoting small organic farms (that also usually use less energy and create less waste) and companies that only put the best ingredients in their food.  And, the as we keep putting our vote in for organic products, companies will take notice and produce more, for less cost.  I know it seems like your weekly or bi-weekly (+) grocery trips seems very small in the grand scheme of things, but that trip and the organic foods in your cart does count.  Even in the short time I’ve shifted to buying organic, I’ve seen a price drop in some items.  However, the biggest proof that people’s organic shopping trips have been making a difference is the growing number whole food stores and weekly farmer’s markets popping up around the country. 

I’ve really gotten picky about my coffee in the past year (especially as I read more articles on why I should be avoiding caffeine…maybe one day, just not right now).  I’m not talking about the taste either…if you start talking to me about different roasts and flavors, I’ll probably give you a blank stare.  What I mean is that I won’t buy coffee unless it is organic and Fair Trade certified.  Coincidently, it also happens to taste better, with my taste scale range going from bad, good, better, best, but that’s not the point.  Anyway, since I’ve already talked about the organic part, I’ll skip right to Fair Trade.

When we buy Fair Trade products, we are promoting better working and trading conditions in developing nations, resulting in both greater sustainability and higher wages of workers.  If I can buy food for myself that I already have on my list, while promoting a good cause, then by all means I am going to do so.  Plus, buying Fair Trade coffee, agave, etc. is about the same amount as buying the same products that aren’t Fair Trade. 

Furthermore, there are also a lot of food companies out there that are tied to specific charities and causes.  Lately, I’ve been buying a lot of Endangered Species dark chocolate bars as gifts, with 10% going to endangered animals, making them a bit more meaningful.

To some this section up: Eat Good, Feel Good, Do Good!

Peanut Butter- In the picture you can read the label of the peanut butter jar, but it is made with just peanuts and salt.  There is absolutely NO PALM OIL!  The use of palm oil has recently been highlighted among animal rights activist, as the people who harvest the crop do so with no regards to the apes living there.  They are not only taking away their home, but also injuring them in the process.
Meat & Animal Products- It is beyond this blog get into this topic.  What I will say is that America’s consumption of meat has led to huge energy costs on the environment, and many farmers who do keep animals for food do some in VERY inhumane ways.  I suggest only buying animal products that are organic, grass fed, and free-range (but double check the company as “free-range” can be used very loosely). Going vegetarian, or vegan (it’s easier than you think!), a few times a week makes for a great start.  For more information, check out Sandi’s blog at the link below:
Personal Care: Buy Natural and Cruelty-Free


To start off with, many personal care products are made with harsh chemical that could be deadly if consumed in large amounts.  So why would anyone ever want to put that on their body? 

And how do we know those ingredients in those products are harmful or deadly?  Because they are tested on innocent animals who are harmed or die in the process.  And why would anyone want to kill an innocent animal, especially when we have ready available alternatives?

(Again, it’s probably a lack of or resistance to knowledge.  But now you know.  Too late to turn back!)

Lucky for us, we can reap double the benefits when we decide to be compassionate consumers.  Many grocery stores now carry at least a small selection of cruelty free products.  I even found my Tom’s brand deodorant in my local Acme!  On the back label of these products you will usually find a small picture of a bunny with the words “cruelty free”, though I do have a few products that just have the statement “Not Tested on Animals”.   Plus, all (at least almost all) of the cruelty free products are also made with natural ingredients, meaning you’re not putting any chemicals onto your body.
For a great list of cruelty free companies click on the link below:

Household Products: Again, Buy with the Bunny

This one is pretty similar to the above.  Most household cleaning products, from glass cleaners to laundry soap, are both heavily laden with chemicals and are tested on animals.  I look back with horror on how I used to clean my shower.  After spraying the cleaning product, I used to step in the shower to clean it, and then take a shower, breathing in many harmful chemicals.  As bathrooms are pretty tiny in general, I may as well have locked myself in a gas chamber. 

But, just like the personal care products, natural and cruelty free cleaning products are becoming easier, and cheaper, to find.  Sometimes, they even come with a 3rd and sometimes 4th bonus.  My current laundry detergent, for example, on requires a small amount of solution per load, making it a much greener alternative.  A lot of the companies are also tied in with an environmental cause or charity as well.

In case you’re wondering, yes, the natural products I’ve used are just as effective, if not more effective, than the other chemical ridden products.  And I much prefer my hair smelling like mint or coconut then some fake, toxic smell.

Not ironically, you can probably see a trend in that the products that are better for us are also better for the world.

Note:  You can make many household cleaning products yourself, often with ingredients you already have in your home.  Most are a simple combination of water, baking soda, vinegar, and lemon.

Clothes, Jewelry, and Accessories: Make a Statement!

Yes, we can be fashionable and make a difference too!  When we wear clothes, jewelry, and accessories that are earth friendly, Fair Trade, or from companies that practice social responsibility we are not only make a style statement, but a statement that we are caring and socially responsible individuals.

I’m going to break down my picture to make the explanation a little simpler.

·         The jewelry and navy purse are Fair Trade, or bought in a developing county.  I love being able to tell people that my necklace is from Africa and my bracelet is from Nepal!  They are very unique pieces too, which definitely represents me.  Yes, someone else’s jewelry may be more expensive, but it probably means much less.  For more information of Fair Trade, please scroll back up to the food section.
·         My Mountain Hardware Effusion Hooded Jacket and my Patagonia Recycled Sling Bag are two of my favorite pieces, and both from companies that practice social responsibility.  They not only care about the environment, but practice it in how they make their products.  I’m not going to say the name of the other big, very popular, competing outdoor sports company with the initials NF, but while it does some pretty cool things for good causes, it stops when it comes to making some of their products.  More specifically, the way it gets the feathers for their down jackets is quite inhumane.  The other main thing to look out for in this area is wool.  Most sheep are harmed in the process of being sheered.  There is no need for this, especially when there are great synthetic materials out there.  (Admittedly, I do have a few pairs of SmartWool socks for winter, but they state that there practices are humane.)
·         Finally, we have my Vertical Runner arm sleeves…some of you may be rolling your eyes, but I didn’t put them in their as any kind of promotion.  Honestly, they don’t need it from me.  And that’s because of HOW they do their business.  For one, they treat their employees fairly and with respect.  I know this not simply from being in the store, but because there are so many employees who have worked in the store for years and could easily leave if they wanted to.  Second, as a small business they are proof that when we buy from the community we give back to the community.  They are constantly donating items and money to various races in the area, as well as making contributions to our trail systems. 

I have to add that you really have to be careful when purchasing with some companies, as you can probably tell from the middle bullet point.  Many corporations are attached to great charities and causes, even having special events where employees donate their time to local non-profits.  Unfortunately, some of these companies practices clash with those ideals.  For example, McDonalds is attached to Ronald McDonald House Charities, providing amazing services to sick children and their families.  At the same time, McDonald’s is also influencing childhood (and adult) obesity, essentially causing sickness and disease.  In cases like this, it’s better to donate straight to the charity or one with a similar cause. 

Final Words:  Worried About Price?

For the most part, I can find many of the above products for a relatively inexpensive cost.  With that, there have been a few times where my grocery bill has made me want to cry.  For that reason Food Babe has put together some great tips on her blog, from coupons to suggestions on what to buy to keep your budget intact:

Second, with some products, you may just have to remember what you are buying is of high quality.  Patagonia products even have a lifetime guarantee!

Last, just remember that what you’re buying is making a difference.  Now, that’s not an excuse to go out and buy a ton of stuff, just a helpful reminder when you’re staring at $2.49 of sugary peanut butter, versus the $4.99 of organic peanut butter, or the $7.99 jar of almond butter (or even $12.99 if you really want to get up there).

On the flip side, when you throw things a way, see if you can "reduce, reuse, or recycle"!
I had to add a picture of my recycling bin and my new compost!

Buy conscientiously, buy compassionately, make a difference.


  1. I started buying organic and juicing too. Uncel Wayne was complaining our food bill has doubled. It isn't so easy to buy orgainic in New Bern. You can get some stuff but the price is high. I have a lot of Agave Nectar. Now I hear that is bad for ya too. Sigh!!!!!!
    Anyway I made this chocolate pie which is vegan free, dairy free & gluten free. I hate to think how much it cost to make but it sure was good. You use nuts, dates and cinnamon for the crust. For thef filling you use !00% unsweetened chocolate, dates and coconut cream. If you want the recipe let me know. Your mom and Jim had some when they were here. I think they liked it. Uncle Wayne liked it and he rarely eats anything healthy. I did make gluten free pumpkin muffins and he like those. Maybe there is hope!!!!!!

  2. Excellent thoughts Rachel, thank you for posting. Taking time to be aware during our purchases is key. And going in with a game plan is key as well. Endangered Species chocolate is one of my favorites too- the higher the cacao the better, I think they make an 88%. I like to dip in fresh almond butter for a high fat low sugar snack. Be careful though, definitely can get addicting. Have a great day. scottyO-Aspen