There once was a time in my life when, if I wanted something, then I would buy it, I would just buy it.
I'd hand over the cash, or write out a cheque, and it would be mine. I never really purchased very much, hence my ability to not worry about what I did buy, but boy life was so much simpler in those days.
The problem now is not that I have significantly less spending money these days (which is also true), but my conscience.
Some time in my twenties I began to have vegetarian leanings. I've written about this quite recently. I still eat meat, but I often avoid it too. I know it's patently horrible on the animals, and I share the blame for that.
But eating vegetables isn't as easy as it sounds. For example, if I order a pizza with only vegetarian toppings, then I now have to question whether the human farm workers have been paid fairly for their efforts. Are those vegetables fair trade?
If they're not, then perhaps I should be ordering a meat topping...
Hmm, human poverty versus significantly less endurable cattle's deaths... I don't know, I just don't know.
There are other factors. Even if I do skip eating locally-farmed meat to instead order ethically sourced vegetables from overseas, then I support the expenditure of all the petrol to transport it here. That helps to mess up the environment. And push prices up. Which impacts poor people.
I should emphasise that I don't think one meal makes any difference at all to these issues, but I do think that a regular ongoing pattern of behaviour does. All that food adds up, especially over a whole lifetime. That one pizza topping makes no difference at all, but I've eaten a lot of pizzas, and hope to continue doing so. I am responsible for the structure I choose to take part in.
I've managed to avoid veganism, so far. That said, the drinking of milk from a cow seems very hard to explain as natural.
Josh at work picked up on this dilemma of mine. He suggested that I become a fruitarian, and resolve to only eat whatever has fallen naturally from a tree, rather than it being unnaturally wrenched before time. Thanks Josh.
But consuming responsibly is not just about what one chooses to eat and drink, but also what one chooses to wear.
For example: Underpants. The only company I have been able to find that makes fair trade men's underwear insists on making all their designs so darn funky. I'm sorry, I simply cannot wear those. Yes, even though nobody else would know, I would know. Please. Plain white, without all that additional and expensive colour dye and design work. It will be so much cheaper and easier for everyone. Thank you.
Over the past year I've also sought to find a company that offers ethically produced trainers. I mean when we think of a typical third world sweatshop, the sports shoe industry is often at the top of the list. So surely there must be quite a few fair trade shoe brands on offer?
Nup. Last year, searching online at length, I did manage to find a company called Ethletic, but they only seemed to produce plimsoles. I got a pair but, no matter how much I may treat them as though they are, they're just not trainers.
Worse, today I needed a pair of walking boots. I was standing in Mountain Centre examining a pair that had been made in China... would they be okay? Also, had they been made from animals? Please, one concern at a time...
I actually needed to sit down for a few minutes away from the various shoe shops to think about this one, and to pray. Darn it, now I was really wishing that I had checked out the Vegetarian Shoes stand at that veggie expo recently. According to their website, they did have a high street shop... in Brighton. Well, maybe I could simply make a major diversion from my route tomorrow and... no I couldn't. I mean what would I wear for such a long walk to get there?
Well, eventually I went back into Mountain Centre and I bought 'em. I didn't really have much choice. I can hardly spend the rest of my life never going hiking. Oh, wait a minute, yes I can...
There are a lot of ellipses in this post... that's because there's so much indecision...
At the cash desk, the till clerk drew my attention to a deal they had on socks. I asked where they had been made. She examined them and said she didn't know, and that no-one had ever asked her before. I went to explain why the question was so important, but stopped myself when I remembered that I wasn't even that sure about the shoes that I was buying.
I am not going to conclude this post by attempting to justify what I did there. I only know that I have genuinely tried to find a suitable pair of shoes without subtracting from someone else's life somewhere down the line. I can't do it alone though. I need other people with similar convictions in place between me and the shoe maker.
It's at times like this I realise how much we all needs God's grace.
I'd like to close by telling you that now, forty pounds later, I feel dirty, but I really bought the shoes to do that for me.