Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Running on Dunkin'

Sipping on the last coffee that I will have on American soil before traveling to Africa, I can’t help but think of a film we watched in my Global Poverty and Practice intro class called “Black Gold”. The documentary inspects the international coffee trade, depicting the addicted dependency of “First World” countries on this caffeine source and the inadequate compensation to “Third World” farmers and workers for their hard labor. Following the travels of an Ethiopian manager of a cooperative in his quest to find better prices for his coffee farmers (which is a coincidence since I’m waiting to board my 14.5 hour Ethiopian Air flight), the film depicts the issues of “fair trade” in the context of coffee – how the sale price of coffee beans is a minute fraction of the price at which people actually buy coffee. At $3.99, I can’t help but think that most of the profit from my purchase of a medium sized French Vanilla coffee goes towards the person I see in front of me and not the farmers who handpicked the beans that made this black gold. This film truly changed my outlook on the rules of the game in the international arena of trade, policy, and politics. I highly recommend it to anyone interested!  

As I look around at the people waiting to board this plane with me, I remember how interconnected the world is now. At this point in our lifetime, we (mainly in the Global North) have the privileged opportunity to travel to almost anywhere in the world. International travel has dramatically increased over the past few decades and this has led to some great things such as the incredible ability to share knowledge and the rapid response to deadly disasters. Yet, it also has allowed me to reflect on how skewed the rules of the game are - how the people who work the hardest in the commodity chain are not the ones who get paid the most, how difficult it is for a country to develop without accepting aid with conditions on how to spend that money, and how the lucky chance of being born in a high-income country has led to so many privileges. Though I have no answer on how to fix the rules, I think acknowledging the skewedness and advocating for and supporting the small choices such as buying higher priced fair trade Ethiopian coffee could help change the rules of the game. As the world becomes more and more interconnected and interdependent, it is essential that we all understand the rules of the game and how to better help and work with one another. My Global Poverty and Practice professor this last semester once mentioned a theory on conceptualizing poverty that has stuck with me. Formed by an anthropologist, the theory suggests a kinship model whereby if you think every person in the world is part of family, you would never allow that person to experience hunger or poverty; you would never let that person sleep on the street or suffer from a vaccine-preventable disease. Because they are family, you love them unconditionally and you care for them.

Just a thought….