All or Nothing?

Perhaps the only criticism I’ve received for running this project is that it’s too difficult for most people to change everything all at once. “Sometimes I don’t have time to drive across town for ‘special’ chocolate chips.” Or “What if I’m at a friend’s house and there’s chocolate cake and I don’t want to be rude?” Or bigger than that, “If I start to buy fair trade chocolate, don’t I have to start caring about fair-trade everything? Isn’t that too overwhelming?” are some of the questions I’ve fielded from friends and family over the last couple of years.

For some reason, many of us are inclined approach making changes in the things we buy and the routines we carry out with an all-or-nothing attitude.

When it comes to chocolate, though, every dollar spent on fair trade or ethically produced products helps grow the market, making fair trade chocolate more accessible to smaller grocery shops, and more convenient for people to choose. It also provides opportunities for more growers in cacao-producing countries to get great jobs. Sure, you can be a fair-trade chocolate purist with some planning and effort, but don’t be so overwhelmed by the task of monitoring every bite of the stuff you put into your mouth such that you ignore the idea of fair-trade entirely.

I just finished Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal Vegetable Miracle, about her family’s experiments in eating only local foods for a year. In it, she confesses to a few slip-ups, a few packets of Easy Mac now and then, but doesn’t feel as though a bowl of cheesy noodles offset her entire year’s efforts:

“I share with almost every adult I know this crazy quilt of optimism and worries, feeling locked into certain habits but keen to change them in the right direction. And the tendency to feel like a jerk for falling short of absolute conversion. I’m not sure why. If a friend had a coronary scare and finally started exercising three days a week, who would hound him about the other four days? It’s the worst of bad manners- and self-protection, I think, in a nervously cynical society- to ridicule the small gesture. These earnest efforts might just get us past the train-wreck of the daily news, or the anguish of standing behind a child, looking with her at the road ahead, searching out redemption where we can find it: recycling or carpooling or growing a garden or saving a species or something. Small, stepwise changes in personal habits aren’t trivial. Ultimately they will, or won’t, add up to having been the thing that mattered.” 

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One Response to “All or Nothing?”

  1. ambervandenbos Says:

    Thank you for writing about this ‘all or nothing’ reply. I frequently hear this reply when I try to convince people to take just a little step towards fair or sustainable behaviour.

    In the Netherlands two girls, Natasja van den Berg and Sophie Koers, have written a book ‘Praktisch idealisme’ (practical idealism) on the small things people can do. They’ve also put a lot of effort in spreading the idea that every little thing you do is good and made it sort of trendy to live this way.

    They’re a lot better at convincing people than I am 🙂

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