You have ideas but your psychotic lover has taken the shears to your clothes and all you can do is say “Calgon, take me away!”
These are excuses and the means of avoiding the actual work of realizing change. American journalist Sidney Harris once said, “Our dilemma is that we hate
change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.” This pretty much sums up how most people react to change, yet an analysis of our individual and cultural fears of change can give way to our growth as people which can lead to our taking action.
My theory is that all of us who have the possibility to help others ought to do so. We can volunteer our time in our communities, both with private individuals (ie. elderly and disabled people) and within our governments. For example, there are two primary methods of engagement which I believe we are all morally obliged to undertake in the alleviation of world poverty: personal and social.
The personal approaches to alleviating poverty are easy to take but few people wish to undertake such measures. We all love our “stuff” but most of us have possessions which bring neither aesthetic nor personal pleasures. North American culture is a culture of mass consumption and accumulation and anyone who has lived outside North America notices a distinction between the closets of our French or Moroccan brothers and sisters and our own. Outside of Canada and the United States, people throughout the rest of the world tend to own less “shit”: they have far fewer clothes, refrigerators are stocked only with the needs of the day, chachkas are kept to a minimum, those who have automobiles use them prudently and in combination with mass transit and bicycles, and children are not suffocated with toys.
What you can do personally to alleviate world poverty:
- Plan meals and buy groceries only for the same day;
- Limit your shoping to whole foods which will: improve your health, cut down on packaging of pre-made foods and eliminate food waste;
- Begin a food policy within your household of no food waste: try not to overcook and in the case of excess food, these leftovers should be eaten the very next meal;
- If you don’t know how to cook, learn how to cook today. By using whole foods you eliminate food and packaging waste and you give your body the best source of nutrients. By tossing out bottles of pre-made drinks and diet sodas with herbal tea drinks (ie. hibiscus, verbena, camomile) and freshly squeezed juices you greatly improve your body’s health and eliminate hundreds of kilos of metal and plastic waste;
- Stop over-eating, lose weight and exercise: most of us in the West are guilty of one of these three behaviors, if not all three. The health crisis in North America due to these three problems alone is a drain on worldwide food resources. We have a social responsibility to stop over-consuming so as to make way for food to stay and to keep our bodies in shape;
- For those animal eaters, reduce your consumption of meat, eggs and dairy to two or three times a week. According to Harvard nutritionist, Jean Mayer, by reducing meat production and consumption in the United States by just 10% would free enough grain and legumes to feed 60 million people.
- For those who eat eggs and dairy products, reduce your consumption of these products to two or three times a week and buy only ethically procured products;
- Stop buying crap and try to create systems of exchange or donation for items we do decide to buy (ie. books, videos, toys, clothes);
- Buy fewer clothes and buy clothes from ethical clothing retailers and designers. If a package of socks costs $5 for six pairs, there is a reason why the socks are so cheap: unethical labor practices. If we expect to be properly paid in our jobs, we need to return the favor and properly pay for materials we use regardless of where they were made;
- Don’t turn up your noses at fashion designers and fashion houses—often these are the places of more ethical and grassroots clothes design and fabrication. As you read labels on the food you buy, learn about who makes your clothes from the designer to the tailor. There is history and artistry in clothing and you would be surprised to learn that buying more quality and less quantity effects social change, supports artistry over mass production and/or maintains ethical standards of employment locally and internationally;
- Recycle your own clothes and shoes—find a nearby tailor and shoe cobbler and keep your clothing in repair rather than throwing it out;
- Educate yourself about where your taxes go. Where is tax money being used and how might it be better used to alleviate the social and political conditions of poverty;
- Buy ethical food products (ie. café equitable, etc) and try to buy locally and in-season;
- Stop the fast-food habit and limit eating out in restaurants to once a week. Likewise, eat out in healthy restaurants that serve reasonable portions of freshly-prepared food and do not support “all you can eat” or buffet venues which encourage food waste;
- Try to limit your automobile usage to once a week and when running errands, invite a friend or neighbor who hasn’t a car;
- Reduce your household waste to recycling and compost;
- Fast several times a year, or observe Ramadan: it is amazing how refreshing such practices are for the body and these practices serve as a reminder for the implications of repetition and somatic functions;
- Stop buying bottled water and instead carry a thermos with you that you can refill;
- Try to reduce your intake of alcohol, drugs and prescription drugs.
Here is what you can do to contribute socially to alleviating world poverty:
- Use your vacation time to travel to and volunteer in your community or in a developing country and bring stories of your experiences back to your communities;
- Boycott the Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s and birthday gift-giving—spend such festivities with friends sharing stories, performance. Do we really need (or want) the ceramic that reads “Case dulce casa”?;
- If you don’t wear it or remember owning it, get rid of it and donate your items to clothes to local charities;
- Write letters to your local politicians and businesses that inform local public policy;
- Have discussions with people about poverty and our role in the social and political dynamics;
- Take part of the local school board or community center and advocate for better meals and cooking classes which enforce the need to eat whole foods and which eliminate completely processed foods;
- Read and inform yourself about how our governments individually and in concert organize and concentrate wealth in certain sectors of the world while denying other people basic economic and political empowerment and discuss what you learn with friends and community members;
- Lobby your government officials to change international policies towards developing nations. Debt relief is not enough—we need to insist upon debt cancellation and direct participation in local community development;
- Urge your local politicians to take part of social and health reform measures such as the current AIDS patent pool and other measures which will ensure that low-cost drugs are given to poorer regions of the world;
- Urge your local transit system to increase its circulation where needed;
- Give money to a charity and bring food to shelters;
- When making food, think of bringing a meal to an elderly, incapacitated or economically disadvantaged neighbor;
- Start a community garden and, with your neighbors, live from what you grow for several weeks a year;
- Obesity related health costs in the United States are approximately $147 billion per year. This is more than all foreign aid worldwide. We must lobby our politicians to change this spending and we need to promote education in our schools and communities that embrace the need to eat less and to eat more responsibly.
Aside from poverty, there are myriad issues which we can address on a local or more global level from education to permaculture to the incorporation of allopathy in Western medical practices. Take part and save the Calgon for a celebration of a job well done.