Recycling is second nature. I haven’t kept the tap running while brushing my teeth in 20 years. My toilets have been upgraded to low flow; the water I drink is filtered rather than bought in plastic bottles. I don’t microwave plastic containers. My dogs are rescued. I try to buy organic fruit and vegetables or, at least, pesticide free. I check the labels of canned or boxed products for hidden sodium, sugar, hydrogenated fat and unpronounceable ingredients. I worry about women in Africa, elephants and rhinos, homeless people and women’s rights. I will not sign my name to any petition until I have researched the facts myself. I have nearly eliminated meat from my diet. I am looking into installing solar panels. My primary physician, while holding a degree in Medicine, is a holistic doctor and has not prescribed me an anti-biotic or a pain-killer in 20 years. I take my electronics to recycling events.
I am exhausted.
As I looked at photos of the clothing manufacturing building that caved on itself in Bangladesh, killing hundreds of workers, I sat down to write about buying clothes in an ethical manner. And then it hit me. I spend a large part of my life trying to do the right thing: for the planet, for my body, for the underprivileged – and I am so tired. There. I said it.
When a fire broke out in China, at one of the factories that manufacture components for the iPhone, I did not protest with large placards outside my nearest Apple store but I was glad that media pressure forced Tim Cook to look more closely at their providers. I want to feel good about my iPhone. Nike was also shamed, years ago, about the treatment of their workers in Bangladesh and remedied the situation so I could keep on running guilt free. But how can I keep tabs on the thousands of little choices I make on an everyday basis while buying shampoo, lotion, make up, pretty clothes made in China, Bangladesh, Nepal, Thailand and every other country where, for a few dollars a day, someone might be sitting in an unsanitary space for 12 hours a day stitching my shirts?
If I were a character in “Portlandia“, I could start demanding every garment I buy come with a little label attached (printed on recycled paper) showing the photo of the worker who made my dress and a brief history of how well she is taken care of. But I am not, and it seems I cannot always trust the larger bodies put in place to oversee workers’ rights or product safety. Which is why I feel forced to conduct research on carcinogenic ingredients in my shampoo and toothpaste.
Could it be that being the product of too much information is finally driving me crazy? Or is it living in California, where I would rather run back a mile to retrieve the reusable shopping bags I forgot in the trunk of my car, rather than being subjected to the dirty looks of Wholefoods’ cashiers? That’s it. I have finally become the prototype eco-conscious-save-the-world chick my state is famous for. And it dawned on me I need to find some balance and let go a bit of this over zealousness. Or do I? How can we trust large corporations to do the right thing when, oftentimes, the right thing goes against looking good in front of the shareholders?
For a brief moment, a few years ago, I considered the possibility of buying only US made clothing. The effort petered out at the first JCrew visit. On one hand, my “need” for silk flower printed pants keeps a Bangladeshi worker housed and fed. On the other, I have to trust that whomever JCrew contracts to oversee their factories is also working for the benefits of the worker bees. It’s this latter part that gets me all the time.
Today I took my first step. I woke up with a throbbing abscess in a tooth. My beautiful, elegant and wrinkle free dentist with whiter than white teeth confirmed my assessment and is sending me for a root canal. Not before prescribing me antibiotics first. My instinct was to run to my laptop to check for the existence of natural antibiotics. But then I heard sofagirl in my head “Take the damn pills” she would say. And I did.
“Would you like me to prescribe you some Vicodin for the pain too?”
Horror-stricken, I declined. I still have to draw the line somewhere.
The extraordinary images are courtesy of Sarah Rosado. You can check out her work at sr-artwork