Ben Clowney, 26, relishes a challenge. Not content with standing against injustice as Campaigns Officer for Tearfund, Ben is determined to practise what he preaches.
His mission was simple – to consume only food and drink carrying the Fairtrade Mark during Fairtrade Fortnight (26 February-11 March). Or perhaps not so simple for this steak and cheese man; with all meat, vegetables and most dairy products off the shopping list …
Frying muesli in red wine was probably the lowest moment of the fortnight, but with more than 2,500 fairly traded products to choose from, I’m not sure what led me to such a moment of desperation!
On the surface, my diet was every eight-year-old’s dream. Chocolate, cakes, biscuits, and as much Ben and Jerry’s Fairtrade vanilla ice cream as I could eat. But not having a sweet tooth and with no meat and vegetables allowed - it was rice, quinoa (a grain the Incas used for thousands of years), nuts, spices, and fruit forming the basis of my meals.
To some my mission was ridiculous – but to me it was about highlighting a serious injustice. That the majority of the products lining our supermarkets are grown by farmers unable to adequately feed their families because of unfair trading laws. Buying products carrying the Fairtrade Mark has a positive impact on the lives of those who grew or made the product. More than five million farmers and producers throughout the developing world are benefiting from the Fairtrade commitment to fair prices and safe working conditions.
As Christians, God calls us to stand up against these injustices and we can do this through what we buy. Buying Fairtrade has a positive impact on lives - this was a constant motivation for me throughout the two weeks.
Finding enough Fairtrade marked products wasn’t the hard part. I was surprised to see more than just tea, coffee and bananas at my local supermarket. I discovered Fairtrade rice, cinnamon, apricots, juice, spices and lemons – even Fairtrade yoghurt! For those harder to come by products, I found online shops could provide what I needed.
As sales have elevated and consumer pressure has grown, the ranges have increased and prices dropped. Fairtrade is gathering ground, with sales over £300 million a year. Sainsbury’s and Waitrose recently committed to only stock Fairtrade bananas from now on.
The farmer that Fairtrade helped
Meeting Conrad gave the challenge some perspective. A banana farmer from St Lucia, he talked about the healthcare and technology that Fairtrade had brought to his community, assuring me that his bananas were ‘the sweetest … on earth’. He wasn’t wrong. Finding bananas that were marked from his farm in my local Waitrose was one of the highlights of the fortnight for me.
Throughout my challenge I encouraged people to ask their stores to stock a wider range of Fairtrade products. The support I had from complete strangers via MySpace (www.myspace.com/fairtrademan) was fantastic – they kept me going when the thought of another brazil nut made me gag.
There certainly were some hard moments. I sat in the pub with a glass of tap water while colleagues tucked into delicious looking steak sandwiches. I cooked myself quinoa and mango to eat, while others on the dinner table enjoyed bangers and mash.
My challenge ended on holiday in France. I was pleasantly surprised to find a number of Fairtrade products in the local French supermarket, though I certainly needed my bag of supplies from back home. And I have to say, the steak I ate in the early hours of my first fair trade-free day was one of the most satisfying meals of my life.
By meeting people like Conrad, I know that through my choices I can respond to the call in Proverbs 31 to ‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves’, and not just through buying Fairtrade food. From ethical clothes to ethical banking to reducing our impact on climate change, as Christians we are called to live in a way that upholds those in poverty.
And lastly, I’ll leave you with a handy tip: if you ever do find yourself frying muesli in red wine, just add a handful of ginger biscuits and a spoonful of tahini for a perfectly edible meal.
Ben Clowney is a Campaigns Officer at Tearfund
100% Fairtrade Recipe by Ben Clowney, Fairtrade Man
Sticky Fairtrade Rice
2oz Fairtrade rice
2 tblsp Fairtrade Brazil nut oil
Pack of Fairtrade Brazil nuts
Teaspoon Fairtrade Ginger
2 chopped Fairtrade bananas
1 spoonful Fairtrade honey
Cook rice according to packet instructions. In large frying pan, heat oil. Add nuts and ginger and fry until nuts have browned. Then add bananas with a spoonful of honey. Mix well. Then add rice and mix together. Serve immediately. Serves 2.
To read more about Ben Clowney’s challenge visit www.myspace.com/fairtrademan
To find out more about Fairtrade and trade justice visit www.tearfund.org/trade
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