Found: Fair Trade Bananas at Whole Foods (I think?)

In my quest to track down fair trade bananas in this greenest of green cities, I asked the produce manager at my local Whole Foods if they carried any certified bananas. He pointed me to 3-4 bunches inconspicuously located among a huge display of Chiquita bananas. Unlike their Chiquita neighbors, these bananas carried a sticker that said “Earth Bananas” and “Whole Trade Certified,” which the manager assured me meant they were fair trade.

I’m a fair trade skeptic so I came home and googled these “Whole Trade Certified” bananas. I hate it when companies self-certify their own products (like Starbucks CAFE standards). It’s as if they are saying “Because we say our products are socially responsible, they are.” That’s not enough for me. I always look for someone independent to back the claim.

Despite my skepticism it seems this “Whole Trade Certification” is worth paying attention to. It turns out Earth University is a non-profit organization that trains farmers to use better growing practices to have less of an environmental impact. They also ensure the farmers are paid living wages and use socially and environmentally responsible growing practices. While not organic bananas, the use of pesticides and herbicides is minimal to none.

This “Whole Trade Certification” has received recognition by Transfair USA, the organization behind the Certified Fair Trade label in the United States. So while Transfair’s logo does not appear on these bananas, they seem to uphold the “fair trade-ness” of what Whole Foods is doing.

If you have a hard time finding these bananas at Whole Foods be sure to ask for them. They come from Costa Rica and carry a yellow and green label that says Earth Bananas/ Whole Trade Certified.

The real test of a good banana in my household is: Does Grace (my 15-month old) like it? She has voraciously consumed the Earth bananas with as much speed and gusto as any other banana that has darkened our doors so I’d say that’s as much of a taste test as you need.


Nothing Sweet About Slavery Part Two

After writing yesterday’s post I emailed my friends at Theo chocolate to ask if they knew of any more recent information on slavery in Ivory Coast, since the State Department report was from 2000. They wrote back to say there have not been significant changes in the industry since the report came out. They also told me they buy their cocoa beans from the only fair trade certified cooperative in Ivory Coast.

The folks at Theo chocolate referred me to this fascinating webclip from Democracy Now, which features a heated discussion over the chocolate industry between journalist and author Christian Parenti and William Guyton, president of the World Cocoa Foundation. The clip shows video of young boys working in the fields and ends with an interview with Joe Whinney, Theo Chocolate’s president and founder.

Note on the clip: The link is for the entire hour-long episode of the show. Once it’s loaded on your computer fast forward to 23 minutes to watch the bit about chocolate.

Nothing Sweet About Cocoa Beans Picked by Slaves

Did you know that child slavery is a common practice on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast, the world’s biggest supplier of cocoa beans? Don’t feel too bad if you didn’t know – I didn’t either until a few days ago. But now I know and so do you. I’m a huge chocoholic but now there is no enjoying a non-fair trade bar of chocolate, knowing a child may have been forced to pick the beans. There’s no going back.

The U.S. State Department reported in a Human Rights report in the year 2000 that an estimated 15,000 children, mostly boys, between the ages of 9-12 were enslaved to work on cocoa, coffee and other plantations in Ivory Coast. 70% of the cocoa beans coming into the U.S. come from Ivory Coast. In the year 2001 the International Labor Organization (ILO) reported that trafficking of children is common in West Africa on these types of plantations. Picking cocoa beans is hard and dangerous work. It takes 400 beans to produce a pound of chocolate so these kids work long and hard to get enough cocoa for even a few bars. No wonder most chocolate bars are so cheap and fair trade chocolate is so expensive.

What is really crazy is that most if not all of the children who pick these beans have never, ever tasted chocolate in their lives.

So I hope you’re prepared to switch but, if you’re like me, you’re serious about your choccolate and not just anything will do. Some questions I’ve heard about substituting fair trade for conventional chocolate are:

I like milk chocolate and it’s all dark chocolate!

Theo chocolate makes the best milk chocolate bar I have EVER eaten in my life. It’s called Vanilla Milk Chocolate and it’s heavenly! Available at New Seasons Markets or directly from Theo.

Equal Exchange also makes a milk chocolate bar. Theirs includes a bit of hazelnut. Equal Exchange chocolate is available at Whole Foods Markets.

I like Milk Duds. Is there a fair trade alternative?

I’m not sure I can help you there but if I come up with something I’ll get back to you. Same goes for Whoppers’ fans.

What small pieces of wrapped chocolate can I buy for my kids or so I don’t eat the whole bar?

Global Exchange sells yummy milk chocolate gold coins. I gave them out as Halloween candy last year! A bag of 17 pieces is $4.75.

What about hot cocoa?

Equal Exchange makes fabulous hot cocoa. I know my friend Lisa drinks a cup every night instead of dessert (she’s always been very healthy!).

I have yet to try a fair trade chocolate bar I didn’t like, although I don’t think I’ll seek out that bar I tried that had chili pepper in it. Much fair trade chocolate is organic and artisanal, meaning a lot more thought and work goes into producing it so the result tastes fabulous. Most grocery stores around Portland now carry at least one line of fair trade chocolate. Just look for the Transfair logo (above). If you can’t find it ask your grocery store manager to start carrying it. They do listen to their customers!

My personal favorite is the Nib Brittle bar from Theo. What’s your favorite fair trade chocolate?

Happy Birthday Bambootique!

One year ago today Bambootique‘s online boutique went live, so I guess that makes it our birthday!  Happy Birthday to us!  It’s been a thrilling year for me and Tammy getting this baby to grow as a business. We’ve had some successes, a lot of challenges, but tons of fun along the way. The most thrilling part is knowing that hundreds of women’s lives have been touched around the world. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than that. Thanks to those of you who have supported and encouraged us in our crazy dream.

When my daughter turned one a few months ago we threw a party for close family and friends because we felt it was an event to be celebrated. We had made it through a full year as parents and Grace not only survived, she is a happy, healthy little girl! I suppose our birthday party for Bambootique is our trunk show coming up this Saturday, to which we have invited everyone who has been involved with us over the past year. We look forward to seeing many of you there and to celebrating many more Bambootique birthdays in the years to come!

“The Fair Trade” Movie

There’s a new documentary out that is hard to come by but worth watching if you can get yourself a copy. The Fair Trade is the story of Tamara Johnston, a woman who endured a difficult, often tragic journey before finding healing and purpose in a vocation that brings hope to others.

The one-hour documentary recounts the devastating death of Tamara’s fiance. Following his sudden death Tamara really struggles to make it day to day and she makes a deal with God to put off suicide in exchange for a meaningful life. It doesn’t happen right away but over time and with the support of loved ones Tamara finds new purpose through a fair trade company, Anti-Body, she founds with her twin sister and her sister’s husband.

I appreciated the raw emotion portrayed in this documentary. Even though it is a retelling of events from a few years ago, the sense of profound grief leading to hope comes through quite compellingly. Tamara truly hits bottom before she is able to bring herself out and offer something of meaning to others. She now lives a life of purpose every day through her diligent work promoting fair trade and providing economic opportunities for the women in Africa from which her company, Anti-Body, sources their products. Copies of the DVD are available on The Fair Trade movie website.

On a related note, Anti-Body is now working to raise $35,000 to assist the start-up of a coconut oil cooperative in Liberia. The funds will be used to help the cooperative members purchase necessary processing equipment, among other things. In order to help this effort Bambootique is going to donate 20% of online skincare product sales and 10% of all other online sales to Anti-Body’s Liberia co-op. The fundraiser will run May 3-18th, which is Fair Trade Fortnight, a celebration of fair trade recognized by over 70 countries.

Update: Ordinary People Make Justice Happen

A couple of days ago I posted about the arms shipment bound for Zimbabwe that was stopped by South African dock workers, an arch bishop and a judge. That ship left South Africa looking for another port in southern African to accept its deadly cargo of Chinese weapons. These rockets, mortar shells and other ammunition were ordered by Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s president who now holds his power with questionable legitimacy and, it is assumed, intends to use these arms to crush his opposition, who appears to have won last month’s election.

This morning’s paper reported that the ship searched several days in vain for a port in southern Africa to accept it. Apparently everyday people in southern Africa are incredibly frustrated with their governments’ lack of initiative to do anything to pressure Mugabe to step down. Faced with an opportunity to do something themselves, in every country the ship tried to enter dock workers refused to unload the cargo. Legal workers and human rights activists across southern African have also rallied to stop the shipment. As a result, it appears the ship is going to have to return to China with all its weapons still on board. This is an incredible victory for justice pursued by ordinary people who saw an opportunity and acted.

Happy Earth Day!

Today is Earth Day, a day meant to encourage us all to think greener. I’d like to highlight a couple of Bambootique’s “greenest” products, in every sense of the world. These products are two of our most eco-friendly but they also happen to really, actually be green. Of course they are also fair-trade so they have a positive impact on people as much as on the planet.

Bamboo Bags

Bamboo is an eco-friendly material because it is widely available throughout much of the world and, since it grows so quickly, it is highly renewable. Our bamboo bags are handmade by villagers in northern Thailand from bamboo they grow themselves. The bags are sturdy yet lightweight and easy to carry, and oh so cute. They come in a number of colors but this little green clutch is my favorite.

Arrayan Candles

All our candles are handmade in central Guatemala by Mayan people who use similar candles in their traditional ceremonies. The candles are made from a vegetable wax derived from the arrayan tree, one of the most common trees in the Guatemalan jungle. The wax comes from the trees’ seeds and, because of their candle-making income, the artisans who make these candles are preserving their jungle, unlike many of their neighbors who cut it down for farmland. The candles are unscented, use vegetable dyes and have cotton wicks so in every way they are as green as they can get.

Save the Planet, Save Money

Tuesday is Earth Day, a day intended to inspire us to love our planet just a little bit more. I’m a practical woman and I know sometimes being eco-friendly seems to be so expensive. Well, it doesn’t have to be, so in honor of Earth Day and your wallet here are ten ways you can protect your planet and wallet at the same time.

1) Ditch bottled water. If you haven’t kicked this habit yet, do it today. Bottled water is no cleaner or safer than water from your tap. Buy a reusable water bottle, fill it from your tap or filter pitcher, and throw it in your purse or car as you leave each morning. Depending on how much bottled water you drink, you could save yourself several dollars a day.

2) Remind the checkout clerk of your nickel refund. Of course you take your own bags to the grocery store (if you don’t start today!) but the checkout clerks seem to forget the nickel refund per bag at least half the time. This won’t save you a lot but you should get something for your efforts!

3) Snack on organic fruits and veggies instead of organic processed snacks. Does the price of organic fruit make you balk? Organic fruits and veggies may cost more but they cost less per serving than organic processed foods, which require more energy to produce, package and ship than whole foods.

4) Produce less garbage. It amazes me how many recyclables get thrown into my garbage bin if I’m not careful – little scraps of paper especially. If you become an obsessive recycler you may be able to move to a smaller garbage bin, thereby incurring a smaller garbage bill. We just saved $5 on every garbage bill by downsizing our bin following our switch from disposable to cloth diapers. Take a peek and see what’s in your garbage bin that shouldn’t be.

5) Make your own cleaning products. It’s really not that hard. We use a mix of 1/4 cup white vinegar and several cups of water mixed in a spray bottle for our hardwood floors. This was the recommendation of the installation company. It cleans wonderfully, is practically free and is completely non-toxic.

6) Eat leftovers. Rather than throw out moldy leftovers that never get eaten, plan a leftovers night into your weekly menu. The less food you buy the more money you save and the lighter your footprint on this earth.

7) Eat vegetarian. No I haven’t sworn off meat, but even if you go vegetarian one night a week you can save quite a bit in your food budget. Raising livestock is much more energy-intensive than raising plants and beef costs more than broccoli.

8) Change your light bulbs. There’s no logical reason to still be using those “old-fashioned” light bulbs. Compact fluorescent light bulbs do cost more up front but they last forever (well, almost) and use so much less electricity that you quickly recoup the original cost and more.

9) Walk, walk, walk. I just cringe when I pull up to the gas station these days. With the cost of gas right now, anytime you can walk or bike somewhere your wallet will thank you as much as the planet.

10) Don’t buy anything. If you think twice before you buy anything, you may realize you can get by without it. Anything you buy has some impact on the planet to be produced, transported, etc, no matter how eco-friendly. I can’t think of a more inspirational way to love the earth and protect your wallet.

What do you do that is good for the earth and for your wallet?

Dock Workers, a Priest and a Judge Stop Weapons

When heads of state won’t use their power to do the right thing, thankfully there are sometimes ordinary people who will. The front page of today’s New York Times tells the story of South African dock workers, an Anglican arch bishop and the South African justice system all playing a part in stopping a shipload of $1.24 million of Chinese weapons bound for Zimbabwe.

If you’ve missed the news lately, Zimbabwe is facing a political crisis following presidential elections held 3 weeks ago. The final results of the election haven’t been released yet, a problem in and of itself, but all reputable sources believe the opposition candidate, Tsvangirai, likely received more votes than the incumbent Robert Mugabe. Mugabe now seems poised to do whatever it takes to retain his hold on power, including resorting to violence.

Union dock workers in Durban, South Africa refused to unload the shipment of weapons yesterday, despite the fact that the South African government basically did everything it could to clear the cargo quickly through customs to speed it along its merry way. When the Anglican archbishop of the province caught wind of the shipment he appealed to the South African justice system to ban the shipment, which they quickly did. By the end of the day the ship had pulled up anchor and left South Africa, a victory for everyday people.

Why doesn’t the South African government use its power to push for democracy in Zimbabwe? Would that be so difficult?  Apparently it would be.  Although South African president Thabo Mbeki is the region’s official mediator in the Zimbabwe crisis, a spokesman for his government is quoted in the NY Times as saying “It would be difficult for South Africa to prevent the delivery of goods, including weaponry…it is our hope that these arms…will not be used to resolve the political problems in Zimbabwe.”

If that doesn’t make you feel better consider China’s concerned response, this from their Foreign Ministry: “China has always had a prudent and responsible attitude toward arm sales.”

I feel so much better.

If world leaders will not stand up to tyrants such as Mugabe and even go so far as to become complicit with him, I am thankful for everyday people who refuse to stand idly by and do what they can to see justice served.

Bambootique Giveaway on Green LA Girl

A Bambootique coffee clutch is up for grabs on Green LA Girl’s blog. Leave a comment on her blog between now and Sunday to be entered to win. It’s a great blog too so check it out while you’re there.

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