Mint Mocha Musings

Have you ever slid into the midday slump with a cup of coffee in hand?  Have you wondered about where your coffee came from before the caffeine had a chance to hit your system and help you finish an assignment or clean up around the house?  Probably not, and why would you?  Who wants to daydream about the poverty that your mint mocha or extra caramel macchiato has helped to create.  The likelihood is—whether you have daydreamed about it or not—that the coffee, chocolate, jeans, and sweets you consume came from a land far removed from your mind’s eye, but out of sight does not have to be out of mind.   It’s your decision to take a stand and make a difference. 

Try this video on for size the next time you pick up The Times and your tall skinny latte.

This video raises a few important questions.  For instance, what is it that makes us want to spend as recklessly as we do?  Why is it that the world’s richest ten percent of the population consumes fifty-nine percent of the world’s goods and services?  More importantly, what can citizens do to level the playing field if the World Trade Organization cannot enforce its sanctions and the International Monetary Fund continues to loan money in ways that make it difficult to promote growth?  The video suggests that you buy fair trade products and alter your mindset, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.  

Many think that the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund are the primary paths to reducing poverty in developing nations.  Others are aware that the United States donates a sizable amount to foreign aid.  After all, we were first on the scene in Haiti, weren’t we?  (It was China actually.)  And hey, we contribute more in foreign aid dollars than any other nation.  True, but it’s not much of a contribution when you weigh it in terms of what the United States has to offer.  In fact, the United States donated one of the smallest portions of its gross net income (GNI) to foreign aid of any developed nation in 2010 and has fallen short of the 0.7 percent of its GNI promise since the U.S. signed the United Nations General Assembly Resolution in 1970.

It’s easy to think that our tax dollars have contributed to some kind of international charity and are making a difference, but the truth is that even if the United States donated its full 0.7 percent, top-down foreign aid makes it likely that the money rarely reaches those who need it.  The elegance of this film comes from its simplicity.  It reminds us that the US government will not be the vessel for change.  It is our duty to change our mindset by asking questions about labor conditions for the goods we buy; supporting free trade; and writing our congressional representatives and demanding that the United States engage in a stronger effort to make its aid more efficient.  It’s our duty to inform our friends, our family, and ourselves and it’s our duty to make the right decisions.  Finally, it’s our duty to know and debate the issues around foreign aid and economic development.  It’s only through asking questions and waking up that we can finally make a difference.  

You can start your mission by visiting one of these two sites to find shops that offer fair trade products in your area.

Works cited

by Jane Wallingford  (University of Mary Washington)

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