When I was thirteen, I became a vegetarian. When I was twenty, I transitioned to veganism. In the meantime, I developed a lot of ideals that revolved around ethical consumerism — something discussed a lot on Offbeat Home. I chose not to shop at certain big box store chains, and tried to either thrift clothing or buy items that were sweatshop-free. I had a lot of time to fantasize about my future and prospective living situations, and the idea of a vegan, eco-friendly, ethical household was appealing to me. So when I met my now-fiancée and the topic of moving in together came up, it was apparent that some compromises were going to have to be made on someone’s end.
She loved shopping at stores that marketed affordable merchandise, she was used to certain brands of cleaning products, and she loved her bacon and steak. And while not feeling like a vegan guest in my own home was important to me, I also didn’t want to infringe on my fiancée’s enjoyment of the foods she craved.
The compromises didn’t come without some heated discussions. I reneged on a lot of my personal, ethically-based shopping rules while she cut down on the amount of meat she ate, and what she did eat she cooked herself so I wouldn’t have to touch raw meat. We chose to buy cleaning products that don’t test on animals while I loosened up on the list of chemical ingredients that made a product off-limits to my vegan sensibilities. I stopped supporting certain popular animal rights organizations that have questionable advertising and protesting strategies in exchange for smaller organizations that did more to rescue animals rather than just focusing on a person’s diet. I want to make it clear, though, that I don’t feel like my personal values were compromised — I’ve simply decided that there are better ways to go about supporting causes I believe in.
While having these conversations with my fiancée, it occurred to me that a lot of my choices that tried to incorporate ethical consumerism were a lot about boycotting. And if boycotting certain products, stores, or services works for you and your value system, then I’m all about doing that. Certainly, I still boycott meat, dairy, eggs, and products that test on animals. But boycotting isn’t the only way to support your ethics and value system.
I decided that from now on, instead of focusing exclusively on cutting things out of my shopping list, I’ll do things that support causes I believe in — looking for volunteer and social opportunities in the area.
Maybe instead of refusing to buy products that use stearic acid, I’ll volunteer at a local animal shelter and make sure my own pets aren’t procreating irresponsibly.
I can donate my money to responsible organizations instead of refusing to buy things from organizations or corporations I feel have different value systems from mine.
And there are a lot of places that could use volunteer help that don’t necessarily negate the specific issues I’ve mentioned. Maybe you are uncomfortable with cheap clothing being made in sweatshops. But maybe you can’t afford to buy expensive American made clothes and maybe solely relying on thrifting isn’t getting you the things you need (like, underwear, socks, and plain white t-shirts). So maybe you decide that, since you can’t figure out how to combat those specific issues, you’re going to do good by volunteering at the hotline of a local rape crisis center. Or you’re going to work a soup kitchen, or donate goods to a women’s shelter, or volunteer at a hospital that services veterans.
There is a lot of screwed up stuff in this world. I think that commenter LXV, who was quoted in the Ethical Consumerism Condensed, said it best:
In the end I think the best you can do is find the little corner of the world you are going to make less shitty. If we all improve our corners maybe we’ll eventually meet in the middle of the room and find we’ve made it a pretty good place.
It’s easy to stretch yourself too thin when it comes to trying to fix the planet. If you pick one or two causes that are important to you, and focus on doing things that result in a positive impact, that can make just as much of a difference as boycotting.
Changing a few things I do or buy (or not buy) to support my value system doesn’t make me a worse person in the long run. And I’d like to think that even if I’m supporting an organization that does good but that doesn’t necessarily negate the bad of another organization, the karmic overflow will balance everything out.
It’s completely possible to make compromises when creating a new family unit that don’t mean sacrificing your values. There’s definitely more than one way to do good in this world, and when you find out the ways that mesh with you the best, it’s a really rewarding feeling.