Catherine Maguire

Communion With Others

Ethical Stories: Catherine M.

We in the West don’t tolerate waiting…

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t give much thought to the idea of conscious consumerism until earlier this year, when I first read Timothy Radcliffe OP’s wonderful ‘What is the Point of Being a Christian’. In it, he related the story of a plane that crashed shortly after takeoff from Halifax in Canada in 2004. It was a Ghanaian aircraft carrying fresh vegetables for Western markets, and the cause of the crash — incorrect flight data input before takeoff — was a consequence of pilot fatigue. They had been flying for almost 24 hours, worked (literally) to their deaths by our insatiable desire for all food at all times.

My choices as a consumer, brought me into communion with others.

We in the West don’t tolerate waiting; we want peaches and asparagus and pineapples on our shelves all year round, with little thought given to the welfare of those who grow, pick, package and transport our produce. They will be the ones who will be obliged to wait: their long hours of back-breaking work at a pitiful wage are hidden behind the reams of glossy packaging and slick advertising. We don’t give a second thought to the environmental impact of flying enormous quantities of cargo across the world.

Climate change will lead to an increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, which will inevitably lead to hunger, displacement and conflict among the world’s poorest populations. This tragic tale was so shocking because it showed me that my choices as a consumer brought me into communion with others. Every tomato I ate, every lipstick I bought was the final link in a long chain of human and environmental effort and, often, suffering.

The Impact of My Choices

I’m still learning about how I can make more ethical food choices, but I’ve been making a concerted effort to look at other choices I make as a consumer, and how I can be more mindful of the human and ecological impact of these choices. I’ve started with my skincare routine. In addition to making sure that my cosmetics aren’t tested on animals, I try to look for ways in which they’re cruelty-free for humans too.

Some questions I ask myself are: does this company pay its workers a fair wage? Are they committed to finding environmental alternatives to non-recyclable plastic? Do they avoid ingredients that are produced in an unsustainable way and which don’t contribute to deforestation and other destructive environmental practices? If you’re interested in making more ethical consumer choices, skincare is a great place to start. In the United Kingdom, at least, it isn’t difficult to find cosmetic brands that have a solid, ethical ethos. Lush is my go-to brand: they’ve been transparently and consistently open about ensuring that every level of their supply chain is sustainable, ethical and fair.

A recurring theme in Francis’ papacy is that being a conscious consumer is our Christian imperative. In Laudato Si’, he stresses that our decisions as producers and consumers degrade both human dignity and the environment. He also stresses a sacramental view of creation: all living things are valued in God’s sight. In the beauty of the earth, we learn about God, for he created it and his mark is everywhere in it. When we abuse the earth and the dignity of its inhabitants, we lose the transcendental nature of creation. Ultimately, he writes, ‘living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue’. By privileging people and planet over profit, and by being mindful of the environmental and human impact of our consumer choices, we reverence God’s creation, and God Himself.

Catherine is a PhD student and writer living in London, England. She can be found on Twitter @catcjm