A Complicated Progression

From Baked Beans . . .

Last week, using my mother-in-law’s bean pot and last fall’s navy beans, I made a terrific batch of authentic baked beans—the real thing. The beans that bake slowly for hours, melding flavors into perfection, and that are always great with something off the grill­.

My husband and I purchase our dried beans (navy, red, black) from the Cooperative Elevator Company that is located in Michigan’s Thumb and owned by over 1,000 farmer producers, including several friends of ours—who have ribbed us for buying many, many pounds of beans at a time!

We know the farmers and their farms; we know how the crops are tended, harvested, stored; we know about the joys and the risks of farming; we are close to the source of our food.

This, however, is not the case for other things that we buy and consume. Michigan is ideal for growing beans, cherries, apples, berries. But bananas, cacao, tea? Not so much.

Having ready access to foods and goods that have been produced from across the globe is an amazing privilege. And too often I don’t take the time to think about the origin of things that I use. But I should.

To Tea . . .

Oppression and exploitation are always disturbing to read about, all the more when we see little that we can do to effect change.

I feel this way about a June 12 story reported by the NCA News. A group of ethnic Palaung (or Ta’ang) have fled their village and are taking shelter in a Buddhist monastery in northern Shan State, Myanmar. This beautiful, hilly, and heavily wooded area seems a paradise. But the usual culprits—violence and the drug trade—have disrupted the lives of people who seem hopelessly entangled in tragedy.

According to the news report, these villagers used to support themselves by growing and selling tea. However, they lost this means of livelihood when:

1. Cheaper tea became readily available from China.

2. Land was seized and apportioned to others, for commercial agriculture.

To Poppies . . .

So with their tea values next to nothing and with the loss of their land, the villagers were vulnerable to drug traffickers. Poppy fields now flourish in the area, supplying jobs during harvest times. And with the drug trade come competition and fighting, precipitating the village residents to flee from their homes.

To . . . What?

So what to do? Simply being aware is a start. Looking for avenues to help—and those range from supporting groups and individuals that can make a difference to changing how we live our own lives. We can support those businesses that source their products ethically, with social responsibility, and that treat their workers fairly. We can pay attention to where and how things are produced, and make our decisions accordingly.

A whole lot of individual changes can eventually lead to a tipping point, to a change that does make a positive difference for humanity.

Again I am reminded that “it’s more than tea”—it’s about someone’s culture and livelihood. And it’s complicated.

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