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Golden Calves and blind spots

In our small group, we’ve been doing 2 Kings and this week was the story of Jehu. He’s a pretty interesting guy, complete with maniacal driving skills (see 9:20) but what’s clear is how zealous he is for God. He’s the instrument through which God fulfills Elijah’s prophecy that Ahab’s family will be destroyed. He finishes off the wicked queen Jezebel and he ruthlessly rids Israel of the prophets of Baal. So he looks pretty good. Except for one thing: even though he destroys Baal worship, he leaves Jeroboam’s golden calves. For a guy who has so single-mindedly pursued God’s ways, it seems out of character. He hatched an elaborate plot to get rid of Baal, so why does he stop there?

One of the suggestions our group came up with was that the golden calves had been around for generations by the time you get to Jehu, entrenched in that culture, part of the furniture, if you like. It may be that Jehu doesn’t do anything about them because he doesn’t even see them as a problem: they’re a massive blind spot.

That got us asking about our blind spots. I was saying how shocked I was when I discovered the conditions behind diamond mining. I never would have got a diamond in my engagement ring had I known! And my ignorance is not an excuse! Similarly, we decreased out meat consumption after we heard that (to grossly simplify) it contributes to the Middle East food crisis. We’ve also switched to fair trade chocolate. But what about other products?

My friend Stacey showed me her copy of the guide to ethical supermarket shopping. I’d seen it before but always been completely overwhelmed, so I hadn’t used it. However, she had it in a handy-dandy little booklet that was much more accessible. I knew about Nestle and Arthur already hates Unilever’s advertising (e.g. Lynx – but they also own Dove!) but new to me were the unethical actions of Johnson & Johnson, ALDI, 3M strips and Sara Lee, to name a few. The good thing about the guide is that it doesn’t just tell you who to boycott (at first it seems like everyone!) but also who meets certain ethical standards.

I’m feeling a bit nervous about using it, to tell the truth.

  • Firstly, the more ethical companies tend to be the more expensive ones and, living off Centrelink, I feel like we don’t have money to waste! And yet, the fact that I can even consider what sort of chocolate I’ll buy probably testifies otherwise.
  • Second, I feel like I don’t heaps understand a lot of the issues or economics in play. I don’t want to be a well-meaning-but-still-totally-destructive westerner, though that’s probably inevitable.
  • Third, I don’t want to become a holier-than-thou crusader whose legalism makes her irrelevant.
  • Fourth, I feel like it’s just a very small step. I haven’t got so far as getting a ceres box or joining the local co-op.

But I’m also horrified by the idea I might be like Jehu: zealous for God in a few ways but with huge blind spots. And yet, systemic sin means that my shopping contributes to irresponsible stewardship of the earth, oppression of the poor or contribution to military regimes, whether I know it or not. So I think I’ll change my supermarket shopping from going for the cheapest products and check with the ethical supermarket guide first.

Categories: Bits Culture Written by Tamie

Tagged as:

Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

6 replies

  1. Hi Tamie,

    Great thinking!! :)

    I’ve decided I’m a fan of ‘one step at a time’ because otherwise thinking about the ethics of our shopping can be incredibly overwhelming – thinking through and researching one area at a time and considering what option I like best. I think also gracious ethics – changing 95% of what I do is almost as effective as changing 100%, but stops me from being legalistic. So I’d reject something that someone else has served me or bought me as a gift or cut myself up because it’s not as ethical as other alternatives.

  2. P.S. I love this book (Ridley library has a copy) for a brief, informative, Christian overview of a few major ethical shopping areas:

    Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices (Julie Clawson)

    Her opening message is “Don’t panic”, which is a really helpful way to approach these issues.

  3. I think this is a really important issue, and one where there is a good evidence base for effective change. For example free range vs cage eggs, and the growth in fair trade chocolate. After watching a TED talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/graham_hill_weekday_vegetarian.html) we have been weekday vegetarians for both the health and ecological benefits. We also get a box of organic (and generally local) vegetables each week.

    However since my economic studies in my MBA, and reading some data, I’m not completely convinced that fair trade is always a good idea. There are situations where it still promotes cash crops in areas where there is not enough food, and restrictions placed on the price farmers can charge, thereby having a market distorting effect which disadvantages local economies.

    Apart from fair trade though, I completely support the idea of passing on a product (such as Lynx) because of the advertising. Especially when there is such blatant hypocrisy with the same company selling Dove!

  4. I just did my first ethical shop (although it was at coles). I was also nervous about the increase in cost. My purchase choices have previously been primarily based on buying whatever is cheapest. To my amazement, the grocery bill was actually cheaper than usual! Another example of God coming through when putting my trust in him!

    There were a few occasions where there was no reasonable ethical alternative to a product (there is no good alternative for my beloved Vegemite for instance, and all the parmesan cheeses on offer were not ethical). I wonder then if I should avoid this product altogether, or just get the product that isn’t quite as bad as the others. Something to think about.

    I might try to move on to getting a ceres box soon, as the majority of my supermarket spend happens in the fruit and veggie section.

    I’m also wondering about what to do when I’m not eating at home. Do I decline the coke offered and stick to water? Probably, but it may become hard to draw the line.

    I’m sure many more things to ponder throughout this journey.

  5. I have similar questions, Kat.

    There’s a balance to find between ethical shopping, avoiding legalism and encouraging others without judging them.

    If it helps, we’ve decided to:
    – shop at Coles but not buy Coles brand. (And Coles is marginally better than Woollies.)
    – go for the least unethical product when no ethical product is available.
    – accept whatever others offer us when we’re out but only offer ethical options in our own home.

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