After traveling six times to Ethiopia before the age of twenty, I have witnessed extreme poverty and disparity in the world. And yet, seeing it is not the same as experiencing it. For the past five days I participated in Trade As One’s “Hungry for Change” program designed to replicate meals like those living on less than $2 a day. This meant that I voluntarily gave up variety, choice, and big portions. For breakfast I had half a cup of oatmeal, for lunch a set portion of rice and beans, and for dinner more rice and beans. Oddly, the experience focused my attention on the privileges I have been afforded rather than what I was “missing out on." Why privilege during a fast? I realized that to participate in Hungry for Change was a privilege itself. It seemed almost backwards that most of my church chose to eat oatmeal, rice, and beans when we are fortunate enough to have variety and large portions in our lives. But Trade as One took the money normally spent on the food to provide beans to a person living in extreme poverty for an entire year. Now I don’t mean to suggest that traveling to a developing country or partaking in a fast closes the poverty gap, however, both experiences have given me the knowledge and empathy to do something about these injustices, which often lead to human trafficking situations. In some ways, participating in this fast was more of an eye-opening experience than traveling half way around the world because I was walking in someone else’s shoes and shedding a little of my life of privilege.
Action Steps: After giving up desserts and big portions, I began to consider what I take for granted in my everyday life. I have the privilege to go downstairs and open the refrigerator and choose what to eat. So, if you are fortunate enough to undertake an intentional empathic experience, visit Hungry for Change, and take the time to learn how fair trade empowers people to be less vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking. We have power in the choices we make as consumers to demand products that do not use forced labor, so even if this fast is not the right option for you, consider how you can become a smarter consumer (see betterworldshopper.org) and think before you buy, while appreciating the options we are afforded on a daily basis whether in the food we eat, our job opportunities, our living situations, our transportation, our families, or our identities. We enjoy countless privileges that are not to be taken for granted, and as we re-evaluate our spending habits, we can decrease the global demand for slavery.