My First Trip to the Hippie Stores!

One thing that made me excited about moving to the Nashville was that they had organic-y stores in a decent driving distance from my house.  It’s odd that having a Trader Joe’s and a Whole Foods nearby would make me excited b/c I’m really not that into buying organic.  However, I have recently been convicted about buying chocolate after reading this blog, and I have decided to buy start trying to buy fair trade chocolate.  I know, I know, it sounds crazy, especially for a penny pinching, coupon clipper like myself, but I just have this thing about child slavery.  I just don’t like it.  Like, at all?   And hearing about the child slavery used by the major chocolate brands kind of led to a little crisis of conscience.  I know that there is so much I don’t know about the chocolate industry, and so many systemic problems involved that I don’t know how to fix.  I know that one person buying fair trade chocolate doesn’t make any kind of difference.

But here’s what it came down to for me:

The whole purpose of my life is to bring God glory.

God loves children.  (And all people, but it is clear that children have a special place in his heart, both because of their vulnerability and because of their trusting nature.)

I also love children.

I will answer to God one day for all of my choices.

So…if I knew beyond a reasonable doubt that there is a high probability that the chocolate I purchased was made in part by children who were forced into slavery…

…and I knew that there were alternative brands of chocolate that cost a few dollars more, but were not made using child slaves…

…and I still bought the slavery chocolate to save a few bucks…

could I answer to God for that?

The answer I came to was no.  I tried to mentally weasel around it in a thousand different ways, but my conscience would not play ball.  To knowingly buy the slavery chocolate was simply unjustifiable in my mind, and I would fully expect God to hold me accountable for my willful selfishness.  Like I said, I love children, and the thought of one of them being hurt because of my casual purchase of a (let’s face it) luxury item was just unconscionable.

So that’s how I found myself in Trader Joe’s for the first time on this rainy Tuesday.

I walked in and wandered around aimlessly for a minute or two, honestly a little overwhelmed, before I ran into a sales rep.  Of course, I could not think of how to say what I was wanting, and it came out like this:

“Excuse me, I’m looking for the…you know, the…the non-child-slavery chocolate?”


She blinked, but didn’t miss a beat:  “You mean the fair trade chocolate?”

Yep, that’s what I mean.

I was mainly looking for chocolate chips, and I told her that.  Surprisingly, she said that she wasn’t sure if they had any, and went to ask a manager.  A few minutes later, she came back with the news that they had NO FAIR TRADE CHOCOLATE.  What???  It’s Trader Joe’s!!!  Man, I thought, if Trader Joe’s is not with me, then how hippie am I?

They also don’t have sales.  Did you know that?  Nothing ever goes on sale at Trader Joe’s.  What kind of place is that?  As someone who literally plans her family’s whole menu around the weekly grocery ad, that just made my heart hurt.

Thankfully, they did have a good selection of fair trade coffee, which I was also looking into, and she told me that the nearby Whole Foods would most certainly have the chocolate.

On the way out, I did find some crunchy green beans and tried them out:

I was actually looking for something more like these


which my neighbor, Molly, had at her house.  They were uhhh-mazing.  The green beans weren’t as great (too green-beany, if you can imagine), but they were an okay substitute.

Next it was off to Whole Foods.  They did have one brand of fair trade chocolate chips, but it was quite small and cost *sniff* $5.69.  They had all these other brands of chocolate chips, including the Whole Foods brand, which were cheaper.  Were they seriously not fair trade?  I was beginning to think that I really had these stores on too high of a pedestal.  I found a worker and asked him about it.  Together, we scoured all the bags for some sort of indication that they were fair trade.  The big mystery was the Whole Foods brand.  I mean, I just couldn’t imagine Whole Foods using slavery chocolate, not necessarily b/c of innate morals, but b/c of their clientele.  Aren’t they supposed to be super ethical and conscientious?

It’s sad, considering the magnitude of the evil involved in child slavery, but I really did not want to pay $5.69 for a tiny bag of chocolate chips.  This was where the rubber met the road for me.  It’s one thing to think, “Oh, I love the children!  I want to be like Jesus!  I want to stand up against slavery!”  It’s another thing when you are actually standing in the store holding the outrageously priced bag of, like, seven chocolate chips while living on a youth minister’s salary.  Especially when the Ghiradelli’s brand is on sale for *sob* $2.79.  Get behind me, Satan!

I told the guy my qualms and concluded with, “I mean, if this is all you have, I’ll buy it for the good of humanity, but is there any way I can find out if the Whole Foods brand is fair trade?”  He had already talked to a couple managers and came back with nothing.  But he said, “You know?  I really want to know, too.  Let’s look it up.”  He went to the computer and searched the Whole Foods website.  While he couldn’t find anything definitive, he did print out their brand’s official commitment to ethical standards and such.  It was comforting, but if I’m going to pay extra for chocolate chips, I really want to be certain.  Before I left, though, he asked if he could see one of my fair trade bags.  He used a marker to “x” through the bar code and said,

“I’m going to sample this one out to you.  You can just have it.  You know, for the good of humanity.”

That was so nice, and it made my purchase a lot easier…because I also had (yes, had) to have some fair trade cocoa mix, and, shockingly, it was not super cheap, either.

As I drove home, I pondered my emotions, especially the fact that I was feeling a little guilt at spending so much for chocolate chips and cocoa mix.  Yes, I know they are luxury items, but right now, they are not something we are willing to give up.  Plus, one of the benefits of Nashville is the superior grocery situation:  better coupons, better dairy prices, and the presence of Kroger stores.  I figure that if I double down on my couponing efforts, I can make up the difference in price between the fair trade chocolate and coffee.  And even if I can’t, I see this new purchasing move as one tiny step closer to living fully in God’s kingdom.  I want His kingdom to come, His will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  And surely it isn’t His will that other children suffer so that my children can have chocolate chip cookies.  Surely taking the time and money to buy fair trade advances His Kingdom and His will on earth, even if in the tiniest bit.

What do you think?  Am I crazy?  Do you make any purchasing decisions for moral reasons?  

17 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by mcafeess on November 9, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    These are the blogs you just hate coming across, because they require change in a lifestyle you are comfortable with. There’s a a bowl of Snickers and Butterfingers sitting on my desk and I find myself eyeballing it with a look of disdain as I feel deceived.

    All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

    One vote for ‘not crazy.’


    • Thanks, Sean. I know what you mean about hating to come across the information. I thought she was going to blog about coffee, and I was all ready to make that lifestyle switch, but when she said chocolate, I was like, “Noooo!” But what can you do?


  2. Posted by Greg on November 9, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    According to this – organic chocolate should be slavery-free due to the restrictions on being certified as organic.


  3. Posted by vic on November 9, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    Hey! Awesome job! I struggle like that with many purchasing decisions. What helps me to purchase fair trade items that cost so much more than conventional is the fact that the reason it’s more expensive is because the workers are actually paid a fair wage. Get it: FAIR TRADE?! 🙂 Keeping that in mind, that the cost of the chocolate will actually put food on someone else’s table in Uruguay or help their kids go to school instead of growing cacao I am eating makes the decision easy. And this is just chocolate…think about bananas, coffee, clothes…I suppose it’s overwhelming to think of everything, but I disagree with you when you say that one person buying fair trade chocolate doesn’t make a difference. You absolutely made a difference!


    • Thanks, Victoria. It is kind of overwhelming to think about all the different products we buy that are/might be unethical. Small steps, small steps…

      And I do believe that it makes a difference, but one of my personal objections was that the difference was too small to make it worth it. I was able to jettison that thought by saying that even if it made NO difference at all, I still needed to do it b/c it was the right thing to do.

      Thanks for your encouragement!


  4. I am swinging from lol’ing to hmmmmm’ing while reading your post interesting combination for me (and one I know you are most pleased about 😉 …I have to admit that often I keep purposefully ignorant of these kind of ethical dilemmas because I dont want to feel guilty buying those 8 packages of NestleTollHouse chocolate chips for $1.25 each today (btw.. even after reading this I am going to be okay with myself because I didnt know better two hours ago!).

    I think where I get hung up is the sustainability of such stands …like, if you stand up for child slavery and chocolate, do you also stand up for child labor in the making of many of the clothing brands that we can afford to dress our children with? Do we investigate each and every thing we buy to make sure that the process uphold fair trade laws? Maybe we should ..its a genuine question of mine.

    ITs where my mind goes when I see people going to these lengths (which, I do think is extremely commendable ..dont let my thoughts challenge that at all 😉 …where does it stop?

    My answer so far is just to ignore all of it and buy my cheap chocolate chips and go to my favorite department store 🙂 …maybe I am not living radically enough, I just dont know.

    There is the hmmmm part ….the LOL part was a picture of you and the Whole Foods guy looking up fair trade stuff on the company website ..I would have given myself the credit on getting to the store that MIGHT have the chocolate chips 😉

    Either way, the fact that the bothers your conscious answers the question as to whether or not your efforts were ones that brought glory to God – because you were willing to sacrifice the time, energy, effort and pennies in order to live out that one thing in such a way as to better live in line with God’s laws …its a very good thing indeed.


    • Thanks for chiming in, Court! The question you raised of “where does it stop?” was brought up several times in the comments to the post I linked to, usually in an accusatory way. Several commenters called her a hypocrite b/c they know she shops at Wal-mart, for example, and they also brought up the clothing thing. And even in my own thoughts, I was like, “I simply don’t have time to research every product I buy, or to pay so much higher for so many products”…and for some reason, that almost dissuaded me from doing anything at all. Then I realized that there is nowhere else in my life where I have that “all or nothing” standard. As a Christian, I don’t think, “I need to work on patience,” and then think, “But unless I master all the fruits of the Spirit at the same time, there’s no point to working on just patience.” I also don’t think, “I need to fold this load of clothes, but my living room is a mess and there are dishes in the sink, so what’s the point of folding clothes?” Working on patience and folding clothes are simply steps in a process. It would be ludicrous to devalue those efforts just because I wasn’t perfect at everything else in that sphere.

      I decided to think the same way with chocolate and coffee. I know enough about those to believe that it is morally necessary to switch to fair trade. Maybe later I will learn some new information about another product and make the necessary purchasing adjustments. But even if I never do, that doesn’t mean that purchasing fair trade coffee and chocolate is for nothing. When I think about the systemic problems, it gets overwhelming fast. But when I keep it simple, and focus on what I CAN do, however small, it keeps me from being overwhelmed. I remind myself that God doesn’t ask me to solve the problems of the world. He just asks me to do what I can with what I have. And when He puts something in front of me and pricks my conscience so hard with it, I have to believe He wants me to respond to that.

      I know that your comment was not challenging me, and I hope this response doesn’t come off as defensive. It is honestly helpful for me to write these thoughts, as I am still working through them. Thank you for raising some good questions! I love how you always make me think!


  5. Okay, I am continuing to ponder …One thing is that I think that we (meaning, me) often ask the “when do you stop?” question in terms of global Christianity. LIke, should ALL Christians not go to Target, or should ALL Christians pay $6 for chocolate chips. Really, though I think the question is more a personal one. Is this a step of faith/sacrifice/work that God asks of YOU that you must follow through with. There are Christians all over the world taking stands on this kind of ethical dilemma – and when they chose to make that for the glory of God (on a heart level, I am not talking about on a show level) then they are doing the next right thing that God is using to draw them more into the Kingdom.

    I think a great example is the Duggers ..they are on baby #20! Is it a stand against society that they are taking? Heck yeah. Is one I respect and believe with all my heart they will be rewarded for based on their faith, despite the fact that the world will ridicule them for it? Yes! I feel like I need to live out my faith that way? No. Are they wrong and I right, or the other way around? NO.

    When God directs our heart to turn out back on evil, no matter if it is eating chocolate chips produced by abused children, or a store that supports gay rights – we are taking a personal stand on our own plot of Kingdom ground.

    We cannot chose to stand on every single ethical dilemma that there is …we dont have the resources for it. But I think that when God shows us by means of a blog, friends or through ways that arent so easy to explain, we have to be willing to do what it takes to live as a citizen of the Kingdom ..regardless of it takes 10x as long or costs 5x more than it would if we didnt.

    I know that I dont have to explain to YOU how this is in no way meant to insinuate that TRUTH is relative and what is good for you is fine for you and what is fine for me (Because you know you know that is not what I am saying) …no. TRUTH is absolute, but how we live out the truth of the Kingdom is very personal and individual…a challenge of your heart and resources to find those chocolate chips was an important one. And it did make a difference ..if in no other way but in strengthening the Kingdom through the obedience of one of its children. And THAT is something.


    • I totally get what you are saying, Courtney. Like you, I don’t believe that Truth is relative, but I also know that there are some places to which God has to bring a person. I know if someone got all over me because I had not properly researched the clothing industry before buying my kids’ clothes, I probably would not take it well. And so my goal is not to put anyone on a guilt trip but simply to relate how I believe God is guiding me. What someone else does with that information is between them and God. It is certainly not for me to judge…I definitely don’t have enough resources for that:). Living my own life for God is hard enough; weighing in on what everybody else should be doing sounds exhausting:).


  6. Posted by Dana on November 10, 2011 at 12:30 am

    Have you been to Cost Plus-World Market? They have some great organic coffees and chocolates. They have a coffee club that you can earn free coffee when you purchase so many and they have days that you get double punches. Also, they will send you $ off coupons if you sign up online.


    • No, Dana, I’ve never heard of that store, but it sounds great! Coupons and punch cards and free stuff…music to my ears. Is it here in Nashville? I’ll have to Google it. Thanks!


      • Posted by Dana on November 10, 2011 at 9:42 pm

        It has furniture and home furnishing, but also has a unique selection of specialty food. I know there is a store in Nashville, just not sure how far it is from you. I got an email for $10 off $30 that is only good for a few days. I will email it to you since I don’t live near one anymore.


  7. And…in case it got lost in all that debate..I think its awesome that you saw that through 🙂


  8. I’m torn. And not because it’s chocolate. I just have the same feeling I did about the Southern Baptists boycotting Disney years ago over their “gay days.” I admire the passion, and don’t want to quench the spirit. But it’s such a drop in the bucket. I hate smoking–my granddaddy died of emphysema, and one day my dad will. But since RJ Reynolds owns Nabisco and Philip Morris owns Kraft, a “boycott” gets dicey in a hurry. And we hope our children are learning the right lessons about living your values, but what if they get the message instead that “I’ve never had a Nilla Wafer or seen “Snow White” or eaten a Hershey Bar, not because my parents are people of faith and integrity, but because my parents are NUTS? (At least they’ll be organic, fair-trade nuts!)

    I think there’s a slippery slope on both sides. To ignore genuine evil and injustice only because our tiny voice won’t change anything is cowardice. But on the other side are the vanity vegetarians, making “statements” that serve no purpose but to feed their own sense of superiority. I don’t necessarily think chocolate chips are a hill to die on, but to each his own.

    One postscript–there’s also “counting the cost.” We are blessed to live in a society where we can make such moral choices and usually pay little more than some inconvenience. But at what point does the calculus change? Would you pay double for chocolate (or lettuce picked by citizens, or whatever) if it cut into REALLY important stuff? (Anything from the light bill to living in a safe neighborhood to health care?) What about “indulgences,” or as we call them today, “offsets?” Can I buy Hershey bars if I send the difference to Compassion International? And what about the iron law of unintended consequences? We ban DDT but then poor people die of malaria. Is buying a Wal-mart shirt made by a 10-year-old in a sweatshop helping to feed a family that would starve otherwise? Like so many things in this world, there is a level of complexity which we don’t even see.


  9. Hey, Larry! Thanks for chiming in!

    I get what you are saying, and, if you can believe it, I’ve already thought through a lot of your concerns (one of the comments on Facebook said I was “overthinking” things. Yep, I have a tendency to do that!).

    Regarding the drop in the bucket thing: I fully believe that not only this, but so many of my actions as a Christian are just a “drop in the bucket.” The light I shine to the world is but a drop in the bucket compared to the darkness. The influence I try to be in the lives of others (excepting my family and close friends) is but a drop in the bucket compared to the other influences in their lives. This blog is just a drop in the bucket of cyberspace. If I used the “drop in the bucket” mentality as a criteria for doing good…well, that would rule out most of my efforts for God’s Kingdom.

    I get the pragmatism, and I don’t want to disproportionately sacrifice for a hopeless cause, but I hardly call paying a couple bucks extra for chocolate chips “dying on a hill”! Does that really count as sacrifice these days? Really, it is just a tiny lifestyle change, and it is telling of my own selfishness how much I had to agonize to make it! And it’s not like I am depriving my children of chocolate chips (now, THAT would be nuts:)). Luke and Anna are completely unaware of the change, but I think if I set them down and explained the concept of child slavery to them, they would be against the chocolate, too–at least I hope so. If that qualifies as “nuts” to my kids, then I have bigger problems on my hand than their perception of my oddities.

    Lastly, in regard to the unintended consequences, I have heard a lot about that, as well, usually from negative commenters on the blogs and articles I read (as opposed to authors of articles). They suggested that perhaps the child slavery is the “good way” compared to the possible alternative of sex slavery, or starvation. Two things come to mind when I read that. One is that the commenters probably know no more than I do about the situation and are just wildly speculating. If they actually established a firsthand, working knowledge of the slavery situation on the Ivory Coast, their comments might have a little more credibility. Secondly, they vividly bring to mind the scene from “Amazing Grace” (about William Wilberforce’s efforts to abolish slavery in Britain) in which the members of Parliament make similar arguments about how “good” the slaves have it compared to their old lives. Both times, the sentiment comes across more as a cop-out to me. Yes, there are always potential negative consequences, and I think we are to do due diligence (is that how you use that phrase?) to educate ourselves about them. But I think such concerns can also easily lead to a moral paralysis, in which we don’t do what seems like an obvious good just because their COULD be unintended consequences.

    That said, I really do view this as a personal decision. Part of my own conviction is that I need to at least put the idea out there for others to make of it what they will. But at the end of the day, I’m not going to judge everyone I see eating a Hershey bar. As I told Courtney, I’m thankful that such judgment is not my job, b/c it sounds exhausting!


  10. […] and I recently decided to try to start buying fair trade chocolate, a conviction I blogged about here.  A couple nights ago, Greg asked me if I had read about Nestle partnering with the Fair Labor […]


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