Kelly Witwicki Faddegon

Organizer, Speaker, Graphic Designer, Direct Action Everywhere

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It's easy to separate a product from its production process. What can we do to change that?

This came to mind with the question of factory farming:

But further applies to our neglect to consider the ripple effects of our actions on, say, labour abuse in outsourcing, or the destruction of the air we breathe.

Branding has a significant role here, showing us the glamourized product and concealing everything about its production. We see a Prius in a cute pristine environment, so no one asks about the car's embodied energy or how the battery material was mined and produced. And even with advertising aside, you cannot see a child's sweat on your t-shirt, and steak looks nothing like a cow.

This makes us take our commodities at face value -- we think the cost is limited to the dollar sign on the price tag. In the interest of improving our farm health and humane conduct, worker treatment, environmental stability, and so forth, how can we remedy these disjunctures?

To start, I think ecological footprint stickers and taxes could do a lot, but can we find a way to learn to see the dominoes without our governments regulating our ability to?

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    Mar 21 2013: it's almost impossible to know how a finished product was manufactured, but there are a few questions that we ask ourselves to realize that something may be wrong.

    for instance, how can a pair of jeans cost under $10? or, what does it mean when you see on the label "assembled in the USA" or "processed in Canada"?

    also, we should refrain from dealing with companies that are not transparent, like Apple and its partner Foxconn. on the other hand, are we ready to pay more for other similar products?
  • Mar 21 2013: Nurturing the feeling of doubt and curiosity in people might be a small part in the solution for your problem.

    Excellent question, great potential and an emerging problem of our time.
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    Mar 21 2013: More on this (part of some research I'm doing for a paper, so I have agriculture on the brain): Basically every one pound of beef we eat (a few hamburgers) costs 2.5k gallons of water (100x as much as tomatoes or wheat, or enough for 1 person to drink for 8 years), 10 pounds of feed, up to .15 grams of antibiotics (this number is sketchy, but ultimately 80% of our antibio use is in daily-pumped livestock), and 8x as much fossil fuel energy as a pound of vegetables, and livestock cause 10x as much water pollution as humans otherwise, and the typical meat-eater requires nearly 20x as much land as a vegan (see the references of for more).

    Don't worry I'm not preaching, note that I left the typical moralizing animal-rights ethics arguments aside -- this is about how easily we disjoin a product from its process. Our meat consumption is responsible for a substantial part of the world's dehydration and starvation (not to mention the rippling ailments and crimes that come with that poverty), as well as the rise of superbugs, polluted water, and rapid climate change (and all of those dominoes!). And all when vegetable consumption is more energy efficient within the body of the person eating too. BUT because we do not experience these "side effects" immediately/directly, we think instead of the instant gratification of a cheap steak that is super easy to buy right in front of us at the market. So is information enough? Case in point: did that information make you decide to change your meat consumption habits? If not (which I am willing to bet), why is information not enough? What can we do to make me less acquiescent about this MacBook I'm typing on?
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    Mar 21 2013: So perhaps we could regulate transparency, like we have done with ingredient labels. Maybe we can't yet work out a complete footprint and history, but we can determine a lot more than the nothing-at-all that consumers currently get. I really hope a system of global standards (ie a limited global government based on transparency and human rights) is on the way.
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    Mar 21 2013: Kelly, a product brand may play a role for choosing certain products, but cost/affordability is an important criterion for the majority. Factory farming/production has been using affordability to it's advantage.
    We can use the same principles that we use during food consumption ex: increasing awareness, implications on health,environment,future generations.
    However, it is a challenge to make an individual feel/react the same way towards our environment versus personal factors like health.
  • Mar 21 2013: Thinking through the carbon foot print of a new product is something responsible engineers should do as part of life cycle engineering. However, a company's drive for short-term profits in competitive markets often switches the focus from most environmentally responsible to most profitable. Understanding the industrial pedigree of products and processes is a complex undertaking and beyond the capability of most consumers. This calls for corporate responsibility and responsible engineering.

    That sounds like a very obvious thing to do, but the reality is more involved. Most engineers I know would always select the green alternative if all other things were equal. Problem is they are not. When the decision comes down to making the right and ethical decision or loss or corporate profit, loss of market competitiveness, laying off people, or closing businesses, the ethical responsibilities become less influential.

    If the competitive playing field is level, then perhaps government regulation authority can help influence the competitiveness of companies making good environmental choices be rewarding them with tax incentives and fining companies in violation of environmental policies. However, the playing field between cities, states, and countries is not level.

    The lack of a competitive playing field also applies to political situations such as worker rights, human rights, definitions of environmental responsibility, and ethically responsible. Once again these boundaries are open to interpretation about what is right as defined by political and geographic boundaries.

    I think humanity as a whole is moving towards a more homogeneous definition of these boundaries, but it is human nature to have disagreements about such things. Short of a global government and global policies, equitably and uniformly enforced, and a harmonious and homogeneous population, I do not see this happening for a log while.