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25 March, 2008

Bitter pill

It's been a while since I last bought refined white sugar.  I prefer 'golden granulated' unrefined cane sugar in my tea; it's not quite so sweet and I try to avoid overly-processed foods.  However, it's gone the same way as bananas: apart from the 'mass-produced' white sugar, Sainsbury's now only sells Fairtrade sugar.

I strongly object to the supermarket making the decision for me – it's for the individual consumer to (literally) buy into slacktivism or not. And I definitely choose 'not'.
I've already discussed my opposition to Fairtrade, so I'm back on the white, at least until I discover whether shopping at Asda (on the far side of the river) is practical or whether I can start buying non-Fairtrade unrefined sugar from Booths on my way home from work.

Well... that was my immediate reaction, anyway, slightly mollified by the acknowledgement that Sainsbury's haven't imposed a 'feel good about yourself' premium, and the Fairtrade price is the same as had been applied to the non-Fairtrade product. On reflection, I have mixed feelings.

My primary objection to Fairtrade is that it's tokenism: a minority of well-meaning consumers might help a small number of selected farms, but the majority of the sugar, tea, banana, etc. industries continue as normal. It'd be far better to meaningfully reform the large-scale markets than make barely-noticable gestures.

Yet, contrary to my typically cynical expectations, that real change might actually be happening. Major retailers like Sainsbury's have massive purchasing power. The volumes of sugar they buy will at least assist large numbers of farms, and may influence governments and international markets. Obliging somewhat hostile consumers like me to participate, though of questionable morality, might be what's needed to achieve a critical mass.

It pains me to say it, but perhaps forced collective action is what's needed.

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