Students going to El Salvador have been assigned a handful of books to read before the trip and after the trip, each requiring a brief written reaction piece. Here’s one of mine:
Globalization at What Price? by Pamela K. Brubaker
We live in a global market and just when we thought the recession was hitting the U.S. hard, Pamela Brubaker posits others around the world have suffered for the U.S. consumer’s benefit for a long, long time. This is a topic which is coming more and more to the forefront for today’s recession-immersed society. As we reflect on how we got here and ask ourselves where we go from here, not only in terms of the current state of the US economy but in our relations to the global market, this book states the case for giving developing countries a break in terms of distribution of work and wealth.
The two items Brubaker focuses on which I found most harrowing were food and clothing. Pointing out how globalization affects my daily life is a great way to get me to think about this more. She uses the term “McDonaldization” to describe how the food industry and service industries uses labor practices which prey on the weak and “maquilization” to describe many of the same practices in agriculture (Brubaker, 55-56). Pointing out how my one-dollar McDouble is making other people’s lives miserable is enough to make me think twice about buying one (as if the health concerns weren’t enough already).
The book has quite a long buildup in terms of laying out what globalization is and how it is a part of everyday life for the affluent and it is not until the closing chapter that Brubaker grants the reader the opportunity to learn what to do about it. This may be important for creating context and yet I was frustrated because of my reading habits. I’m an impatient reader sometimes, and reading this was no exception. I jumped to the last chapter quickly, where Brubaker lists several organizations and movements for the reader to consider and the one I will do my best to explore is one I didn’t know about before, the World Council of Churches AGAPE movement, “Alternative Globalization Addressing Peoples and Earth” (129). The description she gives is of an organization with sound theology and practical goals and proposed solutions, and I’m all about that approach to the issue.
My wife is moving faster on changing her mindset than I am. Inspired by a recent reading of In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, she’s signed us up as members to the Wedge co-op grocery store and wants to join a CSA this summer. Eating healthy already comes at a price (show me a lean turkey burger on the “dollar menu” and it will be all that much easier to shun the McDouble), and now we are investigating the additional monetary price of eating with ethical responsibility. That said, the question becomes one of affordability. At our combined income level, do we have the money to eat healthier and more responsibly? And even if we don’t (and in a lot of ways, really, we don’t), this comes at the greater expense of the condition of life of so many others – so how can we afford not to?
It makes me think of two other books I just started reading, Cheap by Ellen Ruppel Shell and Rediscovering Values by Soujourner magazine editor Jim Wallis. Shell asks readers to reconsider what they buy and how much they pay for it. It’s hitting home so far because I am a bargain hunter and am learning more and more that my wish to find things cheap is my way of being a part of the problem, the problem that is ruining lives around the world. This is especially on my mind as I peruse the aisles of Target and Wal-Mart to prepare for our trip for items ranging in scale from toenail clippers to dress shirts. As for Wallis, he claims now that the US is in this recession, the question to ask ourselves isn’t how do we go back to the way things were, which includes continuing current globalization practices, but rather now that things have changed, what do we do now so we don’t set ourselves up to make the same mistakes. My church’s congregation is reading this book together and I look forward to discussing it with them next week during my church’s Men’s Book Club.
This brings me back to Brubaker’s book and why it was chosen for us to read. In the Men’s Book Club, the book is the catalyst for discussion and it is our personal interpretation and our stories which make the conversation rich. Brubaker approaches her subject in a similar fashion, going back and forth between stone cold statistics and her personal anecdotal evidence. In a section about how globalization affects agriculture, Brubaker gives an overall picture of the situation, detailing how migrant workers are getting ill from pesticides. Then she brings it to a personal level, writing about three young women in her environmental ethics course who have had family members who got ill from pesticide exposure, only through the class understanding how widespread the problem has become (57). In another section about ending sweatshop labor for apparel production, Brubaker gives an overview detailing various lawsuits, protests, and even murders in this struggle against globalization. Then, she concludes with her own take on the matter: “At times, we may feel that our efforts are making no real difference. I sometimes struggle with such feelings. Several things keep me going… We are just beginning to develop ‘people’s globalization’” (112). The facts and figures are staggering, almost overwhelming to conceive of and then Brubaker brings us to the emotional side of the issue by writing about real people facing these issues.
That personal moment Brubaker gives the reader – leading into her final chapter, “Can We Really Make a Difference?” – is both reassuring and invokes solidarity. Reassuring, in that this woman who has done all of this research, seen people suffer under immoral business practices first-hand, can sometimes feel overwhelmed enough to struggle with what to do about it. Solidarity, in that she has done something about it: she’s written this book and is inviting us to join her and so many others in this fight.