Published in the Fall 2007 issue • Features
People everywhere are challenging themselves to live a more sustainable life. One BC couple spent 365 days eating only local food. A Toronto couple tried to eliminate the garbage they produce, and a woman in Seattle spent a year in the same homemade brown dress to protest hyper-consumerism. A New York family started a year-long project where they will buy nothing (except very bare essentials) and a family in Louisiana spent a year without products made in China. But what about the rest of us? We challenged 18-year-old Sarah Frances to a much smaller task: live corporate-free for one week. Here’s how she did.
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The second day felt a little less daunting. I woke up early to catch breakfast at a café next door, easy. The café is independent but I wasn’t sure about its products. The bagels come from St. Urbain, a company from Quebec. But the juice was from Lassonde — another Quebec company, that owns some huge brands like Allen’s Everfresh and Fairlee. So I ate a bagel but skipped the juice.
My aim for that day was to see if I could convince others to tackle this project with me. This did not work out so well. When I told one friend about my mission, he replied, “Wow, that’s a good idea, I’m going to do that, too.” Minutes later, he bought a Coca-Cola product. I thought another friend (who was writing a paper on poverty and corporations in developing countries) would be a great person to talk to about this. “Why would you do that?” she asked. At least she gave me her homemade lunch while she bought food from a chain restaurant.
Later that day, I went by Good Catch, a pirate-themed general store a few blocks from my home, to talk to owners Jola and Dan, who recently made their mom-and-pop status legitimate with the birth of their son. Jola believes that people shop at stores like Ikea and Wal-Mart because they are given no alternative. On the other hand, she said, people are starting to want both quality and fairness from what they buy, and there is a new awareness of the importance of shopping at independents. Jola concluded that with sources like independent radio and the Internet making it easier to find information, there’s a chance that people will be more informed and make ethical decisions about purchases.
I was surprised to learn that even a store as small as Good Catch could be considered “corporate,” since they are technically incorporated. I walked up Roncesvalles Avenue to go to a clothing store called Planet Aid. It is a purely non-profit shop, with 60 percent of the profits going to African communities to help keep children fed, clothed and in school. I was shocked to learn that in order to be considered a charity in Canada, you only have to donate 12 percent of your profits, a number that seemed ridiculously low to me. Planet Aid was founded and maintained by a committee of volunteers. The stores may resell clothes from The Gap, but at least some of the money is going to a good cause.
Then I headed over to She Said Boom, a record and book store that has been around for several years. I interrupted a busy employee named Mark to ask him what he thought about living corporate-free. He told me that he does it on a regular basis without thinking about it. He wasn’t necessarily against buying clothes from a big chain — he just didn’t tend to do it. I guess you just go by what you’re used to.
By the fourth day, I was feeling a little burnt out from so many opinions and interviews. A lot of the things I was hearing were making me feel completely ignorant. I was learning things that made me kick myself for not knowing them sooner. Was I really so far removed from responsible consumption? I decided to fight the big corporations by staying indoors. Take that, consumerism.