I was raised in a liberal, progressive community, and my parents and friends were aware of the issues surrounding globalization. My family shopped primarily Fair Trade when possible, bought produce from the CSA farm right next door, and my mom even took part in the Seattle WTO protests when I was young. Yet, while I was very familiar with the Fair Trade logo, I didn’t actually understand what fair trade was: I didn’t look past the label.
My lack of real understanding of an alter-globalization movement prompted me to study Fair Trade and more personally, my role as a consumer of ethical products. I wanted to understand what fair trade really means, and I was curious if other people too had only a surface understanding of the movement. In my research, conducted for the class Sociology of Globalization taught by Dr. Nicki Lisa Cole at Pomona College last spring, I found that this was largely the case. Most people knew that Fair Trade was “fair”, “ethical”, perhaps that it “guaranteed farmers a living wage.” But, few people had any deeper knowledge of the fair trade movement or the many Fair Trade organizations that compose it.
As I walked the streets of Amsterdam in late September of 2011, I sensed the oldness of the place all around me. As an American, I often find myself awestruck by the visible age of European cities. In terms of the built environment, the United States is a young place. I grew up in New Hampshire, one of the original thirteen British colonies, and have seen my fair share of old New England. I have eaten at “America’s Oldest Restaurant,” The Union Oyster House (established in Boston, Massachusetts in 1826), and have taken care of business in one of the nation’s oldest plumbed indoor toilets, at Harvard University. But, there is something different about Amsterdam, a city that was founded around 1300. Its oldness, and all that represents, is on the surface, looking back at you, as you look at it. Maybe it’s the distinctive and uniform architecture of the original brick buildings that line the city, or they way they tip toward and away from its streets, and slant sideways, due to their slow sinking. Maybe it’s the canals, which remind me of the role of waterways and seafaring in the building of the Dutch empire.