If you like social justice, you’ll like these books. If you are the teensiest bit curious about the origins of your food or clothing, you’ll like these books. If you like to learn, you’ll like these books. If you like to read, you’ll like these books. In short, a lot of people should give these books a good read.
I’m not quite sure how he did it, but author Kelsey Timmerman has done a smashing job of blending information and humor with an overall narrative you want to continue long after you’ve put the book down. I loved both of these books, and have recommended them to a mess of people since reading them.
In Where Am I Wearing?, Kelsey travels from Honduras to Bangladesh to Cambodia to China to find out the genesis of his favorite clothes: jeans, boxers and flip flops. He takes you through the process of tracking down where his clothes are made, and then into the factory themselves. He speaks to the workers both on the jobs and in their homes.
In Where Am I Eating?, his follow-up book, Kelsey explores the humble beginnings of his family’s favorite and most common food and drink. His adventure takes him to coffee fields in Columbia, a cocoa plant in Ivory Coast, a banana plantation in Costa Rica, a lobster boat in Nicaragua, and the apple orchards of Michigan (via China).
Both books are completely eye-opening. I definitely had some thoughts, opinions and preconceived notions going into these books. And they changed me. I thought I was doing a pretty good job of researching supply chains (the process by which goods are made), but Kelsey helped me go deeper. Now, I must admit there are some areas where I have more questions than I’d previously had answers. But I believe I have also created some better habits. If these books do one thing, besides make you laugh, they’ll make you think.
I’ll give you two examples:
- I was Miss Western Culture holding up my picket sign for “No Child Labor!” before Wearing. But, his book makes you realize that there is so much more to the face, however young, of the issue. It’s a systemic issue, not fixed over night by the banning of goods or mandates set by those on the other side of the world. In cultures where it is normal for kids to work because the adults have already passed their prime, families could starve. Well…that’s not an outcome I want either. There are layers to this issue. I don’t like it, but they’re there. There are so many things that need to happen in those societies before/during/after children are pulled from the work force. Mindsets have to change. Hearts have to change. And people fear change. So, what am I to do? You know, I am still not 100% sure. I know one thing that has to happen is that I have to be informed. So, I learn and I research, and I make the best choices I can with the information I have. And that’s where I’ve landed…for now.
- I used to work at an eco-organization, so I thought I had a pretty good handle on food supply. I know what harsh chemicals are used to grow and treat food, and what we label “food” which could more adequately be described as a science experiment. So, I thought I was ahead of the curve on this one. But again, I realized how short-sighted I had been. It made so much sense when reading it. It felt more like a “duh” moment than an “a-ha” moment. And that was because I’d been buying regular produce for thick-skinned items because the chemicals hadn’t reached the food. I’d buy organic for thin-skinned because they were treated with chemicals. Well, despite my efforts and proclamations to be a good global citizen, I’d completely neglected that the people working in the fields with the thick-skinned items (ex: bananas) had been doused in chemicals. I hadn’t given them a whole lot of thought. But I certainly don’t want anyone to be harmed in the process of getting food to my table. I want to know that these items improve their lives, not send them to the hospital or lead them to an early death. So, what do I do now? I buy organic and local as much as I can.
You may be reading this thinking that it’s all well and good for me, but it costs a lot of money to buy organic or a lot of time you don’t have to research clothing. And I get it. I do. I was there once upon a time. But friends, ignorance isn’t bliss. I know the decisions I make when I purchase impact others, and I want those to be good decisions. I do the research and I buy organic because I have personally made it a priority. We all find time, energy, effort and money for the things we decide to make a priority. That’s a fact. Start small.
This is not a guilt trip. It’s just an attempt at a conversation I feel needs to happen. Like I said, these books are funny and honest. Kelsey doesn’t set out to provide you answers and three steps to better buying decisions. He is curious, and he takes you along for the ride. You’ll feel like he’s a friend by the end. I honestly think you’ll want to be a part of the conversation after reading these books. (By the way, Kelsey is very active on social media, so yes, you can actually have a conversation with him. He’s awesome.)
There is good news, however. There are more and more companies who care. I think by making these more informed decisions, we are telling businesses that we want to see more ethical production take place. And I think that’s the best way to move forward.
Besides Kelsey’s books, here are some other resources to get you started:
Free2Work (Website and App: The website has reports on clothing, coffee and electronics)
Purchase With Purpose (Web link: I helped author this one.)
Better World Shopper (Website and App)
Good Guide (Website and App)
If you know of others, please fill me in!
And thank you to Kelsey, for these amazing books. I can’t wait to see what you write next!
(Note: Amazon links are affiliate links.)