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Teens try to change the world, one purchase at a time

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"It's really just been in the last five years that we've seen students become concerned with where their food was coming from," says Maisie Ganzler, Bon App├ętit's director of strategic initiatives. "Prior to that, students were excited to be getting sugared cereal."

To reach a younger set that often doesn't drink coffee, Fair Trade importer Equal Exchange rolled out a line of cocoa in 2003 and chocolate bars in 2004. Profits in both sectors have justified the project, says Equal Exchange co-president Rob Everts. What's more, dozens of schools have contacted the firm to use its products in fundraisers and as classroom teaching tools.

"Kids often are the ones who agitate in the family" for recycling and other eco-friendly practices, Mr. Everts says. "So it's a ripe audience."

Concerns of today's youthful food shoppers seem to reflect in some ways the idealism that inspired prior generations to join boycotts in solidarity with farm workers. But today's efforts are distinct in that youthful consumers say they don't want to make sacrifices. They want high-quality, competitively priced goods that don't require exploitation of workers or the environment. They'll gladly reward companies that deliver.

One activist who shares this sentiment and hears it repeatedly from her peers is Summer Rayne Oakes, a recent college graduate and fashion model who promotes stylish Fair Trade clothing.

"I'm not going to buy something that can't stand on its own or looks bad just because it's socially responsible," Ms. Oakes says. "My generation has come to terms with the fact that we're all consumers, and we all buy something.... So if I do have to buy [food], what are the consequences? Who am I affecting on the planet? What am I affecting on the planet?"

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