The most important lesson that has come about for me in my Zero Waste journey is conscious consumerism. How do my choices affect the planet, other people, and other living creatures? The biggest change I have had to overcome is bargain hunting, and I wanted to share my thoughts with my loyal readers, the public, and the major supermarket chains all around the world – its time to stop and think about the real cost of a bargain.
I want to talk about the farmers in my homeland of Australia – right now, in particular, the dairy farmers. Regardless of your thoughts on the dairy industry, I want you to keep an open mind, this story is about people and the true cost that our supermarket wars are having on their quality of life. This cause and effect are happening in many different industries and it needs to STOP! Take a look at this video – a proud farmer who works 18 hours a day.
That’s right, this man works for $2.46 an hour. He spends 18 hours a day working for $2.46 an hour. I cannot even fathom words to describe the anger I feel that this is what it has come to. To give you all a little bit of context, according to Fairwork, a federal government website, the national minimum wage is currently $18.93 per hour or $719.20 per 38 hour week (before tax). This is $309 per week, or $618 a fortnight. This is barely more than our base unemployment payment, which is $545.80 per fortnight ($884 for a married couple).
You are probably wondering why a farmer would work for these prices, but the truth is, in Australia, there aren’t many places to sell milk that aren’t the 2 major supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths. These supermarkets sell milk for $1 per litre, a price that is way too low. The prices got this low through a price war over consumer business.
It wasn’t always this way. I did a little research, and in 1999, not only were we buying spice girl CD’s, but we were paying $1.40 for a quart of milk (which according to Google, is about 1.13 litres). If you apply inflation to this figure, even with no other price rises, this equates to $2.11. We should be paying roughly $2 a litre for milk. Instead, we are paying half of that.
Sadly, the consumer seems to have a short memory, and any higher priced milk, for the most part, gets ignored. The cheaper prices in the major supermarkets are the norm. And unfortunately, according to the Lucas Group, buying the higher priced milk doesn’t help the farmers anyway.
“Whether you choose the $1/litre supermarket-brand or the $1.90/litre named brand variety will not, ultimately, make a huge difference until the processors commit to passing those additional profits on to the suppliers.
Consider alternative options. Buy milk at your local farmers’ market or through farm-to-home distributors such as Aussie Farmers Direct. This will allow you to take greater control of your spending power.”
And that’s the message I want to get out there – Take greater control of your spending power. We cannot rely on companies or corporations to make these decisions for us. Buy local, buy seasonal, buy consciously. Bargains might be great in the moment, and I’m not suggesting anyone shops outside of their budget, but I think most of us can probably find a few extra dollars a week to spend a little more on the things we consider to be staple items (bread, milk, fruit, veg etc). And if we can’t, are there some items we could give up in order to spend a little more? After all, what is your local farmer going to have to give up this month to feed his family?
We would love to hear your thoughts or suggestions in the comments below.