Monday, 1 July 2013

Does Nationalism Mean That We Care Less?

 This little girl lives in The Rwenzori Mountains.  I wonder though .. would you feel differently about this little girl if she lived next door to you? 
When I did my degree many years ago my dissertation was on decision making.  I studied psychology of human communication and I brought together two theories from Cox and Ash on attribution.  What  the study revealed was that one defining element would affect your entire perception about a person or product.

The words were called key influencing words and they had the ability to influence attributes a person would give to a person or a product, and therefore affect the way you feel about that person or product.   I proved in my paper that the two theories were the same process.  This ability to attribute qualities is a key factor in our decision making and affects the way we feel and react to the world around us. . Why am I telling you this?  Because I believe that your reaction to the picture of this child would be very different depending on one key influencing word. 

I'm the first person to advocate being proud to be British. I believe that we are one of the fairest most tolerance countries to live in the world.  I also accept that as a rule most people don't think about the people who grew their food, but I really struggle with the "them attitude." Three times in the past month when the subject of  either child labour or Fairtrade has come up I have heard separating phrases about other people, in other counties and one woman used the phrase "those people." Whilst I hold a British passport I am not defined by being British, and I've come to the conclusion that the absolute definition of ourselves geographical and political borders is at the heart of many people's couldn't give a dam attitude. 

The excuse one woman gave to me with this attitude is that we have poverty in Britain.  I do accept that we have poverty here, but when I enquired what she did for British families in poverty it turned out that this phrase was simply thrown out as a free pass to do nothing at all for anyone.   

For me there is no them.  There is no us.  Our identities in this day and age transcend borders.  We are humanity.  There is just the world and nothing conveys this concept better than food.  With advances in communication our world is really just a global village, and yet there is still hunger, poverty, injustice and abuse. Statistics from the ILO estimates that around 215 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 work, sixty per cent of whom are employed in the agricultural sector .. in other words the food sector. 

Nothing conveys our dependence on each other more then food. From kick starting our day with a cup of coffee, to throwing a banana in the children’s lunch box or treating ourselves to a bar of chocolate most of us, in a normal day, can circle the world three times over without a second thought. 

So I wonder would it mean more to you if the people growing, harvesting and processing your food who lived in extreme poverty were British?  Would you be more outraged if local children missed out their education to pick the cocoa beans for the chocolate that you enjoy? Would a fair wage for the workers picking your tea mean more to you if people who picked were from your town? Would it matter to you more if the pineapple growers that lived next door to you were using pesticide that are banned in the European Union and forbidden in the United States? 

I'm not suggesting that people give up or denounce their national identity to save the world, but I am suggesting that by changing our definition of identity and accepting that we are all one world then perhaps we might consider our everyday decisions in a different light.

Do you think that your geographical identity affects the way you feel about people?   


  1. No, I don't think it does for me.

    I am a firm believer that the food we eat should cost what it actually costs to produce properly i.e. use adults to pick and grow, package and deliver, not children. If the product or item then costs more, then so be it. If it becomes too expensive to buy then the middle man is charging too much. In the same way that the farmers here are squeezed until the pips squeak by supermarkets - what they produce should yield them a profit and the supermarket's profit should be less. I hate it when I read that the consumer/housewife demands "cheap food" - we don't. We want safe, well grown (i.e. no pesticides, no GM food) healthy food and proper payment all the way along the line.

    It's not right at all for children to be working - if their parents were able to earn a decent wage, they wouldn't have to. It's a pity there are not more fairtrade products out there.

  2. I absolutely agree with all you say in this post, Vanessa...I hate the attitude that says we should 'look after our own' first...who are they exactly? Fairness & compassion should be extended to everyone whose lives we touch, wherever they are. I would also include everything that lives & animals, birds, fish...I can't bear it when people say that humans come First and animals are ours to do as we want with them. Or that the elderly aren't as important as children because they've "had their chance at life". Or that someone is less worthy because they don't practise the same religion as you. Kindness, fairness & doing what's right should be something we all strive for and I really do try & think about the choices I make. It's actually not that hard, but takes some thought. Very thought-provoking, loved reading this. Happy July xxx

  3. This morning I spent a wonderful couple of hours with the amazing woman who runs Borderline Books in Gateshead. She said something very simple but very powerful. "There is room in this world for me and there is room for you, I'll shove up a bit." We need to learn to shove up.

  4. I quite agree with Jennifer, we really want good healthy food for which we are prepared to pay a fair price - Fairtrade. Child labour is abhorrent.

  5. Thank you for articulating how I feel Vanessa. this is a great post and I will definitely be sharing and referring to it xx

  6. I think this piece of writing will be on my mind for a while to come. 'What if this little girl lived next door to you....' I feel I've had a bit of an 'Aha' moment, as Oprah puts it. Many thanks, Vanessa.


If you are reading my blog I must warn you that I am not impartial. I want to influence you. I want to make you stop for just a moment and consider the effect of a lifetime of seemingly insignificant decisions and how making small delicious choices can change the world.

I believe that we can change the world one bite at a time.

It's a delicious revolution.