Could Austin be a Fair Trade City?

This past weekend, a friend from Ten Thousand Villages invited me to their annual event: The Austin Fair Trade Film Festival.
This same friend also asked if I would like to attend a fair trade wine and chocolate tasting last Friday night.  To which I responded: Does Dolly Parton have breasts?  Yes.  Yes, I will do that.

Now before I tell you that I gorged myself on shiraz and cocoa solids, let’s have a memory refresher on “fair trade.”  Maybe you don’t need one Reader, but I do.
“Fair trade is an organized social movement and market-based approach that aims to help producers in developing countries make better trading conditions and promote sustainability. The movement advocates the payment of a higher price to producers as well as higher social and environmental standards. It focuses in particular on exports from developing countries to developed countries, most notably handicrafts, coffee, cocoa, sugar, tea, bananas, honey, cotton, wine, fresh fruit, chocolate, flowers and gold.”
Thank you Wikipedia.  This definition will become significant in a moment when I tell you about Austin’s plans to become a fair trade city … but, all in due time.
So there we were, Friday night, Ross and I, at Artworks Gallery.  Before us stood mounds of chocolate, bottles of thick red wine, Austin’s fair trade community, and a wildly gesturing man leading our chocolate / wine education.  We loved him.

Can you make out this man’s arms as he’s teaching us about our palettes?  Probably not.  They are blurry, because he was just that excited.  And in truth, so was I.
Now, I have a funny relationship with wine.  When I drink too much, I not only experience the worst hangover in the whole wide world, but it’s the kind of hangover that brings on anxiety and guilt and basically makes you hate yourself.  Question your decisions in life.  Wonder why you didn’t call that person back, why you didn’t pay for your vehicle registration on time, why you don’t go to the library more often, why anyone in the world has any fondness / respect for you at all, you lazy, good-for-nothing drunk.  Because that is what it is like for me, when I drink too much wine.
HOWEVER.  That didn’t happen on Friday.  I like to think that it was because A) a tasting, not a guzzling, B) fairly-traded wine, with more good karma in it than my evil hangover wines, and C) our excitable host made us drink it sloooooowly.  And eat our chocolate sloooooowly.  What a revelation.
We tasted this one square of chocolate that had anise mixed into it, almost like licorice.  I normally loathe licorice.  But after letting the chocolate sit patiently on the roof of your mouth for a while, allowing it to break down naturally, without biting … why, something pleasant happens.

The licorice essence was spicier, earthier than I remembered.  After we attained that flavor, and only after we attained that flavor, we were allowed to take one sip of chardonnay.  It behaved like a spritz of lemon, cutting into all that rich, chocolatey anise.

Do you see that Jerry Garcia-esque man with the beard?  HE INVENTED THE BLACK-AND-WHITE FAIR TRADE LABEL.  The kind you see on your coffee, chocolate, etc. if you are the fair trade-buying type.
So cool!  I shook his hand later on, and was kind of tickled to meet him.  He and others in Austin, especially the Ten Thousand Villages community, are attempting to turn Austin into an official Fair Trade City, a process by which Austin must meet a certain fair trade goods/shops/services to capita ratio.  I understand it’s a difficult certification to get.  But then again IT’S AUSTIN, where you can’t walk more than two feet without tripping over a food trailer or a WalMart protest sign.  So the spirit is there.
Speaking of WalMart — well.  Actually.  Before we get to WalMart, let’s look at some pretty art, yes?  I walked around Artworks snapping a few photos.

Drooled over this lamp.

My adorable Alice May, who invited me to the whole affair.  Pardon our dimly-litness.
The next day, Saturday, I attended the actual film fest at Alamo Drafthouse (S. Lamar), for a screening of WalMart: The High Cost of Low Price

I could write a whole blog post on that documentary, which came out a few years ago.  This is just the first time I’ve seen it.  Have any of you?

Basically, I knew WalMart was bad.  But I didn’t know how bad.  For example, I didn’t know it was impossible to unionize.  I didn’t know that a huge swath of its paid employees live below the poverty line.  I didn’t know that WalMart implicitly encourages its employees to go on welfare, WIC, Medicaid, etc. because the company flat-out does not offer adequate employee support services.

Now, I am all FOR federally-funded programs (see my thoughts on universal healthcare), but I don’t think people realize that they pay for WalMart’s impossibly cheap goods in a hidden way: State and federal taxes.  The reason WalMart is able to profit billions (literally, billions) dollars a year is because taxpayers support their employees with these programs.  So the cheap television set you bought may have cost nothing at check-out, but in actuality, you “pay” WalMart later, in a much more discreet way.

To reiterate: Federally-funded programs, good.  I like them.  Billion-dollar companies manipulating those programs for their bottom line, bad.  I don’t like that.

Anyway … I could go on and on about this documentary.  You really must see it.  It was one of the first films that made me realize that fair trade was a bipartisan issue, and not exclusively a tree-hugging, drum circle, yay flowers issue.  Which is admittedly my camp, but (some) Republicans are against WalMart’s terrifying business practices, too.  This is very refreshing.

Now then.  That ugly WalMart business behind us, let’s stroll to a happier place.  You and I.

Here are a few shots from the Film Fest’s Global Market, which set up shop outside the theater corridor.  It was kind of like a Ten Thousand Villages shop turned inside out, plus musical performances and outdoor yoga.

I really could have spent all day here.  And next year, perhaps I will.
Thank you Austin Fair Trade Film Festival!  I love your community, and left your gatherings feeling incredibly inspired.  There’s so much more I could write here about the people I spoke with and the ideals you foster!  But I’m thrilled you wanted to hang out in my little corner of the Internet for a while, and invited me to come hang out with you.