You’ve heard of it, I’m sure, this ethical shopping. It’s such a buzzword in these millennial times, along with the ubiquitous “eco-friendly,” and that other word we wrote about before: sustainable.


So what is shopping ethically? Do you have to go back to flossing your teeth with horsehair? Programming a trip to Progreso once a week to soak in the salt water and rinse off accumulated sweat and grime? Returnable reusable glass milk bottles? That last one would – and does, as evidenced by local baker Monique and her kombucha – definitely work.


Can we live without TV’s, air conditioners, good coffee, or WiFi? What about the smartphones that are making us dumber each and every day? Should this article be typed on a mechanical typewriter instead of a laptop? Maybe, maybe not. There are things that we “must” have but there are also many others whose consumption we can examine and possibly make slightly more ethical choices with our day-to-day activities.


Shopping for Food Locally

How many times have we gone to Costco, purchased groceries, and ended up throwing some of that food away because it goes bad before we can get around to using it? Spinach, kale, potatoes, and more, have all graced my compost pile due to my lack of planning. And while the worms enjoying the arugula might be happy, this wastefulness can hardly be termed ethical, when you think about the scarcity of food in so many parts of the world. 


It would be so much better to visit a neighborhood market and buy just for the day or next few days, and forgo the enormous helpings of organic greens brought all the way from California. I personally confess to having a penchant for the crisp, juicy, and deliciously satisfying crunch of Envy apples (Costco again), but I feel guilty as hell knowing they come all the way from New Zealand! 


Though locally-grown apples are hard to find in Mérida, for those exotic salad blends and greens you think can only be found at Costco, you could try the Slow Food Market in Mérida: an excellent choice for those harder to find items like arugula, sourdough bread, and organic lamb. 


You might be thinking “yes, but those are all gringos selling stuff to other gringos,” but in reality there are many people involved: from the workers on the farms and in the homes, to those who tend the oven at the bakeries. They all receive your support when you shop locally.


Packaging and Plastic

And what about all the plastic? Is it really necessary for the local pharmacy to put that tiny package of Loratadine in a tiny plastic bag? What are you going to do with that bag once you get home? Do those pharmacy folks (or the clients) really think that a package of medicine is so cumbersome that it needs to be carried in a bag? It’s already in a box! 


Anyway, when at the cash register at the pharmacy, neighborhood Tiendita, or Oxxo, say “no, gracias” nicely and remind the cashier that “el planeta ya tiene demasiado plástico” or “no quiero dejar más plástico en el mundo para tus hijos” or something else that feels a little scolding but in a good way. Some cashiers will get it. Others, not so much. But it’s about putting that idea in people’s minds.


When You’re a Visitor 

And what if you’re traveling around the state as a visitor? Buy the hankie from the lady who looks like she embroidered it herself, no matter how crooked “Recuerdo de Homún” looks. It costs $10 pesos, so you’re not going to break the bank. Buy several and give them to people. 


As your vehicle comes to a California stop at the Tope, buy something from the little village girl selling oranges and bags of pepitas. Avoid the mass-produced glass or resin items on the tables that take up every available spot of shade at Chichén itzá. Maybe if people stop buying this junk they’ll eventually get the message and leave the site. Those wooden carved items? If you must have one, buy it in one of the small towns around Chichén Itzá; not only will the price be better, but you will be giving the money directly to the person who produced it.


Maybe you like hammocks. Skip the store and go to someone’s house and watch them make it. Tixkokob is a great place. Aké also has them. They’re all over the place! Once you’ve seen how they are made, by hand on a loom on the front porch, buy the damn thing. And don’t, for the love of Chaac, haggle with some poor family that is trying to make a living. A hammock can take weeks to finish, so be generous. Not by overpaying, but by not haggling as if those 23 pesos you managed to save will be of any use to you whatsoever. 


You can still support local businesses by buying the hardware and other accessories at places like El Aguacate on Calle 58, a local institution with fair prices, friendly service, and absolutely everything you could possibly need for hanging a hammock.


And what about taking a tour? Pick a company that pays its workers (guides and drivers especially) a living wage. Find that operator that doesn’t cut corners on the legal requirements thereby ensuring a safe and stress-free experience for you and it’s personnel in new, well- maintained, and non-polluting vehicles. A company that seeks out and involves local residents in places that are less visited, promoting the community’s activities at each destination. This again, creates a lasting impact in the locality and is an ethical alternative to the herd tourism that destroys both destinations and the people living there.


Looking Inwards

Maybe we could define ethical shopping as being a little more conscious of what it is we buy and why? Perhaps how often we are buying these things? Are we supporting those individuals and businesses that have decided to make the effort to provide compostable packaging, hand-made vs manufactured items, and who sell things that don’t negatively affect other humans, animals, or the environment? What is the effect of this purchase on the person selling it? What are the consequences on the immediate environment at the place of purchase? And on the greater environment and society as a whole?


Lots to think about, but little by little we can become more conscious and therefore make more ethical choices when we leave home with the intention of buying something.




Editorial by Ralf Hollmann
Author of Modern Yucatan Dictionary
Founder of Mayan Xic
Director of Lawson’s Original Yucatán Excursions



Photography by Maggie Rosado, Yucatán Today, and Casa de las artesanías for use in Yucatán Today.

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