July 2008

This article was originally written for eCo Times, the new cutting edge online magazine brought to you by eConscious Market.

Wal-Mart is a word that typically conjures up images of bulldozed forests making way for big box retail, swarming shoppers, low cost & low quality products, CEO’s with fat paychecks, and sweatshops in China. Its bad reputation has inspired mass protests, websites devoted to outlining its wrongdoings (such as WIPE, short for Wal-Mart Is Pure Evil), and popular documentary films like Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices. Though with increasing consumer demand for products that make positive environmental and social impacts, even Wal-Mart is making an effort to conserve waste, promote sustainability, and support Fair Trade.

On April 1st, as part of its “Earth Month” initiatives, Wal-Mart released a detailed press release about their plan to launch six new coffees under their Sam’s Choice brand that would include organic, Fair Trade certified, and Rainforest Alliance certified blends. A Fair Trade certification requires certain environmental, social and economical requirements to be met and, most importantly, the producer group to receive a fair price with a set minimum. The Rainforest Alliance certification program also carries heavy requirements that target longterm sustainability and environmental health. The coffees will be roasted by Cafe Bom Dia, a Brazilian Fair Trade cooperative that is one of the first roasters to become Carbon Neutral.

As part of Wal-Mart’s mission to provide “gourmet” items at a “great value,” the coffees, even with all of the impressive certifications and sustainability, are only going to cost $5.88 for 10-12 oz. bags. While skeptics may feel that Wal-Mart is capitalizing on current consumer trends or is doing its share of greenwashing, the initiative is receiving positive accolades from the media, sustainability watchdogs, and even TransFair USA.

TransFair USA is one of the leading Fair Trade certification organizations that audits transactions between US companies and international Fair Trade certified co-ops. In regards to Wal-Mart’s new Fair Trade coffee program, Transfair USA President Paul Rice stated, “Wal-Mart is an innovative partner in offering high quality, Fair Trade Certified coffee in a manner that both expands the marketplace and delivers value back down the supply chain to the farmer. A year from now we will be able to trace Sam’s Choice coffee sales directly to improved environmental management at Fair Trade coffee farms and higher quality of life in farm communities.”

It is true that, with the increased volume and buying power of Wal-Mart, Fair Trade farmers are going to notice a difference and Wal-Mart’s coffees could bring a great deal of added exposure and consumer support to the Fair Trade movement. It is also true that Wal-Mart has been making frequent waves in the press recently with its ongoing green initiatives, such as its solar energy and zero waste campaigns, not to mention the large sums of money the Wal-Mart Foundation has given to environmental causes this year. Whether the global giant is making genuine strides to save our planet or just using progressive causes to feed corporate greed, is up to each individual consumer to decide.

Now that summer is upon us and the celebration of all things American arrives in just two days, our meals make their way outside. Whether you are hosting a vegan party or need to cater to a special diet guest, the following will be your guide to a vegan summer cookout.

Fake Meat

If you are looking for meat substitutes for your bbq, there are many options that can be found at most health food stores, co-ops, and even health food sections at chain grocers. For just your basic hot dogs, try Tofu Pups or Tofurkey Franks. For a German Sausage twist we suggest Tofurkey Sausages, especially the Kielbasas and Beer Brats. If you are interested in replacing the good ol’ American Hamburger, your best bet is Gardenburger’s GardenVegan or Boca Original Vegan. If Chicken patties are your thing, indulge in Gardenburger’s Chik’n Grill or Breaded Chik’n. Finally, for those of you who go for the BBQ Ribs, try Gardenburger’s BBQ Ribs.

Grilled Veggies

If substitute meats aren’t exactly your thing or would like a side dish with the “meats,” here are a few suggestions. We personally love to make and serve vegan shish kabobs! Usually we like to marinate Tofu chunks overnight in a combination of soy sauce, peanut oil, scallions, and garlic. Next chop up veggies into large chunks. A few good ideas for veggies are Green or Red Bell Peppers, Tomatoes, Onions, Mushrooms, and Pineapple. If you place the tofu, veggies, and fruit on a table with the skewers close by, it is fun and entertaining for the guests to make their own kabobs. Also, veggies straight to the grill are always a good standard, especially Corn on the Cob, Onions, Artichokes, and Asparagus. If you don’t like your veggies grilled plain, try soaking them in balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Salads and Side Dishes

A great addition to any grilled food is salad! Some American favorites are Potato Salad or Macaroni Salad. Also, a favorite salad of ours is the Simple Sweet Summer Salad. And of course you can always serve any variation of green salads using your favorite veggies and fruits. Other side dishes you might like to include would be Spinach Dip, 7 Layer Bean Dip, vegan breads, and biscuits. Or if you want more suggestions, check out all our vegan recipes!


The easiest and possibly healthiest dessert you can serve at any cookout is fruit. The best summer fruits that won’t spoil outside too quickly are Watermelon, Cantaloupe, Pineapple, Strawberries, Blueberries, and Cherries. But if you are feeling a bit more ambitious you may want attempt cupcakes or cakes. Check out the hundreds of vegan recipes for both on VeganCupcakeRecipes.com. You’ll be sure to find something you’ll favor in that long list of choices!

We hope these vegan bbq tips will help you plan your holiday cookouts or for future use. So watch those fireworks on a full stomach and make sure you wear sunscreen!

Just as the summer is heating up, Autonomie is psyched to bring you our new Fair Trade Flip Flops!

Made from the same FSC-certified, all natural rubber as our sneaker soles, these Flip Flops are truly one of a kind: 100% eco-friendly, vegan, and support our Fair Trade community initiatives. Not to mention they’re super comfy and cute and come in a convenient, reusable organic cotton drawstring carrying bag. These sandals truly are the ultimate in ethical summer fashion!

In honor of our fun new flip flops, we thought we’d bring you another story about the people behind our products. Our original Stars of Fair Trade post from March told you about Chandrika, a young worker in Sri Lanka who taps the rubber that eventually gets made into our flip flops and sneaker soles.

Now we’re pleased to introduce you to her colleague, Vasanta Kumrari, another hard worker who is vital to bringing us (and you) all of our Fair Trade style.

When her husband died in an accident 17 years ago, Vasanta (age 46) was offered her deceased husband’s job. This is a tradition on the rubber estate where all of our FSC-certified rubber is tapped. Since then, Vasanta has been working for the rubber plantation, as well as bringing up her three children.

Meryn, her elder daughter (age 23) is married and lives with her husband, a lab technician in a hospital in Chennai. Vasanti visits them and her 2.5 year old granddaughter there once a year for about a week. The overnight journey by bus costs Rs. 450 for a one way trip (about $4.00 in US dollars).

Her son Manu Stephen has just finished final exams at a two year hotel management course. The course costs his mother a total of Rs. 30,000 in fees. The younger daughter Subi (17) is in the 11th grade at a government school where Vasanta is responsible for purchasing her books.

Vasanta lives with Manu and Subi in a small house in a village some five km away from New Ambadi, the rubber estate. The house consists of four rooms, a kitchen/bath, and a toilet outside. The house has electricity, even a television, but the communal water tap opposite her house is on for only 1.5 hours a day, so this water is only used for drinking. There is an open well next door, which serves all of the other needs of the family – and that of the next door neighbors.

Every morning, when it is still dark (because as soon as it gets warmer the freshly tapped latex dries up too quickly and the yield is lower), Vasanti takes a bus to work, which costs Rs. 7 for both ways.

A tapper typically does two tapping rounds per day, usually ending up with two buckets full of freshly tapped latex. Most tappers carry these by bicycle to the nearest collection station (some even have motorbikes now), but Vasanta prefers to carry the latex on her shoulders (as she’s pictured above): 45 kg of liquid – 18 kg of rubber. For this she earns Rs. 126 (a basic wage), plus 40 Rs of bonus. The second round is worth another Rs. 72.

With every purchase you make from us, an additional 25% of our cost goes directly to a worker’s welfare fund that provides these tappers with even more income. The fund also goes to providing Vasanta, her family, and her community with better access to health clinics, fully paid-for health insurance, and better access to water, such as the operation of the neighborhood well mentioned above.

For more information and to check out our line of products, visit us at www.autonomieproject.com.

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