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Author Urges Consumers To Know Where They Wear, Where They Eat

Charlie Schlenker
The ISU Department of Family and Consumer Sciences brought Kelsey Timmerman in for the fall speaker series.

An author who chronicles the effects of globalization on food and clothing is urging the public to become more informed.

Kelsey Timmerman is the author of "Where Am I Wearing" and Where Am I Eating" chronicling the stories of the people who produce garments and food around the globe. He was in Bloomington-Normal this week for a speech at Illinois State University.

Timmerman said people should try to consume just one fair trade item per week to keep themselves thinking about where their goods come from, who benefits, and who might be exploited.

"And where we come face to face with that reality, when we become aware of it, then we start to ask these more difficult questions. Should we be paying more for chocolate? Should we be consuming less? Should we pay for it in a different way? And I think it is a really important question that we all wrestle with when we live in a world where there is such inequality.

Timmerman said "no one answer" fits every person's life or experience. Timmerman is part of the ISU speaker series.

Globalization is a complex process that can result in poverty wages for workers, but also can result in those workers adapting. Timmerman mentioned some African farmers are abandoning cacau because rubber trees do better.

"So, now you have companies concerned that their resource is in jeopardy and that might jeopardize that we can even have this type of cheap chocolate. So we can just continue to pay a small amount for things and eventually it is going to cost more or not exist as well," said Timmerman.

There is an argument that disasters such as a recent factory collapse in Bangladesh are part of the road to development, that they spur government intervention and better worker protections much as the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in the U.S. did in the early 1900s. But Timmerman said the pace of business is so much faster now, that argument might not hold up.

He said companies like Nike and clothing companies already do business in dozens of countries and they can very quickly transfer orders from a producer in one country to a different one in another land if business conditions become too expensive.

Listen to more from author Kelsey Timmerman about worker conditions.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.