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Hridayagita, kitchen manager at Taraloka was interviewed by Janice Lowe - the Chair of Faversham Fairtrade Group. Taraloka is accredited by the Fairtrade Foundation as a Fairtrade Temple and would like to share our experience with the Sangha.
Hridayagita is willing to talk to you about Fairtrade accreditation or managing the food order ethically. You can contact her on hridayagita [at] taraloka.org.uk
Qu. 1. What drove Taraloka & you to seek Fairtrade status with the Fairtrade Foundation for Taraloka?
A. We were already prioritising Fairtrade as one of the decisions about which foods to buy & we received an email which was sent round all Triratna Buddhist Centres from the Glasgow centre saying how simple the process was. We hadn’t heard about Fairtrade Temples, we just knew about Fairtrade shops & towns, so we went on the website & tried it out & it was very simple to do, really easy.
Qu. 2. Any other drivers for doing this?
A. I think it’s good to exemplify ethical decisions around food, & by having a certificate up in the kitchen it makes people aware of the possibility that a place like this can make ethical decisions.
Qu. 3. What does Fairtrade mean to you?
A. We spend so much money on food & although Fairtrade is more expensive, as is organic food, it is more important for us as a community that the £30,000 annual budget for food at Taraloka doesn’t go into the wrong hands, that the money goes to benefit people & causes the least harm.
Qu. 4. How did you go about getting the Fairtrade status?
A. I followed the link in the original email & just prior to this interview I looked up on the Fairtrade Foundation website ‘how to become a Fairtrade Temple’, & the website is very, very simple, (or you can just put that question into Google) & it’s just a few easy steps & they recommend sugar, tea, coffee, biscuits, & any fruit, particularly bananas & you say if you are already buying them or if you’re thinking about buying them. They ask you a few questions about how much about Fairtrade you can advertise in your place, we said that at Taraloka we can’t use up much notice board space as women are coming on retreat & we’re trying to cut down the amount of input & how much they’re reading & they were absolutely fine with that. They said “what about Fairtrade fortnight?” & we said we’d definitely put up posters for those 2 weeks but nothing more as we’re a meditation centre & they were absolutely fine with that. The Fairtrade Foundation was really adaptable to our needs – otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to do it.
Qu. 5. Anything else about how you went about it?
A. That was really it, I sent off the forms & they sent back the certificate saying congratulations & they send posters once a year for Fairtrade fortnight which we put up in the lobby & in the office. There’s a certificate on the fridge in the kitchen saying Taraloka is a Fairtrade temple, the closest description we can get.
Qu. 6. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being easy & 10 being complex, how would you rate this process?
A. 1, actually minus 1, it’s really, really easy!
Qu. 7. It will be helpful to hear how Fairtrade connects with Buddhist ethics (you touched on it before in that you don’t want money to go into the wrong hands)
A. Ethically we are trying to cause the least harm to the fewest people. I used to teach world development to 6th formers & one thing that always concerned me was that with chocolate, the oil industry, the farmers in Africa & all the industries where westerners are getting these commodities for the least amount of money, I’ve always found that very difficult & don’t want to be supporting it. I want to buy these products but I don’t want to be supporting that as a system. So I was really excited when Fairtrade first came out & I found it really inspiring, just seeing the effect of giving farmers a fair wage is very valuable. Organic farmers in this country have a very hard time getting registered, even though they are farming organically, I’m hoping Fairtrade isn’t like that, that even if ethical farmers can’t get registered they are treating their workers well, we try & do our best.
Qu. 8. Can you connect Fairtrade with any particular part of Buddhist ethics or philosophy?
A. Well it’s the first precept, not causing harm to others, & also the mind precepts come in, we can delude ourselves in this country & pretend it doesn’t matter, cut ourselves off from the chain of events, for example, bringing the banana to the table is just me going to the shop & thinking, I’ve bought this banana with my hard earned cash, but actually it’s me opening out, broadening out, it’s a metta practice to think of all those people who are connected to us, working for us & who are providing effort to bring that banana to the table.
Qu. 8. How do you see the future of Fairtrade in Taraloka?
A. We’ll just continue down that road, we’ve been really lucky that the financial difficulties in Britain haven’t effected the Dana we receive, so as long as the Dana keeps coming, we will keep choosing the best ways to spend the money, so far we’ve been able to prioritise Fairtrade, organic, local produce where we can, even if these things are more expensive than the alternatives, it’s really important that we do this. It would feel horrible for me, as kitchen manager to be ordering so much food not according to those three principles. Also, low air miles, we try not to buy from war zones, or countries that are supporting wars or have human rights issues going on, there are so many considerations. When I do the order each month I go on the website for Survival Wholefoods I’m checking the country, the Fairtrade status, organic or non-organic, looking at price differences but really trying to prioritise Fairtrade, organic & local produce, I really try & go for it & do the best I can each month.
Qu. 9. Well done, you’ve just made a very inspirational statement, anything to add about other Triratna centres taking up Fairtrade?
A. We’re lucky at Taraloka with Dana & other donations, not all Triratna centres are so fortunate, but registering with the Fairtrade Foundation is easy, takes very little time. The time is in prioritising Fairtrade in the food ordering & menu planning. We have dropped some things because we can’t source them ethically, for example, women retreatants may say “have you got any coconut oil” & our response is “well, where does coconut oil come from? How far away? Do we actually need it?” Sanghajoti started that off when she was kitchen manager, she did a lot of research on all of that & I’ve continued it. But the thing I regret is that because it became just too complicated I’ve had to drop the organic order she set up & we’ve gone back to prioritising Pete the veg man who’s been delivering to Taraloka for 30 years, he can get Fairtrade & some organic foods & some organic foods grown on not yet registered organic farms. I’m very willing to talk to talk to anyone about setting things up.
Qu. 10. Tell me about Taraloka’s use of the big supermarkets?
A. We need to order from the big supermarkets & Sanghajoti researched this. We were always shopping at Tesco because it is in Whitchurch (local town) & it was simple, but luckily for us a few years ago they built a Sainsbury’s outside the town & we prioritise Sainsbury’s now as our research has shown that Sainsbury’s is more ethical. Of course, now the big supermarkets will deliver.
Qu. 11. What will be required of you to keep the Fairtrade accreditation going?
A. We got the accreditation in 2013 so they might write to us soon (if the reaccreditation is every 2 years) & I imagine it will be so simple, asking questions about what Fairtrade goods we have & what our goals are. We gave a list of which Fairtrade goods we buy & what we intend to buy & I imagine it will just keep on growing.
Qu. 12. Fairtrade fortnight’s coming up at the end of February, would Taraloka like to borrow the Faversham Town Fairtrade banana suit?
A. No thank you!