Weaving in the statistics surrounding each commodity’s costs of production, with particular emphasis on wages, Timmerman paints a vivid picture of the lifestyle and prospects of the fieldworkers. He fleshes out such issues as worker safety, slavery, child labor, barriers to education, and more. He searches for coffee growers who are aware of Fair Trade associations such as those espoused by Starbucks and finds a disconnect between what Fair Trade means to the local grower and what we as consumers understand the term to mean. He also notes the gap between farm prices and final market retail prices on other products.
Timmerman’s tales, as he gains entry into people’s homes and lives, make this an enjoyable read, but it is much more than that. He offers an even-handed approach to complex subjects, shedding some light while posing many tough questions. I’ll never again feel smugly virtuous for buying Fair-Trade coffee or completely guilt-free while enjoying a 19-cent banana. It’s hard to know how to eat conscientiously, and Where am I Eating? does not purport to be a guidebook. But it certainly makes one think!