Staff Editorial: Ethical consumption hard to manage on a student budget

As college students, we have to shop smartly. Most of us probably don’t have a lot of money to spend on food, using the adage of “treat yourself” as an excuse to splurge on new clothes. It makes more sense to buy cheap items than it does to buy items of the highest quality—they’re usually more expensive. When our insufficient part-time jobs cause us to tighten our spending budgets, it becomes even harder to shop ethically.

Many people want to buy organic food or avoid businesses that exploit workers, but high prices and low product availability hinder our good intentions. Ethical shopping is complicated. Clothes that are manufactured by sustainable methods and that come from a fair trade market are often expensive and difficult to find, especially in a small rural town like Geneseo. Finding vegan clothing is particularly difficult, as most mass-produced clothing is far from humane even if it does not contain animal products. It is not easy to know whether or not clothing is made in unethical sweatshops overseas.

College students frequent Geneseo’s Goodwill, which offers used clothing for a cheap price. But even Alley Cat on Main Street—although a bit pricey—offers unique items and an added sense of pride by supporting local business.

Buying organic foods is great in the summer and fall at Geneseo Farmers’ Market where there is a plethora of fresh fruits, vegetables and eggs. It’s not as fun to buy organic vegetables on the off-season, but the ever-popular Wegmans has a good relationship with local farmers and offers different produce options.

Transportation is another issue. While most people without a car have one or two friends that have cars at school, students who depend on the Rochester Transit Service Livingston bus have limited shopping options. An alternative to Wegmans is Wal-Mart, which ideally is great to have in a college town because it sells everything from food to tools to furniture, but it infamously treats its workers unethically.

Aldi is a grocery store with significantly lower prices than most competitors, but most students do not know it exists. Students would also need to walk from a nearby bus stop, as the RTS bus does not stop there. Aldi is a safe bet for those who cannot afford Wegmans or who want to avoid Wal-Mart’s questionable ethics.

The main solution is to admit that the shopping choices you make in a small, rural town are not going to be the best ones. But being aware of your options and their offerings can help you keep an ethical mindset and work with what you have.