Ay, there’s the rub(ber)

I want my children to know where things come from, how they’re made, of what, by whom.

Revision: I myself want to know these things, and would eventually want my children to know too.

The other morning, I went on a whim with a couple of coworkers to visit a rubber plantation and factory in a district nearby. It reminded me of the (too few) times I have seen a cashew factory, a silversmith, a large-scale brewery… and how it felt to see how things are actually made.

A boy working on the rubber plantation.
He dropped out of school last year after 8th grade.

The rubber floats down long white tile tunnels and is
processed through this squisher thing

Then it’s cut up and spit out into these rolling bins
and washed yet again.

Various treatments, and the rubber comes out in basic blocks.
This guy puts the blocks into a compressor… then they’re squished and packed.

I have a simple memory of a diagram in a magazine. I think it was made for children because I imagine clear language and bright colors. The diagram showed a picture of a house cut down the middle, with its insides exposed. Each room had its typical goods — toasters and bananas and spoons in the kitchen, table and chairs and sofas and lamps, clothes in the bedroom, cars in the garage, garden furniture on the side patio. And then the diagram linked each item with its birthplace somewhere in the world. Growing up in the United States, in Orange County (a capital of consumerism?), I knew logically that things had to come from somewhere, but I never really wasted any time considering where, how, by whom.

Now it absolutely fascinates me to see these processes at work and wonder at how much we have created and then wonder with dismay about how much of what we’ve created necessary and good.

I’m certainly no ascetic and I have a hard time going for broke with “green” “sustainable” “fair trade.” It’s partly a suspicion of catch phrases and key words, but I also have a hard time living my life to save the planet (maybe it’ll change when I have children?). It’s a goal too far removed from my everyday experience to mean much to me.

However, it appeals to my sense of beauty and authenticity, and some simple human empathy to try to buy quality things made in clean and well-lit places where people are treated like humans.

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