A Human Journey
By Eric St-Pierre
Les Editions de l'Homme, 240 pages, $50
CANADIAN photojournalist Eric St-Pierre has created a coffee table book that is at once a work of art, a fair trade primer and a call to action for North American consumers.
Specializing in the subject of fair trade since 1996, St-Pierre presents us with 350 lively images of grassroots producers and Third World commodities intermingled with descriptive text, facts and figures. These provide a convincing argument that we in the North have power to help realize aspirations for social justice in the southern part of the globe.
Based on a definition by four of its major organizations, fair trade is a partnership with trading conditions that secure the rights of marginalized producers and workers, involving dialogue, transparency and respect, and seeking greater equity in international trade.
St-Pierre's style encourages readers to view Third World "others" as us, by leading us to identify firstly with their products and, secondly, with the dignity of their work, successes and aspirations.
Each chapter draws us into a historical, almost mystical perspective of an imported commodity used in daily living by North American consumers. These range from the handicrafts which gave birth to fair trade, to nine foodstuffs including coffee, cocoa, sugar, tea, rice, bananas, quinoa, wine and guarana, as well as flowers, cotton and shea.
The reader's attention then is redirected quickly to the production setting. Vividly and almost intimately, photos and written text introduce us to specific individuals.
Through the first 13 chapters, we become acquainted with myriad peasant farmers, artisans and workers, and how they are trying to live with dignity and provide promising futures for their children.
In two places within this human interest section of each chapter are full-sized reference pages with more information on the commodity itself.
Interesting facts emerge about some commodities. Coffee is an item of commodities market speculation, for example, and often is deemed to be the second largest raw material in the world, after petroleum.
South American quinoa, rich in complete protein and the food most resembling mother's milk, once provided food security for the Incan empire.
St-Pierre mostly succeeds in building awareness of the fair trade movement, in stirring conscience and in deepening respect for the struggles of marginalized people against adversity. However, while providing the material for learning about the concepts, principles and mechanics of fair trade, he makes readers work hard to pull these together. That is, the book seems laid out primarily as an artistic potpourri.
Therefore, simply working through it sequentially from front to back for an overview of fair trade's operating principles and functional underpinnings can be challenging. Readers thus are advised to begin St-Pierre's book by familiarizing themselves well with his intent and organization, outlined clearly in the introduction.
At the heart of fair trade, of course, are the democratic organizations of small producers, who are at the heart of St-Pierre's book, as well.
Readers will enjoy it as an intriguing coffee table adventure as well as a resource for consumers committed to its cause.
Pat Allen is a semi-retired health promotion and community nutrition consultant and writer living in southeastern rural Manitoba.