Cheap shrimp

Confession: I watched a startling video today and I’m not sure what to think about it.

After a six-month study by The Guardian, the video was released to reveal the fact that cheap prawns (shrimp to Americans) come at a high price: human trafficking and slavery. Burmese immigrants pay brokers to bring them into Thailand to find jobs. Instead, some are betrayed and sold as slaves to ship captains, forced to work up to 20-hour days under alleged cruelty, neglect, and violence. These slave ships supply “trash fish” which is sent to feed the prawns grown and harvested by CP Foods, the biggest shrimp farmer in the world. In turn, Walmart, Aldi, Costco, and many other large international grocers buy their prawns (cheap) from CP.

One of the things I miss the most about being younger is knowing so clearly what to do in moral dilemmas. When I was in my twenties, the actions were tough but the answers were simple. I must surrender this situation to the Lord. I must give up my dream for the sake of someone else. I can no longer buy and eat shrimp. Now the answers are complex to me, and muddied by many surrounding issues.

On the one hand, I have a horror of being Shelob: a brooding and selfish monster growing fat on the blood of her victims. We call it exploitation of the poor, and I cringe away from the thought of it—even secondhand exploitation of the poor, which may or may not be different. I refused to shop at Walmart for a whole year because of this {previous posts here and here}. Walmart makes its money through pinching the necks of the Chinese poor and the American poor, and all of us pay for it. I thought I’d never shop at Walmart again… but I do.

Because on the other hand, I am beginning to realize that every day of my life, I benefit from the suffering of other people. I see my husband working hard to provide me with the means to live. I see my mother in childbirth, bringing me into the world. I see Jesus struggling for breath on the cross, my sins forgiven because of bloodshed. I buy coffee and pineapple and T-shirts gathered for me from the ends of the earth, sold too cheaply by people too far away who worked too hard for people who couldn’t care less. This fact is altered very little by whether I buy the T-shirt at Walmart or Dollar General or the Salvation Army or my neighbor’s garage sale.

Sometimes we call services “tainted” because they come at a cost: the lives of the innocent. I care about this. And God cares—His Book flames with passion against the shedding of innocent blood.

But then He offered His own blood, the ultimate innocent blood, in the place of others. We call it a sacrifice (Him for us) and we receive it with tears and humility. Now, like Him, the Jesus people are called and enabled to offer our love as a sacrifice for others (us for them) every day of our lives, to break the cycle of hurt people hurting people, to walk through death into life and turn the world on its head.

How then to think about the sacrifices of others? particularly when they are forced sacrifices? Should I reject the “tainted” vaccine from the tissues of a sacrificial child, the “tainted” prawns from the slave ships of Thailand, the “tainted” land stolen from Native Americans?

Or does my gratitude give meaning to the sacrifice?

Or does my use condone the sacrifice?

Does it help if I do not eat shrimp?

11 thoughts on “Cheap shrimp

  1. I have been agonizing over this, especially since since I read the article you mentioned. And one that, horrors! reports that the majority of chocolate is produced by child labor and often in slavery. I just don’t know where to go with these issues. To consistently boycott every ‘tainted’ item, you will soon isolate yourself. Yet it seems sick to me to lavishly enjoy these things brought to me through someone else’s blood and tears. Our world – Jesus = hopelessly broken.

  2. Oh my, that is so horrible. Don’t know if I could ever buy shrimp from Wal Mart or Costco after watching that, not that I can ever even afford the “cheap” stuff anyhow. I think there is so much more of this going on than we realize, even with our own government oppressing other nations to get cheaper gas, etc. I have been reading some books lately that are chilling and I wonder if we knew everything whether we could buy much of what we get at the stores and gas stations. So is it better just to not find out the truth so we can blissfully use stuff with a clear conscience? I don’t know…

  3. It seems to me that the best answer involves moving our wealth to these poverty-stricken countries, and providing long term jobs for the poor. Unfortunately, we don’t even do a good job of distributing wealth in North America yet… seems to me that we are a far cry from caring enough to get it to other countries of the world. (Maybe I’m still in the teenager stage in these issues?:()
    Also, maybe gratitude gives meaning to the receiver – not convinced it gives anything to the crowds of other humans working hard for their pittance. If we knew even half of human suffering, our wants would be sliced by more than half, as would our needs. I am preaching to the choir.

  4. I certainly don’t have all the answers. It doesn’t seem like it makes that much difference whether I buy shrimp or not.
    But the Lord knows our hearts, and whether we are angry at the injustice or not. May He show us the way to live humbly, to show mercy and do justly!!!
    I appreciate your call to care!!!

  5. Oh, this is a hard question, and I’ve been rolling it around in my mind, too. First of all I do think that a chosen sacrifice (husband, Jesus, mother) is so very different from slave labor. I can gratefully accept the the first, but the second I want to fight against whenever I am able.

    Issues like this seem impossibly huge, and sometimes that makes me want to ignore them altogether. I’m trying to choose to do the little I can. No, I can’t afford to shop locally all the time, to buy fair-trade coffee, to weave and make all my own clothing. However, in the same way that I can “do for one what I wish to do for the world” (how I try to love in my neighborhood) I also want to cast my vote now and then in shopping–buy less chocolate, shrimp, and unfairly made clothing and occasionally buy whole, locally grown produce. It’s small, but it’s still influential. If all of us who feel like we can’t do anything still choose to do a little something, it will affect the big picture.

    • I am glad you said that! After reading about life on the plantations in the South, one wonders – how could you have lived with yourself as a white person, watching someone ‘less than’ you suffer to make you comfortable. Yet the average American is doing just that, albeit unknowingly most often. If I could see a row of the slaves or those nearly so, who contributed to my day, what would I do differently? Just because I can’t see them doesn’t mean it isn’t real!

  6. In the measure that she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, in the same measure give her torment and sorrow […] for in one hour such great riches came to nothing. Rev. 18

  7. I didn’t watch the video and am not condoning slave labor etc. but I am an American missionary living in a 3rd world country . I experienced joy along with my neighbor lady when she came running into my house and nearly lifted me off my feet with her exuberance because she was accepted to work at a huge Kawasaki factory assembling parts for a very minimal pay. She was so excited to be able to do something to finally earn money for food for her son. It was almost her only option any more . If she quits her job or gets fired, they will never take her back. Could it be that media misrepresents things as well. But then, I always did try to justify myself.
    On the other hand I struggle with things like, should my family eat chocolate cake “just because” when my neighbors cant even afford a cake for their birthdays? And guilt because I can buy laundry detergent to put in my washer while my neighbors scrub clothes on a rock without soap because money has been non-existent?
    What am I trying to say here? If everyone would stop buying Kawasaki, my neighbor lady would be without a job and I would feel guilty. (=

  8. My very small opinion- I think we should carefully use the resources we have, for us that means we only buy “shrimp” on special occasions and try not to live extravagantly ever. And if we have extra resources we should be as responsible as we can-God can handle the details. Like the above poster said…If we all quit buying Kawasaki where would her neighbor work?

  9. There’s so much info out there and the films can majorly misrepresent things. I find it hard to know what to believe. Also I can feel guilty, and shop locally all I want but that’s not going to help anybody really. In fact it could make it worse for someone who needs a job. What can I do to help? There are so many injustices in this world. It can be overwhelming. Even needs in my own little household can be overwhelming. I think it’s not about fixing all the injustices in the world or even in my neighbor’s world, my child’s world. Rather it’s about being faithful in doing whatever task God calls us to do moment by moment. Trusting him with my neighbor, with my child. When I started to volunteer for the pregnancy center it was because I wanted to do something even if it was just a little something to help those unborn babies that are killed every day. So I prayed and God literally brought PCIC to me at a garage sale no less. One thing they taught us in the counselling training there is that we our goal can’t be to save the babies even there because than we will fail at times and it will work on us. Our goal was to be faithful, loving and give these woman the information that they needed to hear and than to pray for them. I think this can be applied to every injustice in life, we ask the Lord what he would have us to do, we faithfully do, and then pray and trust leaving the rest to Him. I am speaking to myself here because I need to be reminded of this all the time.

  10. The only thing I can say that I am sure of, is that Jesus will show us every day where we should shop, what we should eat, and if we should compromise regarding complex matters with more than one possible “right” answer. Grace to you.

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