Meaning in Money

Last week in my pop culture class, we watched a documentary about production workers in China who made bead necklaces for Mardi Gras. It was called Mardi Gras: Made in China.

Basically, it exposed the working conditions of Chinese factory workers and their stories. Girls who did not get an education but instead go to find work in factories to send money back home to their families. Color-dyed hands and arms, burnt fingers, and other work-related injuries. Fast-paced and of high expectations in production, the work that is done to make Mardi Gras beads goes unnoticed.

The filmmaker would ask people at Mardi Gras where the beads come from, and most of them don’t know, but that is hardly the problem. The problem is that we–America as a whole–live in a culture where we spend money on and buy things that we use for a significantly short period of time. Meanwhile, workers in China work fifteen hour days of manual labor to make the Mardi Gras beads that get left behind on the streets of New Orleans every year, easily wasted and trashed.

They make $62 per month, doing the same thing every single day, 6 days a week, and get just a few days a year off to go home and see their families. During the film, my professor said that the factory reminds him of prison camps–small sleeping quarters, lines and formations, strict rules, silence.

At the end of the film, I made a decision to be even more conscious of my spending habits.

Let the things you buy mean something to you for more than a short moment. Let it last.

Don’t buy Mardi Gras beads to wear for the night, and then throw them away. Buy something that will last a little longer.

When the factory workers saw that people in America got beads by taking their tops off at Mardi Gras, they were mortified. They had no idea that that is what their full-time work boils down to: drunk people throwing beads at each other.

So next time–actually, every time–you make a purchase, ask yourself where this product/service came from. Ask yourself if it is meaningful and most importantly, how long it will be meaningful for.

I’m already a conscious consumer. I reuse until I can’t reuse anymore. I rarely purchase water bottles or one-time use products. But after seeing this documentary, I’m an even stronger believer in a conscious consumer culture. We need to be smarter about money. Save some, share some.

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