Sunday, August 5, 2012

Free lunches - is there such a thing?

by Jon Sullivan (public domain)

A real free lunch
Can we truly get something for nothing? I read a fabulous post about paying forward free lunches. It goes like this - you are given something for free (and yes this is truly free with no strings attached, and no one is harmed). Perhaps your coffee was paid for and then, if you want to, you pay that kindness forward and be the source of a 'free lunch' for someone else.

Pay it forward
Really that's what happened when we were given our 'God Car'. My friend inherited money. She bought a new car, something she previously couldn't afford. Because she considered that a gift - a 'free lunch'- she paid it forward by giving away her older, but very reliable, car to us. You can't help but want to do something for someone else when you have been treated with such kindness. If you haven't already seen the wonderful movie 'Pay it Forward' you really should. I can't recommend it highly enough. It changes you.  

The Cost of free lunches
And so today at breakfast I was reading Raj Patel's 'The Value of Nothing' and wow did he challenge me. He challenged me to speak out again about the other side of free lunches. They may be free to the person who is receiving them, but there could be a hidden cost involved, or it could come at a cost to someone else.

 I know these things he has written about. I have signed petitions about conflict minerals and sponsored a widow in the Congo. I've written letters to a company who makes infant formula and even banned their products from our home for a time (but always weakened). Do you know about them?

Patel tells us that he was given a free handset from his phone company. He says to make his phone minerals are extracted from 'bloody conflict in the Congo, where 70 percent of the world's reserves of coltan are found....In patrolling access to these resources, military units in the Congo have raped, tortured, enslaved and killed. Women struggling to bring up children in the Congo have a life expectancy of forty seven years, continue to suffer through the world's worst rape epidemic...'  (Page 54) It is said that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the worst place in the world for a woman to live.

And do you know about formula milk? Breast milk is gloriously free ( a free lunch - literally - with no strings attached) but there are companies who give out free samples of infant formula (and misinformation) to women in developing countries. I have heard that hospitals are often given humidicribs and other essential equipment - a so called free lunch. Once the baby no longer feeds from a lactating mother her breast milk dries out and her only source of milk for her baby is then the formula milk. Babies get very sick, millions die,  because mothers can't afford the milk and/ or the water it is mixed with is unclean.

Patel says,'The baby-milk case is an extreme version of a wider phenomenon - that "free" can be a way of press-ganging us into behaviour that we wouldn't otherwise choose had we been confronted with the full costs before we chose to pay nothing. Free becomes all the more seductive when our budgets are tight...' (Page 59)

So some free lunches can come at a price. What price are you willing to pay? 

Asta x

 Raj Patel's book -
Pay it Forward trailer -

(Sorry I don't know how to do hyperlinks yet. If you can help me leave a comment. )

1 comment:

  1. A very confronting post, Asta. I don't think I've ever thought how something free to me, may impact others. Or what price others pay for my freebies. Thanks for making me consider a very important issue. That breast feeding situation in Congo, and life there in general, makes me want to cry.