... or really do anything you can for it. There are lots of things that knitters--and everyone--can do to help make the world a better place and reduce suffering all over the world.
Knit your own shopping bag
I know this seems obvious, but think about it. How many times have you been in the store carrying your I-was-meant-to-be-a-tote-bag-but-turned-into-a-purse, which you know could store several large cabbages, buying maybe one or two little things and the checker asks you if you would like a plastic bag.
And you say yes.
This dawned on me the other day at the grocery store, as I was carrying my colossal bag and out of habit started to accept the offer of plastic before stopping myself and stashing the items neatly in my purse.
If you are buying more than a few little things, knit up a bunch of bags (the new Mason-Dixon book has a great pattern!), scrunch 'em up and stick them in your purse. When the checker asks you "paper or plastic" you can shock the apron off 'em by saying "cotton" and producing your bag. Don't worry--I've done this and generally they still help you bag your items.
If you don't want to knit your own bag (which I know you do) most grocery stores are now selling reusable bags, usually made out of recyclable materials.
Why should you do this? The United States makes up 5% of the world's population, yet we use about 30% of the world's resources and create 30% of the world's waste (http://www.storyofstuff.com/). Do I need to explain why this is bad? There are lots of things we can do to cut this number down, including recycling, but cutting down on plastic waste is another way we can leave our planet a little cleaner.
Buy Fair Trade
Many local farmers and producers in poor countries are forced to sell their coffee, cocoa, fibers, and other products at prices that are barely enough to live on, due to large corporations and bureaucratic dealings. There are several companies in existence now that work directly with local farmers and co-ops to produce a quality product at a fair price, eliminating the middle man. Companies such as Grounds for Change, Equal Exchange, and Pura Vida sell coffee that is traded in this way. (Learn more at Global Exchange.) Addicted to Starbucks? Fear not! They offer a Fair Trade blend called Cafe Estima. Usually they will brew a pot for you if you ask or you can buy a bag and have it for yourself every morning!
What can knitters do? Why, buy yarn of course! (I am convinced that this-not knitting-is what knitters do best. Knitting is close second, of course...) Many knitters already know about Manos del Uruguay, a company that sells yarn knitted by a co-op of women in South America. However, there are several other ways to buy fun yarns and help the world's poor. One of my favorites is The Hunger Site Store. Their yarns are Fair Trade and interesting, too. (My favorite is the Banana Yarn.) The site also has a wide variety of fair trade products as well as items that benefit the Hunger Site and help fight several other social maladies such as illiteracy, child disease, breast cancer, rainforest destruction, and animal cruelty.
Eat Your Food
Now I admit that I am horrible at this. I mean really horrible. I have food in my cupboards that has been there for a very long time. I justify this by saying that they are canned and dry goods and that I could eat them anytime I want. But do I? How many times have you gone to the grocery store and bought something, only to realize that you have the same item at home? Or how many times have you gone to a restaurant and only eaten a portion of your food and not taken it home?
Now I want to be really careful here. The point is NOT, I repeat, NOT to make you feel guilty. I hate it when people do that or quote me hunger facts with a scornful voice and a disdaining eye. However, I am assuming that most people don't mean to waste food. They just don't think about it. It just happens. I am coming to realize, however, in my own life that it is avoidable with just a little forethought. If you have left-overs, take them home. Eat them. If you know you won't be able to eat everything, consider ordering something smaller or sharing a plate. This also saves money, which is great for starving college students (like myself) or anyone on a budget. Many restaurants now offer "smaller bite" or lunch sized portions of their menu items, if you ask. Another practical option is to go through the food in your cupboard and evaluate it realistically. Save the things you really plan on eating. Donate the rest to a local food bank (make sure it is still good). Try and at least loosely plan your meals ahead of time so that when you are that grocery store, you only buy things you need and not impulse items.
Knit for Peace
Most knitters know about Afghans for Afghans (for which I am currently knitting mittens-my first ever! As a reminder, the US due date for their current campaign is October 14 and the Canada date is October 3). There are also several other organizations that collect donations for charity knits (find a list here and here- also a Google search for "charity knitting" is sure to hook you up with something knit-worthy).
Something struck me, however, when I was perusing Warm Up America!'s site. They encourage you to donate hand-knit blankets to your own local homeless shelter. What a profound thought. If you are anything like me, you tend to freak out big-picture style, as in, oh-my-god-the-world's-in-trouble-what-am-I-going-to-do?!?! I feel good donating to large organizations and things that other people have put together. They seem more effective, somehow, like I'm doing more good that way. And in some ways, perhaps that's true. Bigger organizations generally have the funding that enables them to reach more people, change more lives. After all, what good is one little blanket going to do or one measly pair of mittens? I have personally come to answer that question with this- all the good in the world. When you make something by hand, you are taking time out of your life to care for someone else, someone maybe half a world a way either geographically or maybe just economically. You are investing something more important and more powerful than money-- you are investing yourself. If we are going to save the planet, care for the world's poor, and feed the hungry, our primary resource is not money.
Our primary resource is you.
The Hunger Site
World of Good -eBay's Fair Trade site
Tree Hugger- for the environmentally minded
Knitting for Peace by Betty Christiansen- Profiles different charity knitting organizations and provides contact info for each, and includes several simple, donate-able patterns.
Fair Trade? Issues of the World Series by Adrian Cooper- A short primer on what fair trade is and why its necessary.