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A guide to New Year’s resolutions that are actually meaningful

AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin
Let’s take the “self” out of self-betterment in 2016.
  • Jake Flanagin
By Jake Flanagin


Published This article is more than 2 years old.

New Year’s resolutions are typically a self-centered affair. We promise to eat more vegetables; to exercise more; to read every New Yorker issue cover-to-cover, instead of letting them pile up on the coffee table.

I generally make the same New Year’s resolution every year: eat better. My diet of kale salad and baked salmon usually sticks for about six months. Then, like clockwork, I fall off the wagon come June or July. One year, it was a stay at a nice hotel with an all-you-can-eat dining room that made me cave. Other years, it’s been a wedding with a tempting dessert bar, or a move to a new city with an empty refrigerator and a block full of take-out joints.

Since my dietary resolutions don’t tend to pan out, this year, I’m trying a different approach. Self-betterment doesn’t necessarily have to be about improving the physical self. We can also resolve to become better citizens of the world by changing destructive consumption practices and supporting causes we believe in. With that in mind, here are seven New Year’s resolutions to consider:

Stop eating shrimp.

There really doesn’t seem to be a way to buy a bag of these delicious little buggers without buying into a supply chain contaminated with human trafficking and/or straight-up slavery. Oh, and shrimp harvesting is terrible for the environment too.

Say “no” to palm oil.

In 2016, steer clear of foods containing palm oil. As with the shrimp industry, harvest of the popular trans-fat supplement is a practice rife with human-rights abuses. And in Southeast Asia, where most of the world’s palm oil supply is grown, rapidly expanding plantations are encroaching on the habitat of the endangered orangutan—which is adorable, and also in critical, critical trouble.

Pay attention to where your shirts come from.

Fast-fashion brands like Zara have been known to order from factories that can’t always meet demand. When that happens, factories (often in places like China, India, and Bangladesh) will subcontract the orders out to “homeworkers,” or what Quartz’s Marc Bain calls, “a huge underclass of ghost workers.” Homeworkers don’t always receive the same level of labor protections as factory workers–which aren’t all that great to begin with, in some countries). And the pay can be pitifully low: a homeworker might earn as little as $1.50 to sew 24 shirts. Opt instead for socially responsible clothing manufacturers, which can be found by way of ethical shopping guides.

Throw Wikipedia some cash.

Wikipedia gives us so much: a rundown of former president Richard Nixon’s 1972 trip to China; a comprehensive list of guest stars on Sesame Street. Every year, the people who keep it up and running ask us for a little bit of help—and more often then not, we ignore them. Making a one-time $25 donation to the website that can tell you “who that guy was in that movie with what’s her face” in just a few seconds is the perfect, low-commitment kind of resolution that helps keep the world spinning.

Book a safari.

The media feeds us nonsense about how trophy hunting could be the economic savior of Africa’s wild beasts. (We got an extra helping of this argument in the wake of Cecil the lion’s death.) But a real way to support conservation as well as local economies in places like Kenya, Rwanda, and Mozambique is to book a safari. Game reserves not only play important roles in conserving some of Africa’s most vulnerable species, they also provide skilled-labor jobs to African locals that far outweigh those offered by hunting outfits in terms of stability and predictability.

Skip the big game.

Show the National Football League (NFL) that you care about things like players’ health, stopping spousal abuse, and local US economies held hostage by arena money by changing the channel. Instead of watching NFL games, read about them the next day. Don’t buy merchandise. Cancel your subscription to the NFL Network. This is an organization that only understands one thing: money. Take it away, and they might get the message to shape up. The same can be said for FIFA, for that matter.

Read important things–and share them.

The thickest, gnarliest root of racial tension, at least in the United States, lies in collective ignorance of our history. A substantial portion of white Americans simply aren’t able to comprehend their social and economic advantages because they don’t understand the enduring legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and overall structural inequality. The remedy for this? Read. Books and articles like Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s 2014 Atlantic cover story “The Case for Reparations,” and Kimberlé Crenshaw’s On Intersectionality are great places to start. And once you’ve finished? Pass them on to friends and family.

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