Ask where it came from
Do you have a locally made substitute?
By Tom Politeo
HABOR VISION TASK FORCE CO-CHAIR
The familiar question at the register is “paper or plastic”? It’s time for a new question before we get to the register: “local, domestic or international?” By asking this question when we shop for food, clothes or appliances, we can begin raise awareness of how the goods we buy are made, shipped and sold.
When shopping, we should insist on goods produced close to home. If all you see is imported apples, ask the merchant if he has a domestic variety. If domestic, look for those grown in Southern California. Often you’ll need to ask where food comes from, because point of origin is poorly labeled. And, beware. If you see the name of a California grower, it doesn’t mean they grew it. Some growers are starting to sell imported produce themselves.
Farmers markets are great places to try out your newly acquired “buy local” skills; many vendors offer to tell you where their farms are or how they grow their produce without even having to ask.
But there will be times when you won’t be able to buy local or domestic. If you can’t do without, it’s usually better to buy products from the closest developed nation with a good environmental, labor and human rights track record. Author Barbara Kingsolver investigates the choices of sustainable living in her new memoir “Animal, Vegetable or Miracle? A Year of Food Life.”
Often, the only shopping options seem to be “made in China.” Sara Bongiorni documented her efforts to live without goods from China in her new book, “A Year Without Made in China”—and the task proved daunting. Similarly, Barbara Kingsolver and her family tried to live on locally- grown food for a year, which she wrote about in her new book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.
In both books, the authors’ efforts were challenging and frustrating. Moreover, it is not as if all global trade is a bad idea. Some foods grow well only in certain parts of the world. Others may make more sense to grow where water is naturally abundant rather than were crops are dependent on irrigation.
But problems go beyond the pollution associated with importing goods. Sometimes, in the case of a spate of recent recalls on items from toys to tires, the items come from nations with flimsy regulations. The challenge is that of becoming dependent on goods and food for everyday life that are produced far from home, whether or not they are domestic. By asking where things come from, we can reduce the total mileage goods travel to reach us—and reduce the likelihood that they are manufactured in polluting sweatshops.
It always pays to look at the label. Those Americana items in a local gift store are likely not made in the U.S. Rag dolls, pillows with American flag motifs, books on retro culture are all made in China, Singapore or Formosa. Some Americana pottery items come from Columbia.
We can also shop close to home. Buying locally reduces the number and length of car trips we make. If you multiply a few extra miles of driving by 100 million drivers, that’s a world of difference on the environment and a world of pressure taken off of our streets and highways.
Local businesses have the advantage of helping promote livable communities. According to a study in Austin, Texas, more than 40% of dollars spent in an independent Austin bookstore stayed in Austin. In contrast, less than 15% of the money spent at a chain store stayed in town. Large chain stores remove secondary local income that communities need to thrive.
By changing our purchasing habits, we have a vast potential as consumers to influence the corporations that sell us goods to be more responsible to labor, the environment and human rights. As citizens, we can also ask our legislators to regulate irresponsible corporations more firmly.
As individuals, we can take the next step and look for ways to improve the quality of our own lives while reducing what we consume. Simplicity circles can help you find life priorities that are more rewarding than ones mired in consumerism. Visit www.angeles.sierraclub.org/hvtf for links.