Buy Less, Buy Local, Buy Well

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Business, Community, Finances, Tricia Dameron | Posted on 01-12-2008


by Tricia Dameron

How is it that a country with such pride—heck, we’re proud about how much pride we have—has become so dependent on other countries? Somehow the pride is ignored or repressed as we pass through the big-box sliding doors. Why is this acceptable? How did we get here?

My brain has been assaulted by these questions for the last few days. I know the basic answer: it’s more profitable for U.S. corporations to set up shop in countries with a cheap and plentiful workforce and meaningless or nonexistent environmental and occupational safety standards. Americans demand cheap products, so we export the external costs of our voracious appetite for stuff. Every time we purchase these products we are saying, “I approve this behavior. In fact, let me encourage it.”

I have little appetite for something I used to enjoy—shopping. On Black Friday my mom and I were walking around Hobby Lobby. I could not find a single item that was made in the United States. I laughed at the irony of a pack of red, white, and blue stickers with patriotic sayings like, “America be proud!” The tiny words on the label read “Made in Taiwan.” As I walked around earnestly searching for something, anything, made in the US, I thought of the anthem by James McMurtry: “We Can’t Make it Here.”

That big ol’ building was the textile mill that fed our kids and it paid our bills
     But they turned us out and they closed the doors
     We can’t make it here anymore


I’ll stop lamenting about my trip to Hobby Lobby, though, and start seeking out alternatives. I suspect the classic “vote with your dollar” saying still applies. When my husband and I first joined the Oklahoma Food Co-op, our orders would be about $25-$50. Three years later, the monthly orders constitute the majority of our grocery budget. To accommodate for increased food expenses, we decided to cut back in other areas because supporting local farmers and eating clean food is a high priority. Now we need to attempt to make sustainability a priority in all our purchases. Part of this is buying less. But we all need stuff at some point. You can dumpster dive, buy or trade on Craigslist, or buy used. Another option to consider is supporting local businesses and buying handmade. On December 6th in Oklahoma City, there will be an opportunity to support both at the Deluxe Indie Craft Bazaar. All of the 50+ vendors are Oklahomans and all items are handmade. If you can’t make it to Deluxe, you can always shop local and support crafters on Etsy and the Co-op (where there is more than food). There will certainly be exceptions and missteps, but overall, when I need something I’ll look to these alternatives. I’ve already found that my perceived “needs” can be moderated based on what’s available. I believe we can incite change with our purchasing decisions.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance has compiled the top ten reasons to support local businesses:

Local Character and Prosperity
Community Well-Being
Local Decision-Making
Keeping Dollars in the Local Economy
Jobs and Wages
Public Benefits and Costs
Environmental Sustainability
Product Diversity

Do you have anything to add to their list? Have you tried to avoid purchasing anything in particular? What factors inform your purchases?

Comments (5)

Great point! There are indeed many absurdities, ironies and paradoxes in our society at every level. From practical life issues — what we eat, wear, buy and drive — to what some define as spiritual, patriotic or healthy, some days the absurdities threaten to overwhelm. It’s hard to stay centered and focused in the midst of chaos and doubt, but as you suggest, remembering that little acts can collectively bring about paradigm shifts makes a big difference. Thanks for the mindful post!

I was in superduper Walmart one day, and just strolled through to look at the produce. found a bag of garlic, GARLIC, that had China on the bag. I thought to myself, we are sooooo screwed when we can’t even sell american grown garlic.
In this topsy turvey world, I suspect there are bags of garlic in china that say USA.

Thanks for the resources, too.

Very nice reading. Reminds us all to think about where our dollars go. I really like the idea behind!

Kudos! I am constantly amazed when I’m doing my 15,000th load of baby laundry how many baby things are made in China. Baby clothes, diapers, you name it, it probably has China on the label. With the recent scare in China over tainted formula, every time I see a “Made in China” label, I cringe a little bit. The good thing about all of these baby clothes and things that I’m washing is that most of them are used or were purchased with other people’s money (so I’m not the active consumer even though there was one…but at least not two??). There’s a pretty good documentary called “Mardi Gras: Made in China” ) about the outsourcing of Mardi Gras beads to China. I encourage everyone to watch it…really puts things into perspective.