Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Why local?

(This blog entry is my two cents worth for the November APLS Carnival.)

I used to be a Walmart shopper. I loved walking down the aisles looking at all the cheap consumer goods for sale. During the Christmas season, I especially loved the aisle that had packaged gift sets such as his & her matching cocoa mugs or a ceramic John Deere tractor filled with cookies. I’d go there just to look, and sometimes I’d buy.

Then, one fall, our local paper did a series of expose type articles on Walmart. One article was about how Walmart treated their employees (what overtime?). One was how they treated their US suppliers (sell it cheaper or go out of business). And one was how they treated their overseas manufacturers (sell it cheaper or we’ll buy from another country). The comment that stuck, and the one that really got to me, was a quote from a lady who worked for a clothing company in Honduras. Every year, Walmart required the company to cut costs further. They could reduce their profit or cut the quality, but the cost had to go down. The Honduran lady said, and I have to paraphrase, "I just can’t believe that people in America really care if they save 50 cents on a pair of shorts."

Maybe it's because I've visited Honduras, but that one comment made me realize that there is a hidden cost to our cheap consumer goods and it is a cost I don’t like. I have no desire to gyp Hondurans out of the 50 cents they need to make a profit so they can buy tortillas for their kids, so I quit shopping at Walmart.

I occasionally purchase similar merchandise, but I buy it from a locally owned store, or at least one that has a reputation of treating people better. I figure that if they treat their employees well, they probably treat their suppliers better, too. It costs more, so I buy less stuff. I’ve done a complete 180 from searching for the cheapest price to searching for a quality product, fairly paid for. I’m buying much less from the lady in Honduras (or China or ??), but hopefully I’m paying for what I buy. If we all did that, we would need to manufacture a lot less stuff, we could cut out the junk, and we could bring back the quality. I think the world would still go around.

That began my journey. Through reading books I soon also learned about the state of our food production in this country and was similarly horrified to find out what system I was supporting. It was around the same time as a bunch of e. coli scares, I had a baby who was starting to eat solid foods, and I was concerned about what I was feeding my family. When I learned about the abuse of animals, the land, and the farmers and immigrants who do most of the work, I started looking for other options.

My search took me to local farms, the farmers’ market, and even to a friend who offered me a share in their pig! I learned about locavores and their "eat local" challenges from fellow bloggers. I started out unconvinced, but soon I was hooked and just had to try it.

I’m not a purist when it comes to eating local foods – I still shop at the grocery store every week – but I’m now buying about half our food from the people who grew it. I love that. The food is better. It’s so much better that I notice when for some reason I eat the old stuff. I don’t care what anybody says about how it’s cheaper to eat whole foods – it’s been waaaay more expensive. I’m still making compromises because of price, but when I buy locally, I know where the money is going. I’m supporting farmers who are trying to care for their people, land and animals instead of trying to milk every penny out of them and leave the problems to the next generation.

I buy locally grown food as much as I can. On some other things, I try to buy fair trade or the equivalent. I’ve got a long ways to go, but I figure that if everyone did what I’m doing we would strengthen our communities, save our land, and we’d have a lot more social justice.


meghan...or is it? said...

Your story is truly inspirational and encouraging to people who fear changing their lifestyle habits. Thank you for sharing!

Electronic Goose said...

Great, inspiring story!

kale for sale said...

I love knowing what that first spark of awakening is for us that has us pay attention to what we're buying. Thank you for writing about yours. I wish we could make posters of the woman from Honduras and paper our towns with them just so people could know because I don't believe they do. And even knowing the information I try to forget about it sometimes! Great post!
(PS: Have you read Nickel and Dimed?)

Donna said...

meghan & electronic goose: Thanks for your comments and for stopping by. I love hearing from new readers! I hadn't really thought of my story as inspiring, but I'm glad you both found it so.

kale: Welcome home. I agree, the lady from Honduras would make a great "poster person!" Haven't read Nickled & Dimed, although I've heard of the title. Maybe I'll have to check that one out. Thanks!

Karlie said...

I am too a regular WalMart shopper.

Donna said...

karlie: I think you missed my point.

(note to everybody: karlie's profile links to Walmart's site.)

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

I had a similar turnaround when it comes to Walmart. When my family moved to Montgomery County, MD four years ago, I was surprised to discover that the county does not allow Walmarts within county lines. The closest Walmart was too far away to shop at, so I started shopping somewhere else. Then I watched a documentary about Walmart, and I was glad that the Walmart was too far away. Now we live in North Carolina where there's a Walmart down the road, and sometimes it is tempting to take advantage of the low prices. But the guilt afterward is much worse!

Donna said...

erin: I know what you mean. I try to not even look at their flyers so I don't know the prices I'm missing. Thanks for dropping by!

Jena said...

I'm happy to have found your blog, and completely agree with your thoughts on WalMart. In fact, I wrote a similar post a few weeks ago. It is nice to hear that there are other people out there who don't like the place. A friend of mine drug me in there awhile ago and as I was complaining she pointed out that the sign by the pumpkins said "Locally Grown: Michigan". I was surprised and then remembered reading an article in the paper about a farm out of state that grows most of WalMart's pumpkins. I picked up a pumpkin and read the label. Sure enough - they were NOT from Michigan. I complained at the checkout and even had the cashier call over someone from produce but they both seemed to think it was pretty funny and didn't even take the sign down. That seals the deal for me! :)

Mon @Global Homestead said...

Yay! Great to hear about another ex Wal-mart shopper.

I'm not in America, but I know all about this chain, and they mirror other chain stores in the UK.

I was just working on a post about wal-mart so I'm going to link your post.

Donna said...

jena: I just read your post and you would think that we called each other before we wrote. :) Let's hope there's lots more people just like us out there. Your pumpkin story would be funny if it weren't sad. I wonder how many people are so proud of buying a local whatever from Walmart and instead are just taken in by dishonest marketing.

mon: Thanks for dropping by and for the link. I love having visitors from overseas. :) I'll have to check out your blog soon and look for the post!

Green Bean said...

Truly awesome post, Donna! I love this quote: "hopefully I’m paying for what I buy". All that cheap stuff comes at a cost - both to the people we cannot see and the people who live in our communities. I read, in Deep Economy, that the WalMarts of the world are good for the individual (save money) but bad for communities. Let's build communities and buy a bit less but pay a bit more so our neighbors (those here and in Honduras) can feed their kids. Thanks for your thoughts. :)

Donna said...

Thanks so much, green bean. I'm glad you liked the post.

I found McKibben's comment about Walmart being good for the individual and bad for the community to be very insightful. It explains how reasonable people can take such totally opposite sides to the issue. The more I learn, the more I side with strengthening the community, which I think must ultimately be good for the individual as well, but you have to take a longer perspective.