There's been so much talk lately about local food and buying local that I have spent a lot of time pondering what that really means. How much does local matter? Is this just another ploy to continue to promote conspicuous consumption? What if the choice is between buying a high-quality, long-lasting item from an Internet source hundreds of miles away, or junky, trendy items that won't last more than a season, but are at a local shop? I am not going to address sources overseas in this short post, but as most of you who even peek into a shop only once a year already know, much of the consumer goods here in the U.S. are NOT manufactured around the corner, or even around the country, but overseas or south of the border, where labor costs are lower. These practices allow us to enjoy an affluent lifestyle at someone else's expense... not really paying the human costs of our consumerism. May 1st is International Workers' Day, a major holiday in other parts of the globe that originated in the US, though now mostly overlooked here; I want to pause for a moment and honor those who make our lives better through growing food, creating goods and offering services.
Now, back to the subject of shopping local. I completely believe in eating foods that were grown close to me, thereby reducing the huge environmental costs of cross-country, out-of-season transport. Food is a subject all its own. We need to eat it each and every day. Moving on to clothing, shoes, books, tools, electronics, vehicles of transport and yarn (well, at least that last part is important to me). While we need these other items in varying amounts, how much of our shopping patterns are need and how much are want? Would we do better to car-share, tool-share, and shop second-hand? Craigslist is a pretty good local idea!
Here in my region, the Think Local First Nevada County Foothills group surfaced about a year ago, with one of its strongest goals being to help promote shopping locally and getting our local businesses to survive the Great Recession. This is an admirable goal. I want there to be something left here when the dust settles. I want good restaurants and a strong cultural life. I want there to be good schools and parks. I want my friends and family to make adequate livings here, and I don't want any more of them to lose their homes!
I value many of the businesses in my community that have signed up to support this program, particularly my local food co-op, which has an ethically-based purchasing policy that helps me live my values. I am not so sure all those other businesses, local or non-local have the same ethics... some just want me to spend my money with them. I don't want to spend it on junk, and I am tired of watching others being pushed by society in general into over-consuming.
The Think Local First website has published this Andersonville Pie Chart, showing where money spent through local businesses flows through the community and comparing it to where money flows through (and out) when spent at non-local businesses. Those dollars are critical parts of paying for services that our counties and school districts provide to us, and that is an important consideration as well.