Made In The U.S.A.

Archive for January, 2009|Monthly archive page

This blog post is brought to you by vodka.

In Uncategorized on January 31, 2009 at 11:21 pm

If you have a few vodka tonics at Mangia Italiania with good friends you haven’t seen in a long time, you might forget to ask which kind is Made In The USA. So you get Absolut, which everybody knows is made in Sweden. So when you get home you might search the interwebs to find an American-made option and discover that, aside from Popov and some other less-than-tasty-sounding vodkas, Smirnoff is your best bet for MITUSA vodka. Also, depending on how much vodka you have, you might write strange third-personish blog posts.

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There are no more luxuries.

In Uncategorized on January 31, 2009 at 6:20 am

1.14.09: I mentioned the locally roasted Kona coffee to friend/coworker Leah and she asked about cost. I don’t know the cost, but any time the coupon is for $5 off you know it’s not going to be cheap. Then she said this:

“That’s the problem, right? You can’t buy American unless you’re rich.”

I started to tell her no, but then we were interrupted and didn’t get to finish. How would I have continued that sentence?

I’ve only been doing this for a couple of weeks, but I don’t think you have to be rich to buy American-made goods. Maybe when it comes to some things (suits, perhaps, or boutique audio and video equipment or furniture…) but for the most part, it’s just another alternative to imported goods.

I think the difference is that things that non-rich people used to afford, and then take care of and make last and whatnot, are now available in way less expensive versions from China. So now people who couldn’t necessarily buy them before can buy them now, so they no longer seem like luxuries or privileges.

I think it’s the same idea Michael Pollen says about steak. Fifty years ago Americans ate steak for special occasions; now the process and the product has been commoditized and we can choose from a dozen different discount strip mall steaks for dinner every night of the week and never eat the same steak twice. Suddenly a luxury became the standard; we’re all entitled to as much affordable steak as we’d like. Sounds great, except now we’re all fat and dying and unused to the idea of wanting anything.

When certain “durable” goods get so inexpensive, it’s easy for people to fritter away their money by buying and rebuying stuff that they don’t really need or want that much. At least, that’s my take so far.

I don’t necessarily think that regular consumption of American stuff requires wealth, but certainly some MITUSA options are limited and the manufacturers have found a boutique or high end niche for their brand (Joseph Abboud suits, Allan Edmonds shoes, etc). The nice part is these presumably better made, higher quality goods should last longer and essentially become a better long term value. Or even if they don’t last longer inherently, perhaps we’re more likely to take better care of goods we have to stretch to afford.

I also understand that if you’re struggling you’re more likely to look for a better deal on everything you buy. And you should. And I don’t begrudge anyone that option. But as someone who isn’t struggling that much (at the moment; knock wood; fingers crossed), it kind of seems like my obligation to be a smarter consumer and work a bit harder at it.

Wal Mart is a great place for people who need to stretch every dollar, but there are other “costs” associated with shopping there. I’m sure I’ll get into them at some point when I finally venture into that great blue building filled with American dreams. But until then, all I know is I feel slightly sick and angry when I see Audis and Beemers and Lexi parked in the Wal Mart lot. It’s offensive on so many levels.

Then again, maybe that’s how they can afford their fancy imports: by buying discounted stuff whenever they can. I guess they’re being deliberate consumers as well. Maybe just not in the same way I do it.

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Coffeegate Continues

In Edibles on January 30, 2009 at 6:06 am

1.14.09: My good friend Dan, always looking out for my best interests, has thrown a wonderfully awful wrench in my coffee buying plans. He emailed today with a coupon from his local coffee house (The Oregon Trail Roasting Company over in Belleville, not too far at all) for $5 off Kona coffee. Better yet, the coffee is roasted right there in Bellevegas. On Main Street. Locally.

Last month we introduced you to our exclusive Kona coffee from Hawaii. It is the only coffee grown in the United States. We get our beans from Kona Earth, a small coffee farm located on the tropical slopes of the Hualalai volcano in the famous Kona coffee district on the Big Island of Hawaii. The high mountain “mauka” climate allows their Arabica trees to grow lush and the coffee to ripen slowly, creating beans of remarkable size and flavor. This Estate-grown 100% Kona coffee is controlled by Kona Earth from beginning to end to ensure the best possible quality. The coffee is hand picked, sun dried and pesticide free. It is never mixed with lower grade coffees such as Kona Blend (don’t be fooled by cheap prices—it usually means only a small percent of Kona.)

So it’s grown in the USA and roasted in my hometown. I think I have to buy it.

I wonder if they accept Starbucks gift cards?

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I only buy music from Kentucky and North Carolina.

In Adventures on January 29, 2009 at 9:26 am

1.13.09: Bought some iTunes today. Technically the money changed hands way back pre-Christmas, because I received a gift card from Shelley’s sister. Last week I bought a record via iTunes (the Avett Brothers, banjo punk from North Carolina—and insanely great) and it didn’t occur to me that it counts as consumption. I did the same thing today, with an EP from My Morning Jacket (live at The Palms; it’s self indulgent and you can probably skip it. Sorry “greatest rock band in America today.”). That’s when it occurred to me that I’m buying and consuming all the time. Even when I’m just downloading digital files from the largest music retailer in the world and not transacting any physical stuff.

I guess if you’re buying files from iTunes they’d have to be considered Made In The USA. But since really, you’re not buying files but music, where’s the music made? (If I was physically buying a CD, I think I’d have to defer to the locale in which the disk was pressed.) I can’t check the liner notes to see the studios in which they were recorded since I’m just buying files. In fact, I’m not buying anything; I’m licensing music. Like renting, sort of.

Maybe it should be where the band was made. For the Avett Brothers and My Morning Jacket, it’s North Carolina and Kentucky, respectively. You don’t get any more American than North Carolina and Kentucky in my book.

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MITUSA: Made In The USA or Patented Sex Technique?

In Uncategorized on January 28, 2009 at 9:58 pm

I just learned (thanks, SF Guardian!) that the abbreviation I’ve been using for “Made in the USA” is also the name of a proprietary oral sex technique. Not kidding.

Maybe it’ll catch on and I’ll get more MITUSA hits.

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CFL stands for Can’t Find Locally

In Adventures on January 28, 2009 at 2:15 pm

When I was at the grocery store I looked for CFLs. That’s Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs. I’ve been hearing lots of friends talk about how they’ve drastically reduced their energy consumption (and, therefore, electric bills) by smart usage—including installing CFLs around the house.

I’ve also heard the rumor that you can’t buy American-made CFLs.

I looked at two brands, and both were made in China.

We’ll see. Fingers are crossed.

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The Taming of the Squash

In Adventures on January 27, 2009 at 9:47 pm

“The sea’s in my veins, my tradition remains, the son of a son of a sailor.”
–Jimmy Buffet

I come from a family of sailors. Like my grandfather and great uncle long ago, my father seems to have seawater coursing through his veins. His father was a lifelong sailor, in the Navy and the merchant marine. My grandfather’s brother was a lifelong sailor in the merchant marine alone because, like me, he had flat feet that kept him out of the service. Still: they both sailed the world for most of their lives.

My father’s father and uncle, Eugene and George, shared more than the sea. They shared a house; a big beautiful house because they apparently pay well in the merchant marine and there’s nowhere to spend your dough when you’re six months at sea. While my grandfather was relatively mature, his brother, George, was a big kid. I think that’s how I got my mischievous streak. Imagine a 15-year-old with a big allowance and no wife or kids to spend it on. He had a huge in-ground swimming pool, a convertible black and white Cadillac he called “The Puddy Tat,” a pair of lava lamps, a house filled with big black velvet paintings (some nude), the first big-screen TV I ever saw, the first remote control I ever used, the first VCR I ever played a movie on, and a closet full of hundreds of recordings—first films on 8 and 16mm from his adventures at home and at sea and then every movie that ever came on TV recorded on his brand new state-of-the-art pop-top Fischer VCR. He ate pickled herring and drank rusty nails. The basement bar was fully stocked, and the only thing in it that entertained me as a kid was the hope that the rum-filled chocolates wouldn’t actually be rum-filled, and the ceramic pitcher shaped exactly like a woman’s breast. The point is, he liked to have a good time.

I tell you that story to tell you this one: the brothers, my great uncle and grandfather, had a vacation getaway at Lake of the Ozarks. Next door to the house was a little cottage: two bedrooms and a half bath. The cottage wall, however, was the greatest I’ve ever seen. Probably eight feet high and twelve feet wide, it was covered with the largest map of the world I’d  ever seen as a 10-year-old. I can’t recall a bigger one, even today. Covering this yellowed and aging old world map were dozens, probably hundreds, of red and gold stars. Those stars, simply, represented all the ports around the globe that my grandfather and great uncle had visited. Shanghai to San Francisco, Cape Horn to the Cape of Good Hope. They had been everywhere. And I had only been a few hours away, far enough to get to the lake house, to look at the map that proved they had seen it all and done it all before, as sailors.

My parents are sailors now too. As I write huddled inside against the snow, they float on a Princess Cruise ship somewhere much warmer than here. They do this several times a year. Right about now, I’d have to guess that they’re nearing the Panama canal because they’ve been gone a week. Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale, one way, via Panama and the Caribbean and probably laid prone on their backs for most of the journey. I’m guessing it’s not how my other ancestors did it; more than likely they spent most of their time in dirty engine rooms and cramped bunks. But still: the family sailing tradition continues.

I tell you that story to tell you this one: before my parents left, they suggested I water the plants and eat their food before it spoils. Upon visiting last Saturday for just that purpose, I discovered that the Acorn Squash in their vegetable drawer was beginning to get soft. I snatched it up and added it to the haul, dubious but willing to try it nonetheless.

Sunday night rolled around and I was hungry. Made my dinner and decided to add the squash to the mix. It even came with a handy sticker on the side that explained how to prepare it: poke holes in it with a sharp knife, microwave for 7 minutes, let stand for 5, cut in half, remove seeds, add butter and salt and sugar and pepper. Eat.

I did that. It was heavenly. I am now hooked on buttery sugary salty peppery acorn squashes.

I tell you that story to tell you this one: tonight at the grocery store I made a bee-line for the squash department. Acorn, spaghetti, butternut… I wasn’t going to be picky. Sure enough, they had all three varieties. All with helpful stickers that probably contained cooking instructions involving butter and sugar and pepper and salt. All definitely with stickers that read the same: Product of Mexico.

I tell you all those stories to tell you this one: I am hungry. I want squash. I can’t buy it because it’s not Made In The USA.

Damn.

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Brie and Avocados

In Adventures on January 26, 2009 at 8:30 pm

1.11.09: I went to the grocery store today. Not some fancy Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Just the plain old local chain. I spent $108 on about $90 worth of food, but I can’t complain too much. In all, it was an enlightening and relatively effortless experience. It did seem to take a little longer than usual, though. Here’s what I learned:

Most of the produce I buy is MITUSA. Celery stamped “Product of USA.” Red Onions with stickers from Idaho and Colorado. Tomatoes and salad lettuce, both domestic. The only casualty? Avocados. The two available options were imported from Mexico. I may have to look to the fancy suppliers for California or Floriada guacs. (My mom tells the story of a waitress once talking up an appetizer: “It’s made from fresh guacamoles!”)

I did have frozen shrimp in my cart, and “ten for $10” salmon fillets too. Then it occurred to me: I forgot to check them! Sure enough the shrimp was from Thailand. The discount fish? China.

I found the American-made fillets. Wild Alaskan Salmon, actually. Several options were available. All were about $4 each. Ouch. I still got a couple of them.

The biggest heartbreaker? Aside from the avocados, it would have to be the cheese. I’m a sucker for good cheese: brie, Gouda, Roquefort, et al. Especially aged Gouda, which goes directly from tasty on the tongue to nourishing for the soul. It is, of course, made in Holland. Ugh.

There were a few items of unverifiable origin that I’ll have to research. Peanut butter (several brands checked, none indicated an origin), whipped cream (ditto), Jell-O (it didn’t say), fresh mozzerella (ditto) and Emerald nuts (ditto). Let’s see…

Emerald Nuts? Can’t figure it out, even at Amazon. (They really should list origins.)
Jell-O? Dover, Delaware!
Mozzerella Fresca? MITUSA! (I can’t figure out exactly where, but it’s won awards for “American Made” cheese.)
Cabot Whipped Cream? It’s a Vermont collective of dairy farmers and it even has the state in its logo. It sure appears to be MITUSA, but I haven’t seen those magic words yet.
Peanut Butter? The two major players, Jif and Peter Pan, are made in KY and GA. I assume the store brand I get is made indirectly by them or someone else nearby.

If only I could find some brie and avocados…

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Wine and Recycling. And Wine.

In Adventures on January 25, 2009 at 10:19 pm

1.10.09: I bought another dinner at the end of my block. Sasha’s, with Shelley and Erin and Orin (my neighbors and all-around nice people). We did have a Prosciutto appetizer, so I guess that wasn’t a local ingredient. No, scratch that: I think it was Volpi, from St. Louis. And I had a flight of Cabernets based on the assumption that they were all from California, which they would have been had they not been out of one and replaced it with a Chilean Cab that, of the three, was by far the best.  Lesson learned: even when you buy American, you might not get American.

I also prevented someone from buying, sort of. I was going to drop off my old guest bathroom vanity and sink at the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store (which is a great place to donate, and purchase, building materials and things) and ended up giving the set to a chap in the parking lot who was loading another sink into his van. He and his wife were very happy to receive the gift of sink, and I was quite happy to be getting rid of them. Plus it’s fun to give stuff to people. So that was neat.

And I recycled my Christmas Tree in Forest Park. The pile of trees was the size of a swimming pool, and it smelled really great.

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Starbucks and Fair Trade

In Edibles on January 25, 2009 at 1:53 pm

1.10.09: Stopped at Starbucks today, not only for my favorite drink (a venti iced coffee with three Splendas and half and half) but for a pound of coffee and advice. I asked about fair trade, and they pointed me to the Café Estima blend. They even ground it for me. I decided that in the world of coffee, Fair Trade certification is more valuable to the conscientious consumer than locally grown. You can buy it here.

I looked online to learn more about Fair Trade and Starbucks roasts. I can’t for the life of me figure out where the heck they roast their coffee. Based on what I’ve learned this week (if it doesn’t say MITUSA, it wasn’t) I’m wondering if they have bulk roasters in foreign lands. I’ll have to continue this investigation.

Though I didn’t learn what I wanted, I did learn this: Coffee is the second-most traded commodity (after oil) on earth.

You can’t really get either one of them efficiently MITUSA.

I also found an interesting discussion about asking for Fair Trade coffees in Starbucks. It turns out that there’s a whole movement of people who’d really like you to ask for a cup of Fair Trade the next time you’re in Starbucks, because they’ll brew one up special for you. One commenter made a great point about how and why this shift in demand would create a shift in the corporate behavior, making it easier to get Fair Trade coffees in Starbucks. It seemed to apply to buying American as well.

Why do you have to ask? Because we live in a market-driven system (for better or worse) and by demanding you affect supply. (I’ll give a nod to the fact that most of our so-called “democratic economy” is actually a command economy, but that’s for another day.) In the end, an educated consumer and demand-driven economics is the “best” solution.

I then learned that a command economy would have supplies and prices set and controlled by the government. Presumably that poster would argue that our economy is such because of government subsidies and stuff.

I guess I’m back to thinking that my coffee is made at the local Starbucks, and the ingredients are imported. I can’t help but think I’d be better served by a truly locally roasted bean. I’m definitely investigating that—as soon as I’ve spent my Starbucks bucks.

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You crazy, Kona. You crazy.

In Edibles on January 25, 2009 at 10:21 am

You have got to be kidding me.

You cannot buy American-grown locally roasted coffee unless you are rich. Period.

We have our first MITUSA casualty. It is coffee. I am sad.

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expensive kona

Coffee with a Conscience

In Adventures on January 25, 2009 at 9:52 am

Last night I hit the Oregon Trail. It was difficult. I didn’t love it. Many died.

My hopes and dreams for buying locally-made American coffee died.

The Oregon Trail Roasting Co. you may recall is the local coffee roaster in Belleville—my hometown a mere 20 miles from where I sit. Not only is the coffee they sell locally made, but they offer a 100% Kona coffee. That’s a bean grown in Hawaii, delivered to Belleville and roasted here. In terms of coffee, buying a locally roasted Kona is about as American as you’re gonna get.

So I made a special trip to go get some.

Of course, the bedredlocked young skinny man behind the counter was unaware and apparently unconcerned if they had any Kona beans. “I guess we don’t have any roasted up right now.” He was also unaware what it cost or if/when they would have it again. The look in his eyes said, “They don’t tell me much.” So I stopped asking too much.

I think the only appropriate fix is to email them and ask if they’ll hold some for me. Or I can ask Dan and Crystal (who live in Belleville) if they’ll keep an eye out for Kona when they’re in there.

So no Kona for me. But it again got me thinking: what constitutes MITUSA coffee? If I apply the same standards as I do for shampoo and clothing, it’s “made” in the states even if it comes from imported parts (or beans). So even Starbucks coffee, assuming that it’s roasted on these shores, passes muster.

And yet…

There’s so much more responsible consumerism that can be done with coffee. Based on that, it seems that my obligation is to aspire to the most liberal American coffee I can find. That coffee would be:

Grown in America – Hawaiian Kona
Roasted locally – At Oregon Trail or any number of other local roasters

The problem with buying Kona is that it’s difficult. The grocery store sells a Kona blend (10%, and mixed with coffee from who knows where produced who knows how) and my Starbucks doesn’t stock it. I appear to be at the mercy of local roasters who choose to offer the expensive bean. Or don’t. Failing that availability of a very specific American bean, the ideal coffee would be:

Grown as close to America as possible. Maybe Mexico? (Canada’s coffee output is surprisingly low.)
Shade-grown. These coffees grow slower in the shade of a canopy of trees. Many coffee farms increase output with sun-grown coffee. That is accomplished by deforestation to thin out the trees. This has negative effects on the surrounding flora and fauna—specifically the birds who are disappearing because of it.
Organic. Just like organic tomatoes or lettuce, organic coffee is produced without use of pesticides and other nasty chemicals.
Fair Trade. This is the biggen. Fair Trade coffee beans are purchased at a “fair” price; i.e. not the bottom dollar price that has presumably been paid to poor coffee growers in third world countries for generations. In exchange for this fair price, growers are encouraged to operate in sustainable and environmentally friendly ways.

So, no Kona at Oregon Trail. But they did have others. So I bought one: A Mexican-grown, Belleville-roasted, shade-grown, organic, Fair Trade coffee. And I’m drinking it now, and it tastes good.

Even if it’s not 100% MITUSA, it feels good to consume coffee with a conscience.

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Will Woot wanna?

In Retailers on January 24, 2009 at 9:39 am

Just for fun I sent Woot a request. They list all sorts of specifications about the “crap” they sell, but they don’t typically list where the stuff is made. So I asked ‘em too.

They won’t.

They didn’t respond as such, but I’m confident they won’t. Nor will they respond. No matter how fun or funky or offbeat they may be, they’re still a big ol’ American retailer. And they sell stuff. Stuff we don’t need. And there’s no reason on God’s green earth why they see a benefit to listing the origins of the stuff they sell.

So they won’t. I’m sure of it.

Dear Woot: I’m neither angry nor disappointed. My request is that you list “Country of Origin” in product specs. (I know, most of the stuff is probably from far, far away. But still: it’s good to know that, even if it isn’t made in the USA.)

They won’t.

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Get thee to a White Castle

In Edibles on January 23, 2009 at 10:40 am

Almost made it another day without a purchase, but… alas, I was White Castled.

For anyone who happens to be reading this and does not live within reasonable driving distance of a White Castle fast food restaurant, I must paraphrase Mr. T: I pity you, fool.
Read the rest of this entry »

Woot. There it is.

In Retailers on January 22, 2009 at 10:05 pm

One of my favorite ways to buy stuff is via Woot.com. Woot’s motto is, “One day, One deal.” They list a thing every morning just after midnight, and they sell that thing for 24 hours or until they run out. Today it might be a universal TV remote, tomorrow a computer monitor. They may have ten or ten thousand, and when they’re out they’re out. And if you missed something good Read the rest of this entry »

A rambling rant about capitalism

In Uncategorized on January 22, 2009 at 10:25 am

1.6.09: Maybe it’s just because I know, in my heart of hearts, that truly and honestly big American corporations would kill me if they could make a buck and get away with it. Tobacco companies do it and that’s fine. I’m really not complaining. Lots of other companies do it in lots of subtler but probably even more evil ways. Let’s just not pretend Read the rest of this entry »

Am I Un-American?

In Uncategorized on January 21, 2009 at 8:42 pm

Okay, fine. I’m un-American. I don’t mean to be. I’m certainly not advocating buying American because I want other peoples/countries/races to fail. I’ve just been taught for years that buying American creates American jobs and that’s good for Americans and since I’m a good American that’s good for me. Is that no longer true? Was it ever? Did I totally miss the boat here? Read the rest of this entry »

Fair Shares

In Edibles on January 21, 2009 at 8:39 pm

Dan and Crystal do this. They pay $50 per week and pick up a bag of locally grown/made/harvested/roasted groceries. They’re good people.

Fair Shares is a non-profit organization dedicated to getting fresh, local, seasonal food into the hands of more St. Louisans–regardless of their income. We think it’s important to know the origin of your food–who grew it and where. With all the horrifying Read the rest of this entry »

Sonofa…

In Uncategorized on January 21, 2009 at 4:44 pm

Sonofa…

“Buy American” is UN-American
By Harry Binswanger, Ph.D.
Published online at the Ayn Rand Institute and excerpted below.

According to a recent poll, 80% of Americans Read the rest of this entry »

Meaningless Patriotism?

In Uncategorized on January 21, 2009 at 10:36 am

1.6.09: Everywhere I look I see China.

On the radio today was a discussion of the country. In the lobby Newsweek was a story about economic slowdown hitting the region, and how all of their booming growth is now subsiding. It made me feel like maybe I should buy Chinese stuff to help ‘em out. You can read it here.

Then I picked up Read the rest of this entry »

Sock Heaven, MITUSA Hell

In Adventures on January 20, 2009 at 8:53 pm

1.5.09: My mail order socks arrived today.

I placed the order post-Christmas, pre-2009-only-buying-American-made-stuff resolution. I’ve done it before, although not via mail. What I’ve done is replace every one of my myriad black socks, and every one of my myriad white socks, with a batch of brand new black or white socks from a single manufacturer. Twelve sets of each color, 48 socks in all. I’m in OCD Read the rest of this entry »

A Kona Crack wakeup call

In Adventures on January 20, 2009 at 3:34 pm

1.5.09: What a Monday.

Yet again, I expected to report that I bought nothing aside from lunch (a Hardee’s low-carb burger that, checking online beforehand, I learned was 100% Angus Beef and therefore, presumably, MITUSA—even though I’ve no intention of ensuring every restaurant meal I ingest is of American products all the way through, I am at least remaining aware out of curiosity) but in fact I stopped at Schnucks Read the rest of this entry »

What it says on the New Balance tag

In Stuff on January 20, 2009 at 1:16 pm

New Balance: A commitment to U.S. manufacturing.

Many of our shoes are produced in one of six United States factories. While most of the footwear industry has moved its production overseas to take advantage of low labor costs and generally cheaper production costs, we continue to have many of our shoes made in the United States Read the rest of this entry »

How to buy American-made shoes

In Adventures on January 19, 2009 at 10:14 pm

Today was a rousing purchasing success. I bought a tank of gasoline on the way home from work. While I was waiting for the superslow pump, I considered ducking into the station to get out of the cold and to pick up a snack. Then I thought about sifting through the available foods and having to read small print and possibly seeing something that I wanted but that didn’t work with my diet or MITUSA Read the rest of this entry »

Refill your Uh Oh, mister?

In Edibles on January 19, 2009 at 11:57 am

1.4.09: Uh oh.

I found a list of American Made Coffees.

They include: Bad Ass Coffee, USA Coffee Company and various other Hawaiian-grown coffee companies. I guess that means I have to start buying American-made coffee and not Starbucks’ nectar of the gods. Read the rest of this entry »

How about a nice cup of Uh Oh?

In Edibles on January 18, 2009 at 10:45 pm

1.4.09: I’ve been doing some research to head off Coffeegate before the ____ hits the ___.

Kona coffee is grown only in specific districts of the big island of Hawaii. It has “developed a reputation that has made it one of the most expensive and sought-after coffees in the world.”

Great. Read the rest of this entry »

Peanut Butter Recall

In Edibles on January 18, 2009 at 10:42 pm

Heard about this tonight, and was relieved to see that it’s not straight up store bought peanut butter that’s been recalled. But lots of products with PB in them have been recalled. Find out if your favorite peanut butter snacks have been tainted here.

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This style is all the rage in Bangladesh.

In Adventures on January 18, 2009 at 3:34 pm

1.4.09: I’ve been holding off on remodeling my kitchen, and now I think it’s beginning to be time to move forward. I spent the morning researching what I want to do, and I decided my favorite stuff was from Ikea. Of course, that presumably means it’s from Sweden, or from Bangladesh by way of Sweden.

I can get traditional Home Depot cabinets that are MITUSA, so at least I know I’ll have options. If only the options can match my style. That’ll be the trick.

Apparently my style coincides strongly with prevailing design trends of Bangladesh.

Maybe I’ll hold off for a little while longer.

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Foreign and Green or Domestic and Consumptive? Discuss.

In Adventures on January 18, 2009 at 10:00 am

1.4.09: I received a Pottery Barn catalog in the mail yesterday and it occurred to me that I may no longer be able to buy stuff from them. Catalogs and online shopping will likely be off limits, because if I can’t tell where the stuff’s from, which it’s harder to do in catalogs, I’ll have to pass.

That’s a shame, because Pottery Barn has some really nice sales.

Their catalog also reflects a trend I’ve found increasingly over the last few days: everybody’s advertising their proud commitment to the green movement, no matter where the products are made. Before the New Year, I bought some stuff from Arhaus furniture and was provided a 100% Jute “green bag” to carry my purchases. The tag read, “100% Jute. Made in India.” That raises another great question: better to be foreign and green or domestic and consumptive? Perhaps no matter how green a jute bag may be, if it was shipped all the way from India it maybe isn’t as green as it hopes.

I suppose that’s the big reason to buy local; it’s greener.

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Why buy American?

In Edibles on January 18, 2009 at 1:43 am

1.3.09: I was prepared to report that I didn’t buy anything today, but of course I proved myself wrong. I bought dinner.

Shelley and I ate with Dan and Crystal at the new Sasha’s wine bar at the end of my block. I bought for Shelley and I and, of course, the whole purpose of the meal was consumption. We started with locally-made Volpi prosciutto with Parmesan cheese from who knows where; it didn’t occur to me to ask. Crystal was drinking a Bloody Mary for her hangover (they did a lunchtime “beer run”) so I joined her.

It was over Bloody Marys that I mentioned my MITUSA resolution. Crystal asked instantly: What about the Vodka? It hadn’t occurred to me that of course everything I consume at a restaurant is purchased from somewhere not necessarily local, and not all of it is American-made. It just so happened that the prosciutto was local, but what about the million other things I ingested? Veggies, spices, condiments… there’s no way the lime in my drink was grown in the USA, right?

What the hell is a guy supposed to do? Can I not eat vegetables in the off-season unless I move to California, and then only avocados and pears? Can I not dine out? I suppose I’ll have to investigate at the grocery store this week. Fingers are crossed. Read the rest of this entry »

Still Made In The USA

In Resources on January 17, 2009 at 11:25 am

1.2.09: I found a site that lists where to buy MITUSA stuff.  It not only lists why it’s good to buy American-made products, but it includes a large directory of them as well. I learned it is possible to buy American-made suits: Joseph Abboud at Nordstrom. Woohoo!

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Hot Wings and Anna Karenina

In Adventures on January 17, 2009 at 11:19 am

1.2.09: I bought chicken wings today from Wingstop. Half hot, half Hawaiian. Made right in front of me, so I suppose that means they’re made in America. Presumably the chickens came from here too, but I’m not so much worrying about all the origins of the stuff I consume as I am about where it’s made. (That’d be a whole other endeavor sure to keep me up nights too.) My dinner was made on South Grand in St. Louis, MO. That’s local.

I also bought a handful of books today at an antique shop. Quite a deal, too. $10.82 got me nice old hardbacks of Anna Karenina and The Complete Sherlock Holmes, as well as a lovely 60s era paperback of The Brothers Karamazov. Plus I picked up some weird books on spotting communists in our midst, an Isaac Asimov take on space for kids circa 1960-something, and a dictionary of shorthand which looks like hieroglyphics. Oh yeah, I bought a book just because of the great title—Gallahad: Enough of his life to explain his reputation.

It is my belief, and not just because of my quest to only buy American, that vintage second-hand items qualify as American much the same way as someone who’s lived here for decades can become a citizen. It’s recycling and it’s old and really, who’s going to tell me it’s not? Besides, in this case these books were all presumably made in the USA in the first place.

The other thing I purchased today was gasoline. A full tank for about $20 at $1.49 a gallon. Not sure where it was made, but I don’t really want to open up that can of worms. I’ll assume it was refined within driving distance. The beef jerky I picked up at the BP station was Oberto brand. Didn’t even cross my mind to look where it was made, presumably because it’s food and because I’m still new at this. The Oberto company appears to be based in Kent, Washington, with a handful of production facilities in the Seattle area. But the company’s web site instilled me with more dread: “In 2002 Oberto aligned with an international supplier of top quality beef to ensure our future meat supply, and thus our ability to grow.” So even though my jerky came from Washington, the cow it was jerked from likely spoke English as a second language.

Makes me wonder what’s the point?

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The First Purchase

In Adventures on January 17, 2009 at 10:35 am

1.1.09: Happy New Year. I celebrated by sleeping in, then spending the afternoon at Shelley’s where we watched old home movies with her family while I sat on the living room floor browsing through her dad’s record collection. He has it readily available because he’d like to get rid of it, as in sell it. It’s a great, great collection. Vintage LPs from everybody: The Stones, the Beatles, The Doors, The Who… After a good hour-plus of thumbing, I settled on six records I had to have: Morrison Hotel, The Soft Parade, Rumours, Tommy, Piano Man and Harvest. We looked them up on eBay to try to establish what these records had been selling for (and to establish some basis for valuation for some of the other records he’d be selling to other buyers) and arrived at $42 for those five. (Most of it was in the original “textured” pressing of Neil Young’s Harvest, complete with lyrics.)

The first purchase of 2009 was a good one: vintage records, paid in cash, and presumably all made in the USA. (But even if they weren’t, after this many years in country they should have earned their citizenship; they’re American now. I’ll have to use this logic in the future if I want to buy clothes, because I have a feeling almost none of them are made in the USA so I’ll need to shop vintage.  That’s always tough for us big guys.)

In the evening, Shelley and I ventured out to run an errand. Hobby Lobby. I wasn’t buying, but for fun I checked lots and lots of labels. Shelley even got in on the fun too. The first five or so things were Made in China. Finally a simple wood piece was made in the USA. I decided that probably nine out of ten things in the building were from China.

I did look for some taper candles for my dining room table. In the candle section, there was a brand that was Made in the USA (how about MITUSA from now on?) but they didn’t have any tapers. And all the tapers were from far off lands. No worries; I’d keep looking.

Next stop: Target.

I had three things on my list, and thankfully they were bound to be American. The first, though, hit my cart before it even occurred to me to check the label. (This is gonna be a hard habit to get into.) It was coffee cream, though, and sure enough it was made about 90 minutes away.

The second item, hand soap, was also easy enough as I had two choices. One was $7.50 for four fancy bars, the other was $3.30 for two bars. I chose the latter option, and also appreciated the fancy natural packaging and the company’s pledge to donate money to the WWF (the one for animals, not the one for wrestlers).

Finally I picked up the shampoo I’d come for, and was briefly puzzled by the label: Made in the USA from US and/or imported materials. Hmm. Not sure what to think of that. Presumably it must be fine, because it’s just more information than most labels, and presumably some labels just say MITUSA even if they’re comprised of imported goods. That’s a pretty high standard to set, but presumably it’s legit: What good would it be to buy things made here if everything they’re made of was bought overseas? I’m sure there is plenty of good reason why that’s fine, and probably some reasons why it’s less than ideal, but I assume I’ll figure that out when the time is right.

What I didn’t find, which wasn’t on my list, were those American-made taper candles. Again, the only tapers in Target were Taiwanese. This does not bode well, neither for the candles nor for my year of purchasing.

Lastly, we looked at a game I’ve been eyeing: Seinfeld Scene-It. (I know, I’m a dork.) But it looks like a good time for a Saturday night. (I know; I’m old and boring.) It occurred to me over the holidays that I might like to possess that game and I should have bought it yesterday before I wasn’t buying un-American items. The game’s made in China according to Shelley, who broke the bad news.

The Seinfeld Scene-It scandal raises a good question: what do you do when there’s only “one” thing that fits the bill (a particular game or CD or book, etc) and that one thing is made in a far off land? You either, A) don’t buy it. B) have Shelley buy it for you as a gift (which is cheating); or C) find a used one online or at a flea market and buy it that way. But does that solve the problem? In some cases (like when buying vintage clothing of a certain age) I vote yes. But in many other instances, like this one, the unfortunate answer is no. My best hope to play Seinfeld Scene-It is to stumble upon a friend who has it already. Or just wait until next year, which is probably what’ll happen. Maybe in the meantime, though, I’ll decide I don’t actually need that game to have a fulfilling life. We’ll see.

Things I bought today: shampoo, handsoap, coffee cream and five vintage vinyl records. (Shelley bought dinner at Houlihans. I only ate it.)

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records

Fast Food and Beer

In Edibles on January 17, 2009 at 12:19 am

I bought food and drink like crazy today. Breakfast at Hardee’s, where I was doing a charity shoot (and apparently I was on the noon news on channel 4 hob-nobbing with a TV weather guy and the St. Louis County Executive) which was actually donated by the company. Then lunch at Dickey’s, where I had barbecue and iced tea (unsweet, of course). Dinner was drive-thru (on the way to a trivia night event, which we won partly because I knew that the answer to the universe was 42) and I can say unequivocally that the Burger King parking lot smells flame grilled and I like that. Bought some beers at the event, too, which were Anheuser Busch-Inbev products, presumably locally brewed by the world’s biggest brewer. (Is that still considered buying local?) I feel like I technically succeeded in buying American, but the megacorporations tied up in everything I ate and drank today makes me feel a little sick to my stomach. That, or the fast food and beer is backing up on me.

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On Stuff

In Stuff on January 16, 2009 at 11:21 pm

12.31.08

Stuff: Noun. The stuff you stuff your face with, or the stuff you stuff your house with, or the stuff you stuff your ego with. Stuff. Anything you buy. Goods, wares, junk, purchases, etc. Stuff.

Usually I don’t need most of the stuff I buy. I think I need it, or I want it, or I like it, etc. But I could make do without quite so much stuff, I’m sure.

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Circuit City Sayonara

In Retailers on January 16, 2009 at 3:09 pm

From CNN Money: “Bankrupt electronics retailer Circuit City Inc. said Friday it has asked for court approval to close its remaining 567 U.S. stores and sell all its merchandise. The company said it has 34,000 employees.”

I read news like this and think various things: “Those poor people losing their jobs!” and “What does that say about the state of our economy?” and so on. No matter how much I want the empathy to win out, my thoughts quickly change to, “I bet this is the perfect opportunity to buy some discounted stuff.”

Does that make me a capitalist pig?

I wonder what percentage of Circuit City stuff is actually Made In The USA?

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ccl

On the origins of all sorts of stuff

In Stuff on January 16, 2009 at 12:53 pm

12.31.08

I suppose I should come up with some sort of hypotheses about which stuff comes from where. So, let’s see…

Food: I’m guessing most of it will come from the U.S. But I’m also assuming that it’ll be hard to tell the origins of much of it. And, secondly, are things like Argentinian chiles and oranges from Mexico off limits? Shelley says cans and stuff? I have no idea.

Clothes: I think this might be one of the hardest things to buy made in the USA. Unless we count vintage, in which case I’m golden. Most of my clothes seem to come from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and Thailand. Shelley says she doesn’t check clothing labels. Never, in fact.

House stuff: Shelley says she can’t even venture a guess. I assume some furniture will be US made, but most knick knacky stuff will be from the far east. Maybe India.

Electronics: I’m guessing that’s the other big impossibility. Are Zenith TVs still made? Weren’t they made in the USA? I’m in trouble if I have to buy a TV. I think.

Cars? Come on. That’s a tough one.

Consumables? Probably made in America for paper towels, TP, etc.

Ugh. There’s a lot to buy.

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Playmobil Security Check Point

In Retailers on January 15, 2009 at 9:46 pm

If you’re in the mood for buying, or at least browsing, I highly recommend doing it here. The comments are excellent. I think Amazon might be turning into an avant garde performance art space.

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Playmobil Security Check Point

Shop It To Me

In Retailers on January 15, 2009 at 9:41 pm

12.31.08

Shelley mentioned a shopping web site to me and it’s quite consumptive. More on it in a moment. First, it got me thinking that maybe the web might be the biggest culprit in my faceless consumption, as well as my biggest savior. Not only can I shop Etsy (in the positive column) but I can also shop everywhere else in the world, from big faceless corporations, without even leaving my couch. Worse yet, I can’t just turn over the piece of junk I’m about to buy to see  from whence it’s stickered.

The site Shelley mentioned was ShopItToMe and it is a pretty neat idea. Plug in your contact info, your personal dimensions (aka. Sizes of clothing you’d like to shop for) as well as products, styles and manufacturers (or, I suppose more accurately, branders and distributors) and tell it how often you’d like to receive updates. Voila: in your inbox you’ll find all the sale items from all the stores of all the clothing stuff you wanna buy.

My first batch of matches included a pair of sexy boots from Kenneth Cole, and some very fancy sweaters from some very fancy manufacturers that I might have considered if I weren’t a very uncomfortably large man. (It’s easier to be fashionable if you’re tiny. Trust me. If I was 5’10” and 135 pounds, I would dress so great you wouldn’t believe it.)

The moral of this story is: I didn’t even have to search the internet to find the presumably-shoddily-constructed-or-even-nicely-constructed-but-still-made-in-a-foreign-sweatshop-I-assume stuff that I normally shop for on the Internet. Now, you can have it piped in directly to your email so you can even be a passive mass consumer.

Sheesh. Four days in and I’m already annoyed with my own shopping habits, as well as the consumer-centric culture I inhabit. Maybe I’m just already insufferable. Or maybe I was to start.

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shopittome

I have a feeling…

In Stuff on January 15, 2009 at 11:19 am

12.31.08

I have a feeling that one of the hardest parts of this process—at least at the beginning—is going to be simply remembering to check where the stuff I buy is made. Every little purchase I’ve made in the past few days, as a warmup perhaps, has caused Shelley to inquire without missing a beat: “Was it made in China?”

Ugh.

If nothing else, hopefully this process will at least make me aware of where my stuff comes from.

An informed consumer must be a better consumer, right?

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Etsy: A Craft Fair on the Internet

In Retailers on January 14, 2009 at 10:04 pm

12.31.08

I bought some post-Christmas gifts today, and decided that Etsy would be the perfect place to shop. Not for any altruistic homegrown reason, but because I was looking for unique handmade gifts. Sure enough, I found the perfect wallet and coin purse that I was looking for (not for me, I should point out. Remember: they’re gifts. Shhh.) and the price was right and I’m buying local. Chicago, to be exact, which I’d say is pretty darn local.

Etsy is like a craft fair on the Internet. It’s the Amazon of indy handyfolks. Makers of stuff—clothes, crafts, photographs, painting, whatever—sign up with the site and list their items for sale. Whether they make one or one thousand, Etsy simply offers one place in the virtual world where simple sellers can sell simply to buyers. Etsy of course takes a cut from the seller, but for the buyer it’s like making any other online purchase.

Not all of Etsy’s vendors are local; some more than others. But still, to have access to even the option of  buying locally produced stuff… Great! (A complaint about Etsy on Wikipedia actually cites the site for being “too United States centric.” That might stink for the rest of the world, but for us in the US who can’t seem to get anything homemade, it’s excellent.)

Vaguely interesting postscript: Nobody seems to know why the site is called “Etsy” or what exactly the name might mean. There’s an interesting article here at The Name Inspector.

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How difficult is this gonna be?

In Stuff on January 14, 2009 at 10:17 am

12.31.08

Just out of curiosity I’ve been ramping up my awareness for the new year. Today in the shower I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Tilex spray I use daily to keep the shower clean is proud to be made in the USA. I vaguely recall seeing “Made in Missouri” banners on household cleaning supply displays at Schnucks (the grocery store where I make most of my edible purchases), so maybe with that stuff it’ll be easier than expected.

But in terms of food: am I screwed? I was spooning peanut butter into Hazel and Myra’s Kongs this morning (Kongs are semi-indestructible chew toys for dogs; I wonder where they are made?) and I decided to check the back of the Schnucks brand peanut butter for evidence. While it did warn me in big bold letters that the contents contain, horror of horrors, PEANUTS… It did not mention remotely where they’re from, or even where the PB was made, or even packaged. I have no idea what to think, except to assume that peanut butter can’t come from that far away, can it?

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A little bit of Bangladesh, right here at home.

In Stuff on January 13, 2009 at 10:56 pm

12.27.08

Christmas was lovely this year. My girlfriend and parents came over in the morning and we opened gifts and ate pastry and my dad ran through a whole 8 cups of coffee by noon.

Plus, I got good stuff.

Among the lovely things my mother gave me was a basket. It was simple, and perfect for toting a baking dish or just using as a table centerpiece. I noticed the tag prominently read “Made in Bangladesh.” I commented on it because a little bit of Bangladesh—a country I couldn’t find on a map if I tried—had woven its way into my family Christmas.

A few minutes later, as I opened a box to reveal a nice Izod checked shirt, the first thing I noticed was the tag: Made in Bangladesh. What were the chances!

As it turns out, the chances are actually quite good. I once noticed that the tags on my Gap and Banana Republic and Target shirts all seemed to be from exotic locales—Vietnam, India, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, China… These brands seem so uniquely American, so it’s hard to picture the bulk of their products—to the layperson, anyway—originating from parts of the globe I can only imagine. I can also only imagine the conditions in which my clothing is made. But I suppose as I do when it comes to food origins, I generally prefer not to think too hard about it.

But the thought nagged. Putting the question of whether or not my parents and I need to exchange quantities of stuff annually to show our love for one another aside, can it be remotely healthy for all of that stuff to come from everywhere but the US of A? I haven’t been living under a log so I don’t pretend to be surprised that stuff is made in China and other cheap-labor locales. But I’m no expert this stuff, and I’m probably a pretty average American in terms of informed vs. uninformed, and I never really realized that pretty much everything we buy is from somewhere far, far away.

So I decided then and there that in the coming new year I’d make a second resolution. In addition to the standard goal of losing mass quantities of weight, I decided that I won’t buy anything that isn’t Made In The USA. I only hope it’s easier than laying off the Oreos.

Because really, is buying Bangladeshi-made shirts really any better than buying Chinese-made shirts? I doubt it. So maybe, just to see, I’ll try to buy only made in the USA for a year. Can it possibly work? Who knows. But at least, if nothing else, through paying close attention to the origins of what I buy, I won’t be blindsided by my consumption again. And maybe I’ll become a more informed consumer, then a smarter consumer, and eventually a consumer of less stuff.

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MITUSA?

Hello world!

In Uncategorized on January 13, 2009 at 2:31 am

Since that’s the traditional WordPress greeting, who am I to delete it?

Everybody else has joined Facebook. I got a blog instead.

I’ve been keeping notes on my new consumer adventure for a couple of weeks now. I’ll start uploading them shortly until I get in sync, eventually publishing my notes the moment they’re written.