Made In The U.S.A.

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.

I assume that most of what I ate tonight was probably MITUSA. The drinks had well vodka, so that was probably crappy liquor from the states. The salad veggies most likely came from far away; hard to know. I paid attention to the wine, ordering a California Syrah. Then came the worst thought: what about the coffee.

Presumably the only MITUSA coffee is Kona coffee from Hawaii. I’ll need to investigate, and I’ll have to do it fast. I love my coffee and, unfortunately, the new Starbucks they built a block from my office has me hooked on their superior brew. Not sure how to dodge the MITUSA coffee bullet. Ensuring I buy Fair Trade coffee is probably a good first step. Dan said he thinks Starbucks sells Fair Trade coffee.

Dan then suggested finding foreign grown but locally roasted beans. That seems to qualify as “made” in the USA because it’s assembled here of foreign parts. Presumably Starbucks coffee is roasted in the USA? I’ve already pretty much established with my shampoo that I can’t be responsible for tracking back to its origin every element of every part of every thing I consume; that would be madness. If the idea is as long as it’s MITUSA it’s okay, then American roasted coffee and restaurant-assembled foreign veggies are fine. The food is made in the kitchen in the back, even if the raw materials might come from any number of places.

That’s not cheating on the spirit of the game, is it? I don’t think so. (And I really hope not.)

One thing is increasingly clear: I’d better start to refine a direction for this, and fast. What do I do if there’s not American alternative? Do I then have to buy the imported product? Or maybe I don’t buy the product at all? Or maybe there’s always some sort of alternative, even if it’s less than ideal. Having a clear cut goal would be helpful, because that could always be the deciding factor: is it more prudent to the spirit of the project and its goals to do X, Y or Z?

For example, is the ideal that the more locally made the stuff I consume, the better? So if American made is good, Missouri made is great, and St Louis made is amazing, and Sasha’s made at the end of my block is earth-shatteringly outstanding? Does that mean Canadian made isn’t ideal, but tolerable? It’s better than English made, which is better than Eastern Europe made, which is better than Middle Eastern made? If my point on the planet is most desirable, then the exact opposite place on the planet is least desirable. (In my case, the exact opposite spot on the planet from my house is in the middle of the Indian Ocean about halfway between Australia and Kerguelen Island. The exact coordinates are 38°36′58″S, 089°44′50″E according to my new favorite site. So I shouldn’t buy products from Australia more than anywhere else. Got it.)

Maybe the idea is just to become a better, more informed consumer of everything by forcing myself to become aware of the origins of the stuff I buy. Maybe then I’ll buy less stuff in general and buy more locally-made products while I’m at it. If everyone did it, maybe it would help the local economy. Maybe the American working man would have more job security. Maybe I wouldn’t feel guilty about supporting sweatshops. Maybe, but I don’t know.

At some point I’m going to cross paths with Wal Mart, I’m sure of it. And at that point I’ll have to ask myself if it’s better to buy American-made stuff from Wal Mart than it is to buy foreign-made stuff from anywhere else?

Crystal asked a simple question: Why. I couldn’t answer her because I don’t know. It just seemed like getting all sorts of unnecessary Bangladeshi goods for Christmas indicated that something somewhere was somehow out of whack. Maybe I can figure out what by trying to only buy MITUSA stuff.

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