Made In The U.S.A.

Buy American. Or don’t. But understand why. Then choose.

In Adventures on December 27, 2009 at 12:59 am

I keep trying to sum up what I’ve purchased this year, what I haven’t purchased, and what I’ve learned about substituting for MITUSA stuff. But I can’t. There’s just so much we consume in this society, and I haven’t investigated so damn many things. Golf clubs. Flashlights. Batteries. Footballs. Video games.

I know you can buy most foods made right here in ‘Merica. But you’ve gotta be careful of avocados. And shrimp. And those dirt cheap tilapia fillets. And dammit if 99.9% of all olive oil comes from Europe. All sorts of foods are MITUSA, though, so there’s not too much excuse to continue generally choosing American-grown foods. (Then again, I have yet to see the film Food Inc, so maybe you just shouldn’t eat American either. See? There’s no right answer.)

If you’ve got a dog, there’s lots of American-made food (thanks to the good folks at Nestle-Purina, right here in St. Louis) and even rawhide dog chews. But this is a good example of how most stuff is imported from less expensive sources–in this case, China and Brazil.

Nevermind thinking about gasoline and coffee. You’re damned if you do, and there’s no way you don’t. Good luck spending $40 a pound on Kona vs. the already-expensive $10/pound Starbucks grinds–much less however inexpensive Wal Mart’s house brand may be. And if you’re interested in tracking the origins of your gasoline, I recommend you find a Sinclair station and shop there exclusively. Even then, the oil was likely Canadian.

There’s just some stuff you for all intents and purposes cannot buy MITUSA. Coffee. Gas. Most children’s books. And the decor for your home. There’s plenty of stuff like this. Stuff you want to buy.

That’s unfortunate. Awful, though, is the stuff you literally need to buy. The cameras to do your job as a photographer. The car parts to make your transportation work. The shoes to keep your feet dry. The jacket to keep your body warm. Sure, you can buy vintage. And used clothing. And used electronics. But you don’t always have opportunity to make those concessions. I just did, for Shelley’s Christmas gift. A refurbished digital camera. Is it really that much better, though, that I got her a previously owned bit of electronics rather than simply getting her the newest and bestest dream camera? It’s not like we’re buying the things willy nilly. She broke her old one. She needs a new one. So be it.

I guess the bottom line is that there sure seem to be a lot of alternatives that, on a regular (albeit limited) basis, make it possible to buy only American-made stuff. But in the long term, most of us just aren’t going to be able to sustain a 100%-American-only purchasing pr0gram. We’re just not set up as a society to value intangibles–like buying less junk or supporting the American worker–in lieu of saving a few dollars. I suppose that’s what it means to be a capitalist.

I’m no expert, but I certainly feel much more informed about this subject now than I did 12 months ago. And while I am empowered by the feeling that I have total control over what I buy, rather than the feeling that I must purchase from a limited set of options the system is set up to provide, I realize that it’s just too damn much work to sustain over a long-term and/or society-wide level.

I don’t mean to sound like a pessimist, but I think it really is the correct assessment of the situation as it stands.

I’ll keep pondering this stuff, but the thing that tells me how impossible shopping MITUSA-only is, is the fact that I can’t wait to buy some new clothes in January. And I’m looking forward to not having to work so hard every time I want to make a purchase. It’s a blessing and a curse. I feel liberated and limited. But after so many months, it’s the limitation that is starting to weigh heavily.

So maybe my best advice is not to purchase only American-made stuff forever, but just spend a year doing it. See how it changes your buying habits. Hopefully it’ll stick with me and I’ll remain a more conscientious consumer. Maybe it could work for you too. Or maybe don’t even limit yourself to only buying American. Buy whatever you want. Just before you do, turn the thing over and find out where it was made. I can tell you right now, the vast, and I do mean VAST, majority of what you buy comes from overseas. The overwhelming majority of that is from China. And there’s got to be value in simply spending some time wrapping your mind around that, no matter how it makes you feel or how it affects your behavior. At least you’ll know what you’re doing, and you’ll become a much more active participant in the whole system–flawed as it may be.

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