Last week I was talking about the alarming rise of Chinese imports in the U.S., including food items, and just how difficult it is to keep your home free of these foreign goods.
While it may not always be an easy path to follow, I don't like supporting another country over my own if given the choice. So I’ve come up with some guidelines that are personally my best bet for sticking as close to my ideals as possible moving forward.
1. Buy LESS.
This is not only the most important rule, it’s also the simplest…QUALITY over QUANTITY. The compulsion we have as a consumer society to accumulate things that we don’t truly need is born from a combination of savvy advertising and the feeling that we’re not good enough as we are. So of course, if we’re always buying more stuff, we’re always running out of money to buy said stuff, and therefore looking to keep purchases as cheap as possible.
A display of this behavior was recently revealed to me when I accidentally stumbled into Black Friday madness. On the drive back from Thanksgiving dinner, my husband and I stopped grandma by the local Walmart to pick up a light bulb she needed, not realizing that their Black Friday had ridiculously begun at 6pm on what is supposed to be reserved as a holiday for gratitude. Instead, we were treated to a frightening display of barely-human behavior (yet seemingly all too common these days); I have rarely seen such a mad gleam in people eyes over a bunch of stuff. It was a disgusting and disturbing experience.
"Sweatshop labor and environmental degradation is not a “discount,” but a cost paid by someone already in poverty and by our planet."
While I’m not interested in being ripped off or in spending needlessly large sums of money, there is something to be said for spending more for quality, as well as moving your money in a direction that is supportive of your beliefs. I’ve overheard many a conversation at the farmer’s market with people wailing about the cost of the fresh produce or meat there; I’d tell those people to spend a day working on a farm and then try making that judgment.
When you’ve seen the place and met the people where something is grown or built, everything becomes far less abstract, and the realization hits that it’s not just goods you're paying for, but the sweat and (sometimes) blood that’s gone into making whatever it is that your forking over some paper for and easily carting home. Show your appreciation for these people who haven’t mechanized and production-lined every aspect of our lives.
2. Buy Used.
I read an article early last year about a woman who was questing to buy nothing new in 2016 and I was completely inspired. After I’d finished reading her post, I printed out her suggested guidelines and pinned them to the cork board next to my desk, determined to stick to them. I was pretty good for a few weeks, and then life got busy, and those wonderful little guidelines got buried under the everyday life and old habits.
A couple of weeks ago I revisited her post and found myself inspired all over again. Luckily, 2018 is right around the corner here, and while changes can always be made and new behaviors can always be adapted, there’s no time like a new year to really help dig in. So, I’ll be giving it another go, with the added motivation that my husband and I are working to save up and buy some nearby land.
There’s already so much existing stuff in the world, why contribute unnecessarily to the creation and consumption of more?
The word “need” has become more convoluted than ever, but in reality, our true material needs are few and far between, we simply convince ourselves otherwise. Additionally, buying used is a great way to ensure you’re not supporting imports with your purchase; in fact, you’re more likely to be supporting non-profit oriented groups, such as The Salvation Army, or someone who is trying to lessen their own material load.
Personally, in that scenario, I’ll choose against China every time.
3. Do your research, read the fine print.
While it’s definitely no cake walk trying to dig up the real deal on so many of the companies out there distributing goods, it is at least getting easier (for the moment) to research just about anything with the internet, assuming you have both the drive and the discretion to gauge fact from fiction.
If you’re really seeking information on a specific company, perhaps one you purchase from frequently, an independent third-party can help. Check out CSRHub, which provides an extensive rating service and transparency on factors like social responsibility, ethical employee treatment, environmental impact, and community contributions. I also recently stumbled upon a site called USA Love List, a website and magazine that focuses on helping their readers to buy USA made products more often.
Additionally, many of us shop online for everything, from “want” items to daily necessities. Personally, living in what some of my relatives call the “sticks” of Wisconsin, many of our home supplies come from Amazon. It’s no surprise that eventually Chinese imports made their way into the Amazon marketplace, and while they won’t always tell you on the Amazon page where the product is made, you can sometimes deduce this information yourself.
Look for the warning flags of an Asian product, such as a poor use of English in the product description and Asian models in the images. Additionally, small American companies are usually proud of what they’re selling and where they’re building it, so look for a short bio of the company on the product page, as well as “Made in U.S.A.” in the images or the description.
4. Do it yourself.
Have you ever thought about the ways that you can make small shifts from being a consumer to being a producer?
I could write for pages about this subject, but it’s already been quite well done in this article by Our Simple Homestead. We were once a society of producers, and now the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction and we have become a society based on not only consumption, but over-consumption, much to our detriment.
Of course, going out and living on a homestead isn’t for everyone - far from it. But there are always small steps and small changes that come together to make up a larger-scale change in the direction and condition of our society.
For myself, this isn’t too far of a stretch because I enjoy making things. One of the best examples is the breakfast granola I was buying from a store for so long; once I started making it on my own, I found that not only did I know exactly what ingredients were going into it, but I could change them to my liking and make the granola infinitely more healthy for me. Now I actually prefer the homemade stuff, so it comes out as a win-win all around.
5. Eat fresh, eat local.
When it comes to food, it always goes back to the good old standard. Meat and produce are more than likely not from China if they’re hanging out at the booths in the local farmer’s market (although you still want to keep an eye out for fakes at the farmer’s market).
Better yet, if it’s coming out of your backyard garden, it’s definitely not made any trips overseas.
And for those things that will still need to come from the shelf of a grocery store, get to know your grocery stores as well as you would get to know your farmer – they’re both a direct source of what’s nourishing your body, so they’re equally as important to know intimately.
There’s going to be a higher risk of imported products at your big box grocery stores and retailers because, when it boils down to it, the little independent guys simply don’t have the resources to seek their goods from afar (unless they’re an actual ethnic grocery store that imports with purpose). This is also why local, independent grocers make a great investment, as they’re typically sourcing as much as possible from the local community.
I often wish I could go back to simpler times, to small family businesses where you knew the person by name who provided your food, goods, or services. Alas, that is our reality no longer. Today it’s become all about the bottom dollar thanks to a society that’s obsessed with owning all those things on the outside that never truly change the person on the inside.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t create change for ourselves and re-define our own sense of society, if only within our own homes and our own daily actions. Again, it comes down to simple efforts in improving your own way of living.
The only voice we have as consumers is through what we purchase and where we spend our money. How will you cast your vote?