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To Consume or Not to Consume?
Things are rough with the economy, and like families everywhere we are tightening our already frugal belts (can belts be frugal?). Times like this make our resolve to shop locally and consciously much more difficult. I regularly consult the Dirty Dozen and other sites to find the non-organic fruits and vegetables that don’t have such a pesticide load, instead of buying organic anyway, just because it’s better for the world. I now do most of my shopping at the less expensive store instead of the much more expensive, locally owned, fair wage and benefits store that I love to support. These decisions really affect all that I have tried to work toward, trying to make the best decisions for my family as well as the earth. It makes me really sad that it’s not easy to just do both.
Recently I watched a great mini-documentary that I recommend, The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, engaging and enlightening remedial course in consumer culture and how we got this way, aimed at older kids. The part that really rang out for me is when the host, Annie Leonard, relays a story about wanting to buy a cute, green $4.99 radio at Radio Shack. She started thinking about the radio and how $4.99 couldn’t possibly add up to what it cost to produce, ship and market that radio. What was the real cost in labor, virgin materials, transportation and marketing? It was a great question, and one that ties right in with my want vs. need mantra. But it’s really hard when every dollar is being stretched and the labor rights of people in remote lands aren’t at the forefront of my mind.
When our shovel broke, we decided that was a true need. We could borrow one, but Hova is digging out the invasives trying to reclaim the backyard, and we’d hate to break someone else’s shovel. We went to the locally owned (though True Value affiliated) hardware store instead of Home Depot or Target and looked at the shovels. There were lots of choices, some that were much cheaper, and made in China, and one brand that was 33 percent more expensive, but made in the USA and backed with a lifetime warranty. The Razorback felt substantial, and didn’t raise as many questions, like the little green $4.99 radio, about how much it really cost. We debated, we are on a very tight budget and the extra $10 could buy lots of organic strawberries. But in the end, this time, the conscious consumer won. We got the Razorback, along with some compost (mine is full of worms, but too gloppy and stinky to use. I’m trying to balance it with some dried leaves, “browns”, from the yard cleanup effort but I can never get it quite right), and used it to plant a baby plum tree that we got from our neighbor’s yearly volunteer crop.
That’s not to imply that every decision these days falls on the “right” side, but when it feels like I’m selling part of my own consciousness for that cheaper, world-exploiting thing, sometimes I can forgo $10 somewhere else to balance out my purchase and my values.