Tuesday, November 11

buying local as a global citizen

I've got to tell you about a spice mix I bought down at the local shop.

The spices were grown in Africa, they were purchased by Belgium, the final product was produced in Holland, it was distributed by Serbia, and finally transported to us.

Holy carbon footprint Batman!

When I first started to think about Buying Local, I was very enthusiastic. I could be one less person adding to the exploitation of poor workers and the increase in pollution from transporting the goods to me. And not just that. Local producers often suffer because the public demands goods that it has become accustomed to - goods not produced in their own countries.

Then one day when I was living in England, I read a newspaper article about how the national weather has (through global warming) changed to such an extent, that a farmer had started an olive plantation to produce olive oil in the south of England. If you're English, you know how bizarre this is.

Many thoughts ran through my mind - great, locally produced product makes a lesser impact on our environment,. Great, a locally produced product that people clamor for will help struggling farmers.

And then I got to thinking about the farmers in Spain, Greece and Italy. Certainly not poor countries, but poorer than the UK. And I had seen first-hand the local farmers of these countries (except Greece) and how they struggle against the world market. Often having to accept very low prices for their produce at the pressure of powerful overseas companies.

I found myself in a dilemma - do I support a local farmer for all the reasons mentioned above, or do I support a foreign farmer that probably has a more urgent need for the money. In other words, who actually needs my support?

Now I find myself in a country where almost everything fresh is locally produced. Yet the situation is rapidly changing. More supermarkets bring with them more variety. This variety means packaged foreign goods. But even the fresh produce is mutating.

DIY Dad brought home some pears once, out of season. I pointed this out to him and he later asked the vendor, and discovered they were shipped from Guatemala! That far?! Even here, in this small country?! Yep.

So after my initial shock and dismay, I found myself in a similar line of thinking as with the olive oil. Do the people who grew, tended, and the picked this fruit need my support even more than, or as well as, the poor country in which I lived?

Buying Local is one of those mind memes that spreads and seems so good and logical that we don't question it.

But y'all know what I'm like about questioning everything.

Whether it's about being green, parenting, or any other issue, there is always such a thing as individual circumstances.

A concept is only that, a theory, something existing as pure and good in the mind. The validity, and the sincerity of any concept, comes in its implementation. That is, how does this work and how much sense does this make in practice?

So what do I do?

I buy fresh local produce as much as possible, and fresh foreign produce when it has shipped from nations that in my mind are developing and need my support. Back in the UK I would buy fair- and equitrade.

The details of working out which choice is truly best are too mind-boggling. I do my best in the world we have created. If we all stopped buying from developing countries for the sake of being green - we are putting many livelyhoods at risk. The working conditions may be morally questionable and it's highly probable that the pay is a pittance. But a pittance is enough for thousands of people. I don't mean it's okay, I mean that for these people it's better than not having the job at all.

We live in a world market and a world economy, thinking locally is great, even essential when it comes to environmental issues, but thinking globally mirrors the true state in which we live, and keeps the bigger picture alive - it's not just about the planet's welfare, it's about the welfare of every single individual on it.

Written for the APLS Carnival.


  1. Thank you for the insightful article! I never thought of it like that before, but what you're saying does make sense. I do try to buy whatever I can locally, not only for the economical aspect but also because I think it is usually healthier, and I like seeing where my food comes from. However, thanks to your article I won't feel guilty if I do buy non-local sometime. Thanks! :)

  2. Great post. You have a great perspective having lived in different places and I appreciate your insights.

    Incidentally, I live in a part of Oregon, which has a climate very similar to the UK and I heard recently that someone's starting to grow olives in southern Oregon as well. Weird!

  3. Interesting post. I remember Arduous posting something similar and she and I have had many email discussions on the topic.

    I buy local for all produce and then fair/ethically traded for spices, sugar, coffee etc. Still, I error on the side of local. I feel that, with the climate changing, we need to support local economies. What to do with developing countries though? I'm not sure. Obviously, for goods that cannot be produced local, I buy those. But beyond donations (a tithe) and lobbying for better foreign aid so that those countries can create viable local economies, I'm not sure. I have read that, in many developing countries, the farmers quit growing subsistence crops in favor of cash crops and are therefore less able to feed themselves.

    I could go on and on but what a dilemma. Thanks for your input.

  4. Hi Jena - yes, the idea though is to be conscious of every choice.

    Donna - it IS weird when we see climate changes in such ways. I believe we view types of crops as something fundamental to the country/region.

  5. Green bean - Just popped over to Arduous' blog. So great to know I'm not completely weird on this (at least not alone anyway lol).
    Yes, it isn't easy. There are just too many factors involved.
    I think what matters most with people like ourselves is that we give it thought and make decisions on those thoughts rather than just out of convenience or complacency.

  6. I incur many of the same dilemnas trying to support the local shelters. I can buy toothpastes, shampoos, bar soaps, deoderants, toothbrushes, feminine hygiene products, etc. as well as non-perishable foodstuffs for next to nothing and sometimes EVEN nothing combining local grocery sales with manufacturer coupons. I look at the packaging included and weigh my decision on helping the [b]local[/b]poor and homeless with environmental concerns. How many factory raised turkeys can I buy at $.39/lb versus free-range organic turkeys at my local grocery today for delivery to our local mission tomorrow?

    Decisions, decisions; every decision has consequences, even for purists. Thanks, so much, for the post.


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