Thanksgiving,Part 4: [/end rant]

Meanwhile, the feeding frenzy continues, with roughly half the nation participating. Some bring weapons. Is it a sign of moral decline, or just hard times? Remember all those manufacturing jobs that went overseas because the American firms couldn’t compete on price, because the big retailers (looking at you here, Walmart) kept lowballing them? That was the beginning of the decline of the middle class. Once manufacturing showed the way and technology allowed it, other industries began the migration overseas as well. Now here we are, staring  9% (official) unemployment in the face, and the unrelenting pressure to consume continues. Why? Because increased demand perks up the economy…except that we don’t do much of the making of things anymore. We sell them, transport them, and throw them away when they wear out their welcome, but not so much with the making.

Or do we? I seem to recall a website  focused on handmade crafts, and I personally know both a bead-maker and a jewelry-maker who produce beautiful things. There may even be more folks like that out there. You might even know some personally. If not, you can probably find them. And what better way to localize your shopping than buying from a neighbor?

There’s another way to subvert the current system: buy used. I daresay there is hardly a durable good in existence that one can’t find second-hand. Cars, computers, clothes; you name it, it’s out there. Some consumables, too: I see pencils, pens, and notebooks all the time in thrift shops, and I buy every Parker pen I find. Buying used does a few things, all of which are counterproductive to the dominant economic paradigm. First of all, it keeps money local, since most thrift shops are run by community non-profit groups. Next, it actually benefits the community, as the store’s income goes to support the work of the sponsoring organization. Third, it puts some constraint on the production and consumption of new merchandise. If money is speech, as the Supreme Court of the United States seems to believe, then we need to make sure our dollars are saying what we want them to say. Buying used and local is a wonderfully subversive way of “speaking out” against corporate economics. Not quite a wildcat strike, but definitely a slowdown.

There are some psychological effects as well. The “treasure hunt” element of thrifting brings a bit of excitement to the task, and the delayed gratification helps to put some distance between desire and fulfillment. In this space there is time to consider whether one really needs the thing in question, or whether something else will do the job. I find it much easier to say “no” to something when there isn’t a pile of them, or even one of them, in front of me. Considering the psychological manipulation that corporate marketers use to induce us into shopping, I think we should use every bit of leverage against them we can muster.

Let’s face it: the game is rigged. Marketers spend millions, perhaps even billions, of dollars to talk us into buying this or that. What resources are on our side? One of the underlying premises of a “free market” is that both buyer and seller have enough knowledge to make an informed decision on the transaction, but that is seldom the case. Do the tomatoes at the supermarket carry pictures of the poor migrant workers who picked them? Does the new shirt at Target have a photo-tag of the sweatshop worker, possibly a child, who sewed it? Not last time I looked. I would like more information on the origins of the shiny things I’m being seduced into buying.

“Where is it from?
What is it made of?
Where did that stuff come from?
Did anyone bleed or die for it?
Who mined the ore,
wrote the code,
wove and stitched the cloth?
How did it get here, and what did that cost?”

I’d like to see cost breakdowns like that on consumer goods, the same way food labels are required to show nutritional information. This information, to be truly useful, needs to be available at the point of purchase-not scattered across a range of obscure websites. Then, we as consumers could make some truly informed choices about how we speak… I mean, spend our money.


About poorlocavore

Welcome to one family's journey towards a smaller food-mile footprint on a small food budget. How do our choices affect the environment, and what influences our choices? Read on and find out what I'm learning.
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4 Responses to Thanksgiving,Part 4: [/end rant]

  1. Spot on with this write-up, I truly think this website needs much more consideration. I’ll probably be again to read much more, thanks for that info.

  2. I was so excited about this place opening in our hood. We have quite a few great antique markets but we really need a junk store. Make no mistake, this place is filled with crap. There are piles of things in disrepair all over the space…and that is absolutely fine. If you’re like me and love going through piles of crap and finding something that you can fix up or put some love and time into, this is your store. But the owner is charging ridiculous prices. I’ve given them three shots. Each time I’ve gone in with the intent of buying something and supporting a new business in my hood but the owner insists on calling broken pictures “vintage” and marking them at prices found across the street at the antique market. I can’t imagine he can ever sell the furniture he has in the back…absurd prices.I’m not going to be bitchy and give one star because I really hope that he can hear what’s being said and turn the business plan around. I understand that you want to support a charity, but it is your charity of choice, not the customers…we aren’t prepared to overpay because you have a charity in mind.I think Green Element can be a real addition to our area and a great counterpart to the antique markets…just, please, please stop confusing old and worn with ‘vintage chic’ and start thinking of it as a junk shop.

    • poorlocavore says:

      That’s a good point-any business should be supported only if it’s worth supporting. We’re fortunate here that the thrift shops really are that, and the prices are decent.

  3. Pingback: Frugal Fashion for the Fellows | The Poor Locavore

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