So I sit here watching the end of “What Would Jesus Buy?”, a movie about the Church of Stop Shopping (now known as The Church of Life after Shopping) and it got me thinking once again about how our actions directly affect the world around us.
I used to be the biggest consumer whore (literally, I have been 250lbs). I used to think “big box stores”, shopping Malls, and Starbucks were King. I used to “enjoy” wondering around the local shopping mall with a latte, buying random crap. Heck, I still enjoy buying random crap, but I am trying to be more responsible with my actions, and I’m trying to learn that I don’t always need what I’m being told to buy (I canceled my Cable, so good luck advertising that crap to me anyway). What I do also directly affects the world around me. One seemingly small decision – do I buy that item? where do I buy it? am I supporting my local community? – can make a difference. And numerous small decisions can add up to real change, or at least force folks to sit up and listen for a while.
In the vain of self reform, a few years ago, I made a few promises to myself. One of them was that I would never shop in a Walmart store (I can go into one, I just won’t buy anything). Like other corporate behemoths, they come to small towns across this country and slowly put the local stores out of business, with products typically made in far away places for the lowest price possible. Quantity is the order of the day. People (many of whom can afford to pay more and instead choose not to) have become so obsessed with the lowest possible price that they have often completely lost track of where their products are made, under what conditions, and at what cost. It seems as if the only important thing in the eyes of many consumers is that their groceries and plastic crap are a few cents cheaper than they might have been had they been bought at a local store instead. I don’t want to support that kind of economy, so I do my part by never going to these kinds of stores ever again.
I stopped going to Starbucks more than a year ago for similar reasons. This is why you won’t find me in there these days. There are literally dozens of great local alternatives where I live, which brew good (often locally roasted) coffee, that tastes good, and they afford their staff a little more freedom to be creative and self expressive than they might have been elsewhere. And this week, I made a resolution never to purchase products made by the big brewers in the US, for reasons similar to those for giving up Starbucks. Although alcohol in this country is still pretty screwed up (see for example how distribution works), there are thousands of microbreweries and “craft beer” brewers in this country today striving for a small piece of the 5% of the market not sewn up by mainstream beer – most of which isn’t worth using to clean a toilet with anyway, in terms of its taste. I am glad the US is rediscovering good beer and that there are alternative choices in most markets.
It’s not just Walmart, Starbucks, or the big breweries. They’re an easy target because of their size. My attempts at self-reform are more directed at understanding the economics, social impact, and environmental cost of the consumption habits that I have. I now often look at the corporate structure of stores I have shopped at (right down to ceasing to buy a particular laundry detergent a few months ago, or choosing one pharmacy over another because of their political affiliation) or will be shopping at, who the senior management team gave campaign contributions to (especially if they elected to muddy the waters between their personal and corporate views – for example, I stopped shopping in Whole Foods after that anti-Healthcare reform rant in the Wall St. Journal last August), and what their stance is on various issues.
I’m far from perfect, but I am trying to get better. I’m also late at this party, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth coming at all.