I began to realize I was in for some trouble when I read A Year Without Made in China by Sara Bongiorni. Her primary point was demonstrating how dependent America is on Chinese exports. I laughed a lot (she's hilarious and the conversations she has with her husband sound so much like the ones I have with Matt), and then I started to get worried. Sara and her family attempted to go one year without purchasing anything made in China. She had to buy expensive shoes for her son from Germany, paintbrushes from Mexico, didn't replace her printer cartridges or broken coffeemaker the entire year, and her husband resorted to wearing "found" child-sized sunglasses, just to mention a few of the stories in her book.
Oh my. And here I've committed to only buying from fair-trade, social-good business models or companies who manufacture in the USA.
The only advantages I have on Ms. Bongiorni are my non-parenthood (almost all kid stuff comes from China, fyi), and my affinity for Craigslist and thrift stores. Let it be known that Craigslist and thrifting only go so far, however, as our plaid couch and my lack of summer sandals demonstrate.
Then, I realized how hard it is to actually discern where things originate. You might buy something that says "Made in the USA," and discover all the parts inside came from China and Yemen. You have to read your orange juice bottle very carefully to discover the source, and blueberries at Whole Foods come from Chile (wait... don't we grow those in Missouri too)?
THEN, my sister wrote a school paper about tomatoes in Florida being harvested by slaves. Ugh. So...no tomatoes unless they come from the organic farmer's market. Anybody know anything about lettuce?
My husband's laptop bag is breaking and there isn't a fair-trade replacement under $100 that doesn't seem like it belongs on a 17 year old girl with dreadlocks.I look the other way when Matt has to buy electronic parts from RadioShack.
I bought our friends diapers for their new baby because all the cute baby things were made in China or Vietnam. Practical, no doubt, but where's the fun?
We went shopping for a 16x20 picture frame, but they're all from Mexico.
My hair products are made in Canada (and I NEED my hair products).
My new water bottle is from Switzerland and I'm not a bit sorry because I love it.
The USA probably has far more slave-labor issues than Canada or Switzerland. But I made my criteria US or fair trade because I thought it would be simpler. It is, to be sure. Case in point: I e-mailed a company to find out where their dresses were made and they wrote back to say they chose China because they were avoiding sweatshops. So.. China's better than Vietnam on labor laws, but tons of human rights violations still happen there. And where do Mexico and Poland fall in? I don't have a problem with international trade. I have a problem with human rights being violated. It's complicated when you start comparing every nation in the world.
I aired my difficulties to my 92 year old grandmother.
My grandma is a woman who fasts for an end to global poverty, loans her money through Kiva, sponsors a child in Africa, reads tomes about economics, and asks me what the Holy Spirit is doing in my life on a fairly regular basis. She laughed and said (gently), "well, that sounds kind of like a waste of time."
Perhaps it is. Nevertheless, the experiment was never about me making a huge impact on retailers and manufacturers. It's going to take crowd of people with louder voices and deeper pocketbooks than I possess to make a change. This project is about me being aware of what I buy and why.
And to that end, it's working. Obviously, I'm not going to do this thing perfectly and it's basically impossible to live without touching slavery, but I'm learning tons, and I've found some awesome small companies I never would have noticed before. That's fun.
Bonus: I'm saving so much money not buying shoes. You don't even know.