I was thinking about how the way to be a conscientious consumer is probably best done by buying locally as much as possible, but then I realized that I’m in a real position of privilege when it comes to buying options and opportunities.
After all, I’m in the suburbs in Massachusetts; my town isn’t a food desert, and during the summer I have the chance to go to farmers markets. I’m not restricted to Walmart or Target if I want to go grocery shopping. This and the fact that there are local companies that provide things I want (like seltzer and sparkling water) makes it a lot easier for me to say, for instance, that I don’t have to buy Nestle products because I can buy Polar and if I want chocolate and am willing to spend a little more money I can go to Hilliard’s in either my town or the town over (and that it’s more money it’s easier for me to say that I don’t need it). And I could be wrong, but I assume that the ability to find alternatives to large companies is probably as easy on the west coast, depending on the Californian town.
Which leaves the problem: what do we do in places where there is only a Walmart and maybe one small bookstore which won’t necessarily have prices cheaper than Amazon? What do we do in places where there isn’t a local alternative, or big business have pushed them out? And further, what about places where you need the delivery services that large retailers like Amazon provide because it’s not financially feasible to go elsewhere? Obviously I don’t have a solution; if there was the opportunity for smaller companies to bloom in the regions I think that places like Amazon and Walmart exist have served to push them out of the economic ecosystem. I also didn’t study economics though, so what I do I know?
It would be unfair to blame consumers especially when they don’t have the option to choose otherwise because they’re not necessarily the ones who made the conditions under which I think these large corporations thrive. It would great if we had stronger anti-monopoly laws in the US, but under the current administration I don’t see that happening any time soon, and I’m still not sure that those laws would even be able to apply to foreign companies with large American consumer bases considering that companies like Amazon which are American are still able to skirt tax laws.
But do people who live in areas where there are alternatives get to shift responsibility? I don’t know–we’re taught in the US that taking care of the planet and each other is an individual responsibility, but just because I make the choice to use paper bags or, better, reusable shopping bags, that doesn’t mean much when the next person in line might ask to double-bag their bottles of soda. It would have to be a collective effort, one in which all members of the community decide, You know what? Maybe we don’t want to have to spend x amount of money on y, and maybe we’d rather see that go back into our town by purchasing locally. It would take a vested interest in the community and the infrastructure of the local, and interest in it over the personal ease of buying on Amazon (by the way, Peapod delivers). It takes everyone, not just Wrentham, saying, We don’t want to use plastic bags anymore because we’re sick of the way litter looks in our town. It takes putting tap water filters in every single home–and it takes towns and states to invest in the infrastructure where people don’t have to choose bottled water over tap water in the first place because the tap water is poisoned. It takes those local and state governments to say, We can’t let some company take the clean water that should be going to our community so kids aren’t getting lead poisoning–because it’s not enough to take individual responsibility anymore when it’s companies making billions of dollars a year while destroying our environment and our communities.
We need to stop thinking that we’re capable of making an individual difference when it must be a collective change, and we need to stop being told that if we just stop using plastic water bottles on the personal level, somehow climate change will stop.