Lucia has something to say

Sunday, April 01, 2007


One of the benefits of spending time in other cultures is that it clears the window into our own. I’m sure you can think of times when you’ve had ah-ha moments out of your element. Sometimes close to home. Sometimes far.

When I travel, our culture of consumerism comes into sharp focus. We buy more than any other culture in the world. (With the possible exception of Australians, who are quite likely equal to North Americans.)

The time spent shopping around the world may balance. If you live from day to day, for example in Africa or Southeast Asia, without a refrigerator, shopping for vegetables at the outdoor market takes time. The tomatoes are here. The carrots are there. And there’s visiting to be done.

Much of our shopping falls into the category of leisure. We entertain ourselves by buying more clothes for our overflowing closets. We buy things that advertisers have convinced us we need.

There’s a balance I try to achieve in working in a fair trade non-profit which sells products. Part of me wants to say, “Stop buying so much!” and the other part says, “But, if you’re going to buy anyway, at least make wise choices. We’re fortunate to have a lot of options - buying socially responsible, green, ethical, fair trade, organic, local.

I want to learn more. Tell me about your ah-ha moments and about how you deal with the challenge of living in a consumer society.


Blogger meno said...

I walk into most stores now-a-days and as i looks around my main thought is "landfill."

3:05 PM  
Blogger Girlplustwo said...

i try to evaluate a lot of it on a) landfill items made of plastic b) where was it made and under what circumstances (i can't often tell so then i won't buy it)
c) do i really need this crap?

i agree about marketing in other places. when we stay in belize and go to market, we stop at one house for eggs, another for water, and so on. it takes all day, you are carrying everything, and you don't get what you don't need.

4:13 PM  
Blogger OhTheJoys said...

When my husband and I returned from 16 months in the developing world, we stood in the toilet paper aisle in Target with our jaws hanging open. I'm pretty sure we weren't ANYWHERE where there was more than one type for sale. We were set free by not having to decide whether we needed "quilting" or "Aloe & E". I also remember the (new at the time) flavored water for $1.99 per bottle. We were gob smacked.

6:27 PM  
Blogger thailandchani said...

Well, you probably can already guess how I deal with it. LOL

Seriously though, I dont want a bunch of "stuff" and I'm a very hard sell. Just because everyone else has it isn't enough to convince me that I need it. Most of the things I've had for years still work just fine and don't need to be replaced. I do not own an iPod. I don't need Windows Vista. I don't need a top of the line cell phone. I simply don't care. When I do need something, I generally get it at a thrift store.

It's a choice.. and it matters. The whole theory behind consumerism of the nature we have here is to create debt slavery. Debt = have to work harder and more hours to pay it off = buy more stuff = repeat as necessary.

I loved the way we shopped in Southeast Asia. I loved the feeling of buying food that way at the markets, coming back, cooking it, eating it ~ all the while, the entire process just brought about more community.

When I came back from SEA, I felt like I'd been dumped in a guilded ghetto.



7:22 PM  
Blogger karmic said...

We entertain ourselves by buying more clothes for our overflowing closets.

I haven't bought a shirt or a pair of pants in a whole year. How much does one really need?

8:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is travel another form of consumerism?

My A-ha moment was a humbling experience in Southwest China. With 6-months of language school I was wandering around a rural farming community when I met a man walking home with an armful of tomatoes. He offered me one, and then invited me to his home for tea. In a very poor community, he was one of the worst off. He was marginalized to the outskirts of the village and lived in what Americans would think of as a tool shed. He offered me hot water (tea) in a dirty glass, and considerable amount of unidentified "floaties" in it.

The visit, at a time when I was only 24 with no other experience outside of Michigan, was humbling enough. But, the man, repeatedly asked me," Why are you here? Why here? Your country is so rich. We are so poor. Why did you come here? "

I still haven't come up with an answer that I'd feel completely comfortable answering to this man. I was a poor American student, but poverty is relative. I had the means to travel simply for the experience of it.

8:38 AM  
Blogger QT said...

Yes- I experienced this in Ecuador. Shopping for food was done daily and shopping for anything else was a planned for event, and all items were selected with the utmost care and research, the hopes being that another would not need to be purchased for quite some time.

In my everyday life, I try my hardest to buy the "best" item I can, so that I will not have to replace it very often. Sometimes this can mean a lot of expense, but I have found if I wait until the end of a season or look off the beaten path, I can get it at a discount.

11:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was already keeping my income purposely low in order to keep my taxes low (and thus avoid paying for the American war machine), and I won't buy anything from China because I'm still mad about Tiananmen Square. Materialism is one of the primary spiritual traps warned against in my religion, so I was already in the habit of questioning every purchase.

My Ah-Ha moment about materialism's impact on other cultures came while listening to Reverend Billy. I remember thinking, "Holy cow, that goofball's right! He added a humanistic reason to my religious and political reasons.

I guess for me it really just gave me another reason to keep doing what I was doing. (It might be more accurate to say "keep trying to do what I'm trying to do." My global footprint is still not as small as I'd like.)

11:44 AM  
Blogger r said...

My a-ha moment in Japan wasn't about consumerism or consumption. It seemed to me just as rampant there as it is here. Folks would throw out perfectly fine working VCR's or microwaves because a better, newer model came out.

We foreigners even had a term for the "Big Garbage" day, we'd go "Gomi shopping" and be able to practically furnish our apartments with what was thrown out. There were no thrift stores that I'd ever heard of, and when I asked a Japanese friend about it, she seemed horrified that anyone would use something already owned by someone else.

No, my a-ha moment came when I faced racial discrimination and perferential treatment head on.

And, in turn, realizing that I could always just go home, but that my black roommate lived with this no matter where she lived.

The rose-colored glasses came off.

12:15 PM  
Blogger gary rith said...

I live it everyday, Lucia. I myself don't want anything (and have little to spend) BUT I want consumers to throw their money at me. At least I make something useful, so I want people to say 'yes, I need this crap!'. But they didn't get it at Small Mart, and I am real and non-sweatshop.
What I do buy is from local farmers and a couple of local artists, and this being a town like Madison, many people here feel that way too.

2:33 PM  
Blogger Heather Plett said...

My recent trip to Dallas was an "a-ha" moment for me. In a city so full of affluence and consumerism, I felt a sense of such loneliness and loss. Walking past the gym where lines of solitary people walked on treadmills with earphones plugged into their ears made me so sad that none of them chose to walk outside with their friends. In Ethiopia, I witnessed poverty of resources, but in Dallas, I witnessed poverty of spirit. (There's at least one more blog post in there somewhere - I'm still processing.)

2:38 PM  
Blogger Susan as Herself said...

Here's what I believe: Money is meant to be spent, exchanged, and given away. Money does no good sitting in accounts or staying hidden under mattresses. Life is short: use what you have to improve your life, the lives of others, and to make the world better. This idea works for the very rich and for folks like me, who are living near the poverty line. And for those who have nothing, it gives them the possibility of indeed getting a little something.

I love buying things that are handmade, or produced by a co-op, and that give back to it's creators, whether it's food, clothing, jewelry, furniture, or intangibles like vacations and experiences. I am a firm believer that it all works out in the end, and what goes around eventually comes around, and that if you make just a little effort, your reward can be great. Not that I have never been nervous re: lack of money. (See all my enemployment posts several months back), but deep in my heart I know that there is enough, and that if we make it a priority, there will be enough for everyone, everywhere.

4:30 PM  
Blogger Lynnea said...

I am a shopper. I love shopping, mostly for that great find, that super deal. I have found of late that translates into buying flea market and fixing it up. I find satisfaction in repurposing items in this way. And I have the small hope that by fulfilling my fun this way that I am being a little (just a little) more responsible. I hate malls. They smack of consumerism and a lack of respect for the intelligence of the humans walking them. Please, I do not NEED to look like nor will I ever be capable of looking like that half-emaciated mannekin wearing those ridiculous clothes.

On the other hand, I am practically addicted to recycling. My family watches in astonishment as I sort things to the smallest shred of anything possible to recycle. Compost heap included. I almost feel this compulsion about it. Its the most I feel I can do to help out I guess and if that's my part, then I'm going to do it to the max.

10:11 AM  

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