Sunday, September 13, 2009

My Very First Challenge

I have some very strong opinions and feelings about certain topics, which I freely express whenever I get the opportunity. Most of the time, my opinions are based on a lot of reading that I've done, and sometimes, I'll admit that the information is very one-sided. I think we tend to look for information to support our views, and I strongly believe that, whether or not we intend it, we truly get what we ask for (hence the admonition: be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it ;).

So, I've been thinking a lot about Bezzie's comment that if I'm going to disdain that store, then I really must also take issue with all of Big Box corporate America ... and I can't say that I disagree.

In fact, after some thought on the subject, I realized that I completely agree with her, and not just in theory. For a long time, now, Deus Ex Machina and I have been hunting for local options for the things we need. It started with groceries, but we didn't stop there.

At least I didn't.

When I first started to really understand the implications of Peak Oil and the very fine line between our *way of life* and the availability of cheap energy, I realized that, if I wanted to be sure that my family continued to eat and have things like clothes and soap, I would probably need to know where I could get those things locally, because buying them "cheaply" might not be enough. The one thing I felt was absolutely true was that I couldn't count on big box retail stores, which are energy-sucking hogs and are unsustainable in a lower energy economy.

At that same time, I felt like I needed to understand what life would be like without abundance, and I started reading as much as I could about economically depressed times.

In the last year or so, I covered poverty in the 20th Century from the early 1900s in Brooklyn (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) to the 1930s (The Worst Hard Time, Ironweed, and Shoutin' into the Fog) to World War II in Germany (Goodbye to the Mermaids) to the 1950s through the early 80s (All Over But the Shoutin', The Kite Runner and Glass Castles). The thing about all of those books is that they are from all different regions, and a couple of different countries and cover the issue of poverty-level existence due to many different circumstances from war to hard times to simple choice.

Now, I'm reading The Lost German Slave Girl, and what's extraordinary about the book, other than it's just a fascinating topic, is some of the information about the financial times.

From page 84, ... There was an orgy of financial speculation in the United States ... banks built large gothic palaces, borrowed heavily from a compliant state government, and lent to anyone who had a scheme to foist on the market. Loans were secured by mortgages on swamps, or on crops yet to be grown, or on town lots alongside railway tracks yet to be laid. Ordinary people placed their money and their trust in companies that promised to double their investment every two years. (Bailey)

That paragraph could be from a newspaper article describing how we ended up where we are today in the 21st Century. It is describing the financial climate in Louisiana in the 1830s. No, it's not a typo. It's talking about the EIGHTEEN-thirties - the 19th Century.

And in response to Virginia Slims commercials from days gone by - actually, the answer is, "No, baby, we have not come a long way." At least with regard to the way we handle money as individuals and as a nation.

I knew about the Great Depression, but I didn't know that the economy is actually cyclical, and that what happened in the 1930s was just one more in a series of ups and downs. The current economic times may also just be one of the down turns in the cycle, but my question is, when does it stop?

In the Hindu tradition, there is no "hell." Hell is being "born" here on Earth, again, and people are "damned" to eternally rotate in the "circle" until they've learned the lessons they need to learn and reach Nirvana. Reincarnation is not a reward. It's a punishment. It's like handwriting a research paper for school that has to be letter-perfect and getting to the bottom of the page only to make a mistake on the page and have to start back at the beginning. Reincarnation is the "new page", and if we don't avoid making the same mistake, again, we'll end up back at the top of the page.

The history of the US economy looks a little like the Hindu wheel of life to me.

The question is, when will we learn? When will we get smart enough about growth and capitalism to finally stop this endless, awful cycle of destruction? This destroying useful things like natural resources to build useless things like more shopping centers and more houses (seriously, did we have to tear up the woods to build those three houses when there are three houses sitting empty not a half mile away?)?

Today Kunstler has a very good commentary. Lately, a lot of his posts have been just rants, but today he actually laid out a plan for "recovery" - but not something we're likely to see implemented by our government or willingly pursued by the moguls on Wallstreet and elsewhere, because it requires a paring down.

In my opinion, if any plan for "saving us" is to be successful, the lynchpin will be localizing our lives.

Which brings me to the title of today's post (about time, right? *grin*).

I am issuing my very first challenge, and I'm calling it:

I even made a really cool thingy for anyone who wants to participate to post on his/her own blogs.

The rules are simple:

For the entire month of October, you can buy whatever you want, but ...
1. No shopping at national chain stores.

2. Shopping at stores located in your area that have more than one location are permitted, but they can not have locations in more than one region of the country. For example, we have a building supply company here in Maine called Hancock Lumber. It's been owned and operated by the same family for more than a hundred years, and when we start our pergola project in the backyard, we'll be getting supplies from them, instead of from Louse Despot.

3. National "products" are allowed, if you can purchase them from a small, local retailer; however, preference goes to "locally" grown or made products. So, if you just really love King Arthur flour, feel free to continue using it.

4. Ordering products through the mail is acceptable, but they must come from the manufacturer of the product. So, if you want to buy King Arthur flour, but the only place in your area to get it is the local Hannaford (which is a "chain" store, and no longer Maine-owned, and so will not get my money for the month of October *darn it all*), you can still buy it direct from King Arthur, either online or through their catalog.

I realize #4 seems contrary to the whole concept of buying local (please see #3 above preference goes to locally grown or made products). I included #4, because I realize there are certain products that won't be locally available, but that we will wish to have - not just me, but everyone - and the point of this exercise is not to deprive us, but to encourage us to look at alternatives to that store and all stores like it.

To be clear, if you live in Florida, and the store where you wish to shop also has a store in Maine, it's a chain, and you can't shop there ... for this month ... if you decide to take my challenge.

To sweeten the pot a little bit, I am going to enter each participant into a drawing, and I'm going to give away one of my books. (And by "my book", I don't mean one that *I* wrote, but one that *I* own).

You have no idea how much it hurt to write the italicized statement.

But if you do understand how hard it is for a bibliophile to part with even one book, then, you know how much this challenge means to me.

The "winner" will have the choice of one of three books: The Long Emergency James Kunstler, Depletion and Abundance Sharon Astyk, or The Good Life Scott and Helen Nearing. None of the above books were purchased through a national chain store. I ordered them all through my local independent bookseller ... and I had to wait several days for all of them.

While exploring how to organize my very first challenge, I found this clip.

I thought it was very interesting, and I hope you enjoy it.

If you're interested in participating in the challenge, please leave a comment.

And, Happy Shopping!


  1. Awesome! I added you to the list ;).

  2. Nice! I'll participate. I might need clarification though on what's a "region of the country." Need to know if Wegman's would be considered to be a one-region chain. If so, this will probably be pretty easy for me, and I hope it is as I have shopping to do for my cooking classes in October. I can't speak for my husband, who is the one usually running to the hardware store. We do have a local independent one though (still!)

    I've already got two out of the three books you're giving away though. I might just tell you to draw another name if mine comes up.

  3. Wow. Interesting challenge. I'd love to participate, but I don't think I can do it for all of my groceries. I buy produce at the farmer's market, but I don't have a car, and the only grocery stores in range are both chains. Which makes it pretty much impossible. I'll try to limit what I buy and get as much local stuff as I can.

  4. Fantastic, Kate! I'm glad you're going to play :). I think I would consider Wegman's a chain store, even though they are concentrated in your "region." We have a formerly Maine-based grocery store called Hannaford Bros. It was, in fact, owned by the Hannaford brothers initially, and their grocery stores were called "Shop and Save." Several years ago, the company was bought out by a company in North Carolina that owns the Food Lion grocery chain. As such, I can not shop at my beloved Hannaford for the duration of this challenge :), because they are a "chain" and are part of a much bigger "conglomerate." The irony is that they source more local food than the two "locally owned" grocery stores that are just down the road. So, this will definitely be a challenge for me ;).

    While I would encourage you to find an alternative, if there isn't one, please do not feel like you must deprive yourself and your students of the supplies they need for the class. The challenge is an exercise to get people thinking about making the change in attitude ;).

    You can always absolve any guilt in your "Sunday Confessional." *grin*

    Hi, Kristin! Please join us. It's not about being a purist, but rather about making the attempt, and it sounds like you already do a lot of the most important parts anyway with eating local produce. I'd love to add your name to the side bar as a participant, and to the drawing at the end. Let me know if you decide to play ;).

  5. Great! I'll give it a try, then. Should be a good exercise.

  6. Ah, too bad about Wegman's. I like shopping there because despite the glossy appearance, it has some of the best prices for the things I buy, and it's also consistently ranked as one of the best companies to work for - as in, ranks in the top 10 nationally. I also appreciate seeing that they hire people with physical disabilities and have staff with other disabilities such as Down syndrome. If I'm not mistaken, it's also still owned by the Wegman family. I also happen to know from local farmers that Wegman's is willing to work with small producers who are usually turned away from supermarket chains since they cannot supply fresh produce in the quantity or with the consistency that most corporate markets require. So as chains go, it's pretty hard to beat that... I'm not arguing with the idea of your challenge, but it seems to me that Wegman's is in fact exactly the sort of company we should try to support.

  7. Kate,

    I don't disagree. I think we should always support ethical companies, which is why I'm such a huge fan of King Arthur flour and L.L. Bean, and why I love Hannaford Bros. grocery stores. I have family members and friends who have worked for Hannaford, and I know for a fact that they treat their employees really well.

    For the purposes of this challenge, though, I have to ask myself the question, "if TSHTF tomorrow, would Hannaford Bros still be able to sustain their stores?" With stores statewide and a highly energy dependent distribution system, it's unlikely that all of the stores would stay open. They might be able to maintain a few stores, as they really go out of their way to source local products - often from small producers -, and so they already have a relationship with local farmers and food artisans, but their stores are massive (very nicely laid out, but very large), and just heating the buildings would be cost prohibitive if they didn't have cheap fuel.

    So, for the purposes of this challenge, for me, Hannaford Bros. is a chain, and I can't shop there.

    Now, the question is, where am I going to get dog food for the month?

  8. Oh, good point about the pet food. Fortunately I already have an unopened 20# bag of catfood on hand, and we're down to one cat. That should see us through October at least.

    Probably there are going to be several things like this that crop up, and I'll "cheat" by just delaying the purchase until October is over. But as an experiment in awareness/mindfulness it'll be a worthwhile challenge anyway.

    As for other books - I can empathize with a fellow bibliophile parting with any books at all. You don't see me volunteering to give any away, do you? ;) If you draw my name first, I'll take the one title I don't already have (which I've read part of through a inter-library loan). Otherwise you can make some other reader's day!

  9. New to blogger and just discovered your blog. Sign me up please. We try to do our bit and are localvores but we can always do better.

  10. Welcome to blogger, CD, and to the challenge ;). It should be a very interesting month.

  11. Just found your blog. What an excellent challenge! Although I rarely shop at chains or eat at chain restaurants, it has happened several times recently and it needs to stop. I think I'll pick up on this belatedly and make sure my family sticks to it until Christmas. Thanks for the inspiration!