Thursday, September 15, 2011

Going Local

Let’s start with “God bless America.” Might as well tick people off from the beginning. I find it a narrow, selfish, arrogant view. It can be cloaked in the language of deep traditions and loyalties, but it is shortsighted. If God is in the business of blessing, I can only hope that that blessing is extended to all. None of us actually deserves the blessing of God and, certainly, my tribe has no more claim to it than others.
And what does this have to do with the world of “going local?” I’ll try not to ramble too far, but here’s my pitch.  Going local sounds so good. It’s trendy, cool and, dare I say, hip? It makes for great conversations and allows participants to feel superior to those uninformed or disinterested, and yet, uncritical acceptance of this movement ignores several important questions.
I live in a small city surrounded by prime farmlands. Seasonal fresh produce abounds and the farmer’s market is the place to be. We have our balance of an older downtown and mall/strip mall district. The infusion of the mall in the 80s killed downtown for a decade or more. But, it eventually came back. Small shops, offices, galleries, coffee shops and restaurants mix with the offices of the mayor and county executive and their minions.
For the most part, the other stuff — the mall and its bastard big box children — are on the other side of the freeway. We talk about IT in a condescending manner. Downtown is US, the mall and all is THEM. We go to their evil empire, but don’t want others to know. We make excuses or avoid the mention of it, but there are things you just can’t get in town.
But wait: don’t all those fast food restaurants, chain stores and their kin employ hundreds, if not thousands, of entry level workers, teens and college students, part-timers, early retirees and others needing work and its benefits? And don’t those people live locally and spend locally? Don’t they thereby contribute to the overall local economy?
My bigger question is this. Is the push for local another whim of the privileged, the current trend d’jour? Is it anything more than another flashy opportunity for those affluent enough to be able to ignore lower prices and free parking? I think — maybe I fear — that the answer is yes.
And what about the global economy and the flat earth? So much reminds me that all are connected. Changes in technology have interwoven people in dynamic ways beyond geographic addresses. Who my neighbor is and what defines my neighborhood are not the same as in former eras.
Here are few of my simple questions and concerns related to going local:
  • Does “going local” feed arrogance or help us experience life more fully?
  • Does it draw us closer to “our” people or actually help us understand and live out life with our neighbors?
  • What are the actual economic impacts? Does it help more share in the blessing of bounty?  Better yet does it expand the net of provisions of necessities of life, for all?
  • If the world continues to become smaller how can we go local without becoming some new-styled isolationists?
Strolling the Saturday market, chatting with friends, eating fresh, bartering, leaving the car behind can all provide a new sense of breaking free — free from the systems and traditions I have been shaped by, possibly controlled by, for decades. I just hope that it is all part of me becoming more of who I was created to be and less a selfish American consumer in new trappings.
May God have mercy on us all.

1 comment:

  1. In the 1950s and early 1960s, it was all about conspicuous consumption -- keeping up with -- and surpassing -- the Joneses. Today, it's something just as bad -- conspicuous virtue -- being morally and "societally" superior to the Joneses. Both are manifestations of the same (and wrong) impulse -- the need to feel superior.

    Good article, Jim.