I Shop, Therefore I Am
Pity the poor shopper just trying to muddle through a holiday checklist. As economic and environmental issues continue to dominate the news, shopping is becoming an increasingly fraught experience—how and where we spend our money is now a subject of moral analysis. In the last few days we’ve been buying artisanal, buying a lot, and buying nothing at all. This week’s message: buy local. Cities across North America are celebrating Buy Local Week from December 1–7. Toronto’s participation is co-sponsored by TABIA, the association of business improvement areas, and Green Enterprise Toronto. The goal is to encourage Torontonians to purchase items that are produced locally, and to make these purchases at local independent retailers. The idea is that local businesses employ and spend locally in turn, thus creating a positive feedback loop that strengthens Toronto’s economy.
Though many of us have a general sense that buying local may be helpful, we often don’t realize just how profound the effect can be. According to a study out of San Francisco, for instance, a 10% shift towards local shopping in that city would create thirteen hundred new jobs and two hundred million dollars of economic activity. Another report, this one based in Chicago, found that small independent businesses keep 70% more money in their local economies when compared with chain stores.
As the seasonal shopping orgy kicks into high gear the ethics of consumerism is becoming an ever-hotter topic of conversation. We’re already well-versed in questions about the moral viability of specific products—from fair trade to sweatshop-free to recycled, we have the lingo and the concepts down pat. What we’re seeing now is a renewed debate about the ethics of shopping as such: does spending to prop up the fragile economy trump the environmental imperative to reduce our footprint? Is it better to support local restaurants and go out for dinner, or to exercise frugality and stay in? It’s something to ponder as you swing by the LCBO en route to that next holiday party. After all, Ontario wine may get a bad rap, but a VQA bottle puts up to six times more money into the southern Ontario economy as an import does.
Photo by pink elephant from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.