Perhaps ignorance is bliss, but knowledge is power - or continued stupidity for some. I apologize for the cliche, but just go with it.
On Monday afternoon, I listened to Los Angeles Times columnist Charlotte Allen on NPR's "Talk of the Nation." Allen was discussing her recent op-ed piece, in which she suggests that those who support the local food movement or the "good is cheap mantra" are elitist, self-righteous and impractical.
I respect Allen's opinion about the cost of goods at farmers' markets. Access and cost is a problem, but not in all cases. I lived on a local and vegan diet as a college student; I wanted to prove that living local was feasible. I wasn't receiving money from my parents. I worked three jobs. I went to the farmers' market every week and was able to avoid grocery stores all together AND save money. I also knew that my money was supporting farmers ( I, unlike Allen, don't call them "art" farmers, just honest people trying to make a living).
The reason the prices of artisanal cheeses, breads and other goods are more expensive? They aren't able to be mass produced and require craftsmanship. These people need loyal consumers to buy their goods in order to stay afloat. Paying extra factors in the externalities - fuel, time, wages - of food and other products, something that is completely largely ignored in our culture.
But, perhaps the most ludicrous excerpt from the interview was in response to host Neal Conan's question over Chinese manufacturing standards and practices:
"You know, China does have serious environmental problems, but those are China's problems and they're not our problems. And unfortunately, that's where most stuff is made - not just cheap stuff, but high-quality stuff. Cole Haan shoes, for example, are made in China now, because the Chinese actually do have the capability of making good products."
I'm sorry, but the last time I checked, America imports an exorbitant amount of products from China. The question is not whether the Chinese are capable of making quality items - the nation is made up of highly skilled individuals just as with any other country. Unfortunately, some of these people are exploited and such behavior is not monitored. This is what is problematic. So, is Allen saying that even when we know the abuses suffered by workers and the environment, we are meant to ignore them and keep on buying? I would like to think that consumers have a conscience, but I guess Allen proves otherwise. If you know that one company's manufacturing standards infringes on human rights, contributes to environmental degradation, wouldn't you feel the need to boycott?
Further, if Allen criticizes Michael Pollan and others of his ilk for being elitist, what is she? Her favoritism of cheap over quality is inexcusable. I apologize for singling out Allen, as she isn't alone in her thinking. Americans don't often think beyond the price tag, but this clearly needs to change. If you know how products are made, and, even better, where, you can begin to be a conscious consumer.
Superfluous spending doesn't seem to be boosting the economy in any way, but spending at farmers' markets and supporting local communities may be a more proactive option, albeit alternative and unprecedented, than continuing to spend our well-earned money on generic products and mass produced Haagen-Dazs (yes, even the five-ingredient kind).