Commenter CW has a point:
I'm so sick of this whole phenomena of one's purchases (including animal purchases) being taken as such an important measure of whether one is judged to be a good person. I don't have any beef with rescue dogs, organic food, fair trade coffee, or recycled paper. Those are all fine things, and I understand there are ethical ramifications to one's purchases. But what about the other areas of life? What about the way we treat our friends and families, the work we do, or the roles we have in our communities? Why, at least in upper-middle class and left wing circles, have consumer decisions become so darn important to the seeming exclusion of everything else?The Greatest Good, at least in some parts of American (no, not just New York, and most certainly not all of New York, not even all the wealthy parts of Manhattan: consider the Upper East Side) is turning every purchase into an ethically-driven research project. You can divide your day between commenting on Jezebel about whether "conflict-free" diamonds are what they claim; debating whether local trumps grass-fed; and then making sure that the expensive creams you smear on your face are at least most of the time "holistic," whatever that means in the context of moisturizer.
And no cynicism's allowed. Sure, you're allowed to take greenwashing into account, but only as a way of making sure you haven't cut corners and bought a moisturizer that only seems to stand for what you believe in. There's no option that's about not turning each purchase into a carefully-considered vote with one's dollars.
(The brand "If You Care" always comes to mind in such discussions. I know nothing about the company, but wow, that name...)
Food, though, is the center of all of this. And it's often framed as the fault of the individual consumer that the entire system is what it is. Says Mark Bittman: "We expect a steady supply of 'fresh' Peruvian asparagus, Canadian tomatoes, South African apples, Dutch peppers and Mexican broccoli. Those who believe they’re entitled to eat any food any time seem to think that predominantly local agriculture is an elitist plot to 'force' a more limited diet upon us."
As someone who in the past week or so has bought Peruvian asparagus, Canadian (or Maine?) tomatoes, Washington State apples, Dutch or possibly Mexican peppers, and Californian broccoli, once I finish flogging myself, I'll respond.
OK, so. I do not feel entitled to these foods. I do, however, feel entitled to eat something. Because I don't feel entitled to eat out terribly often, I go with the foods available at the supermarket. While dry pasta and canned tomatoes enter into it, sometimes I like to branch out. And even at Whole Foods, even when the produce in question is in season and grown locally, one does not find local/seasonal except in some special rustic display. Huzzah, local eggplant,! Now, as for the rest of the ingredients...
This post is not about the ethical merits of eating local, or the merits of caring how much one measures up to yuppie pieties. It's about the idea that consumer entitlement is the driving force behind all the world's problems. Put another way, that consumers are doing something wrong by expecting to see at the store the items they generally see, at the price point they've come to anticipate.
This often comes up in discussions of Fast Fashion - consumers (especially women*) stand accused of demanding cheap and disposable, as though we choose this over some perfectly adequate, durable, Made in the USA alternative available just down the street. While this may be true in a broader economic sense (supply and demand), it doesn't tell you much about how the individual shops. My sense of which are expensive and which are cheap comes from what the spectrum of what's available. I do not demand that my t-shirts cost $10 rather than $15, choosing stinginess over Good. Rather, I have no compelling (or even non-compelling) reason to believe that shirts that cost $15 use the extra $5 to improving workers' or environmental conditions. If I go with $10 over $5, it's because the $10 one will more often than not be a nicer shirt.
Libertarians, stop reading now. The problem is that there are issues best dealt with on a larger scale, and, if they are indeed that pressing and uncontroversial, instituted by the government. OK, maybe libertarians can listen after all, because sometimes it's just a matter of not funding that which had been over-funded. I'm not writing here, though, to provide an outline for reforms I wouldn't begin to know how to institute, but rather to point out the massive inefficiency of asking individual consumers to research every purchase, and not to just trust that what's at the store nearby is probably fine. It's inefficient, but it also directs do-gooder energy away from things that might be more important than how "holistic" a skin cream is. It's not that it's zero-sum, precisely, but that if people feel they've done their part, checked that box, with their shopping, they may well call it a day. Consumers who are not turning every purchase into a research project are not lazy or immoral. They're normal. And when said consumers are male, no one gives it much thought.
*Major gender angle here! With food, even if the Food Movement leaders are (with the exception of Alice Waters) dudes, there's always this element of, you, Woman, if you cared, you'd turn grocery shopping into a big ol' research project, spend your precious shoe money on Organic for your family, your holy late nights at the office preparing something "nourishing" with lentils. It's no coincidence this issue comes up so much re: clothes and food.