Thursday, October 25, 2007

China-free me?

All right. Natalie and Leslie have both reported in that they are back in their homes, and while optimistic are keeping close watch on the fires. We are all still on edge, waiting, but I'm trying to push myself out of can't-think-about-anything-else mode and honoring Natalie's request to just get on with normal stuff. If you hear about relief efforts that need support, I'd love to know about them.

OK -- so the long-simmering-in-my-head post that I meant to write days ago was in response to some wonderful questions Natalie raised about the whole China-free thing, and about where the ability to be environmentally responsible begins and ends. First, she made me laugh out loud with her first thought -- that "china-free" meant, like, paper plates for Christmas dinner! Gotta love a mind like that! And I even wrote her a whole long comment that evaporated in the ether when I hit "post." Anyhoo.

For me, China-free is about sending a message to the big businesses (primarily American? seems so, but surely it's global) whose manufacturing operations are in China, and to those manufacturing operations in China themselves. How dare you sacrifice the health and well-being of your workers, of your customers, and of our planet by using the cheapest and most deadly materials to make your goods? How dare you, Hasbro, increase your profit margins by knowingly (yeah, knowingly) allowing lead levels in toys -- TOYS -- to be what we've now learned they are? From the horror of the pet and human food contaminations to lead in toys designed for infants to suck on them, where does it end? It won't end, I believe -- it will keep getting worse. Once you start doing some research into how polluted China has become (and how quickly), it doesn't take long to calculate how devastating, given its size and population, this will be for all of us on Earth.

So sure, the lure of China for manufacturing is just how CHEAP it is, and as consumers we get sucked right into that because it's easy not to think about getting cancer in X number of years because we loved the color of lipstick we saw on our way to the register and bought it as a little pick-me-up and didn't realize it was full of toxic chemicals. Yup, the quick, easy, affordable choice for a lot of us is to head to Target or WalMart and get what we need. I go to Target and Walmart to be able to pick up what I need (in no way am I presenting myself as the queen-o-environmental-responsibility). No, we all can't afford pristine, artisan, environmentally perfect choices (and the reality is that there are not environmentally perfect choices for humans on this planet -- it's ALL a compromise).

OK. So where does that leave us? I'd written a post a while ago which of course I can't find now, but it was about my belief in the power of incremental change. About how the reason I think we fail is because we tend to have all-or-nothing approaches and so, for example, once we break down and eat the Halloween candy that was meant for next week we figure we'll never make our weight-loss goal so what's the point of even trying anymore? For me, this means that I am trying to be more environmentally responsible, more aware. It means that I will most assuredly still sometimes buy things made in China because (1) I was in a hurry and neglected to read the label, (2) it's the version I can afford, or (3) I honestly cannot find an alternative. But none of that will stop me from trying, and I've already turned down stuff and I'll keep turning down stuff. The China-free Christmas idea also pushed me toward re-examining our own expectations and approaches to the holiday in ways I wouldn't have done before, and I do believe we'll end up lighter AND happier.

One easy and well-intentioned tip: I found a terrific Web site that will help get unwanted catalogs out of your mailbox. I'm hoping by next year I won't have the piles and piles of catalogs going in the recycle bin.

I get wound up -- passionate -- about this stuff, but I hope I don't come across as holier-than-thou or anything. I'm just trying, learning. You may or may not want to keep an eye out for what I've been learning lately about plastics. It's ugly.


Anonymous said...

Jennifer, how right you are about these companies not giving a rip about what is in our children's toys as long as the bottom line goes up? As for Hasbro, I sent my daughter's Easy -Bake Oven back after the (final?) recall and they sent us a voucher for $32.00 to buy more of their junk. Of course, she had to have her Littlest Pet Shops so I gave in, but I also explained these were the last ones we would be buying. See, I don't always follow the no china thing, it's hard to do...babysteps I tell myself. She agreed, she is 7 and already tells everybody she is having a "china-free xmas". Funny, everyone we tell thinks it's about paper plates too!
I am slowly trying to give up the "low prices" at Walmart, but in the meantime I have started checking labels even on my food and you would not believe how much I have to put back! It will take time but we all will make small changes and eventually it will make a difference, I hope. Keep up the good fight.

Natalie said...

Good perspective... I like your motivation, because wherever our stuff comes from it ought to be made with integrity. I like to remind myself that simply buying less would not be a bad way to go... it's hard to resist cute, fun, affordable, entertaining, pretty, convenient STUFF, but Lord do I have a lot of it! lol
China-Free holidays!

kimsherrod said...

I had read Natalie's post and several more about China Free Christmas and decided to start checking everything before I put it in my cart. I was shocked! I walked out of Michael's without buying ANYTHING!!!!! I went in for Record album frames- made in China, glitter by Martha Stewart- made in China, Halloween decorations- NO! Everything I picked up from beads, to stamps, to glues to cupcake papers- all made in China. When I came home and started folding laundry I was discussing it with my husband and I noticed the shirt labels- Shri Lanka, Pakistan, Turkey, South Africa. The Levi's were made in Mexico. Only the Wranglers said made in USA. It made me sad. It will be very hard to stop buying made in China. I didn't notice till I got home and started to cook but the asparagus was from Peru- What???? I am going to the farmers market next weekend. I am going to try really hard to buy more locally and maybe even plant my own pots of tomatoes. Maybe if enough people do it they will get the message. Its all about the greed. Anyway- didn't mean to rant

Felicia said...

I admire your efforts to boycott China products to bring attention to these important issues. Its unfortunate that our voices can only be heard through the force of economics but that is the sad reality of our advanced technological society. I'm right there with you sister!