Buying American: at the arts supply store, grocery

Out again today, walking, but the weather isn’t as nice as yesterday. Much colder with gusts that remind me of my hurricane-filled childhood. But anything for you, my dears. For the shopping suggestions, drop to the end; first, being Sunday, cometh the sermon.

As it happens, I’m trying to slim down on just about everything: personal weight, of course, as I mentioned before, but also plastic (especially gratuitous packaging), petroleum, meat, ostentatious things, goods made in unfair labor settings, and badly designed (pre-broken?) goods, to name a few. Wanting less, I’m left with more time and money to develop habits that meet the goals I’ve set for myself. I mention this, not to be ostentatious, but to counter the notion that these efforts equal a kind of neo-Puritanism. Rather, I think it is living as you would want the world the be, instead of just mewing how awful things have become. If it was easy and involved neither thought nor sacrifice, or only involved “one great cause” I believe we would make the right decision. But it doesn’t. It involves thousands of decisions.

I buy American goods where I can because they’re made closer to me and the manufacturers are subject to labor laws not known in many other countries. And even where our laws are weaker, at least as an American I have more power to make change than in a foreign sweatshop, obscured by layers of distributors and perfumed by so-called status branding.

Now for the shopping. On the way home, I was almost literally blown into an arts supply store, which is just as well as the office supply store I’d just visited didn’t have blue mechanical pencil leads I wanted (as an alternative to highlighters and some pen use.) Not only did they have them — Japanese-made Pentel leads — but they weren’t carded under a plastic blister and were cheaper than usual. I have never found U.S.-made new mechanical pencil leads.

Poking around, I saw that many of the supplies they had — not only for artists, but also hobbyist and office use — were made in the United States. I had been putting off buying blades for my X-acto #1 knife since they are now made in China. Wonders! Excel blades were a perfect fit and are made in Patterson, New Jersey. While carded under a blister, they included a plastic phial to keep them tidy. Oh, again, cheaper than the alternative. Available in local retail and online.

Also, I was looking for United States-grown dried beans. I know they’re grown here, but labeling is the problem, especially at Whole Foods. The solution? The United States based, Latino food processor Goya. They print the country of origin on their products. (I also buy non U.S. sourced Goya products.) Need I tell you they’re cheaper than W.F.?

Red beans for dinner!

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

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