It’s Time to Fall Out of Love With Cheap

by Red Pill Mama · 6 comments

in Character,Environment,Health+Wellness,Toys+Products

Lately every time I sit down to post I feel like Tippi Hedren in The Birds, frantically swatting away at all the competing topics flying around my head.  But today, there is a very large, very insistent bird on my shoulder with its talons dug in, that’s been pecking away at my cranium like a ticking clock.  Three words: Made In China.  Blame Red Pill Papa’s post about cadmium in children’s jewelry made in China — but here we go:

The equation goes like this: Americans love cheap.  China makes cheap.  Therefore Americans buy Chinese.  Admittedly, not just Chinese; but the pervasiveness of “Made in China” is undeniable.  Even my 7-year-old looks at stuff now and with a dejected “awww” says, “Oh, it’s made in China.”  It’s on absolutely everything.  And we buy it.  And yet, this is the case at a time when the U.S. unemployment rate is 10%, our national debt is astronomical (and much of it is held by China), we’ve had both a lead scare and a cadmium scare from China now, and though we are attempting to get ourselves in line, environmentally speaking, developing nations are not interested: we got filthy rich developing our countries to the detriment of the planet, so now they want their turn.  And what is most of what’s Made in China, made out of?  Plastic.  Flimsy and breakable, its life-span as a useful item is limited, but it’s life-span as a discarded bit of consumerist pollution is eternal.  As Alan Weisman titled one of his chapters in “The World Without Us,” Polymers are Forever.  As in, they never go away.  They sit in landfills, clog rivers, kill wildlife and there’s a collection of plastic debris currently floating in the ocean that is the size of the African continent.  Um, do we really need more?

So why are we so slow to put two and two together on this, people?  Well, I think I know why: we all think we don’t have enough money.  We all think that the way to consume is to save.  And it seems that we think saving doesn’t come from not spending or not buying, but rather from spending less when you buy something.  I just saw some commercial that promoted the “high of the deal” as a benefit to shopping there, as though getting something cheap will give you the same endorphin rush as a brisk run, a hit off a crack pipe, or eating a habanero pepper for cryin’ out loud.  And so we all think we are entitled to spend as little as possible on all the crap that we want, no matter the consequences.

I’ve already mentioned some of the economic & environmental consequences (though there are many more).  But as parents, by continuing to consume as though we are entitled to cheap, what are we modeling for our kids?  That each item that we purchase (and its price) exists in a vacuum, in and of itself, and we need not allow any other considerations to enter our minds or test our conscience?

I firmly believe that every dollar is a vote.  When you buy cheap imported crap, you are casting a powerful vote for a) crap, b) other countries’ economies vs. your own, c) environmental degradation, and in supporting the Chinese economy, you support d) its regime: communism, human rights abuses and all.  And don’t you think our government might exert some muscle over China (tariffs, import restrictions, etc.) if it could?  But it can’t: because they own too much of us.  What would happen if China got pissed off and called in all that debt?  We shudder to think.  And so our government will, most likely, do nothing, even though severely curtailing imported goods is the most obvious remedy to our economic crisis. And so we walk away from our foreclosed homes and go shop at Wal-Mart.

The painful truth is, the things we purchase do not exist in a vacuum.  My kids already understand that there are a lot of people in our country who don’t have jobs, and are therefore having trouble paying for their homes and food.  Since I began mumbling “Ugh, Made in China” when I turn things upside down, my 7-year-old now does the same thing, and she completely understands the connection.  We look for things that say “Made in USA.”  They are not easy to find, and they are much more difficult to find than even five years ago (I bought an L.L. Bean raincoat for my husband for Christmas; it was made in Bangladesh:  L.L. Bean?!?!)  But when we find those three words, we jump up and down and shout like we’d found one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets.  We discuss materials: if something is made of cloth, or metal, or wood, we know it will last, and it will eventually “biodegrade” (a new vocabulary word), and go back into the earth.  But if it’s plastic, we know it will probably break, and will eventually end up as trash, and pollution.

Just so you know my horse is no higher than yours, I will admit that a sweep of my house would reveal plenty of offending merchandise (starting with the L.L. Bean raincoat!); though I have made a concerted effort to avoid plastic for years, as much for aesthetic reasons as anything else.  My Volkswagen is the ultimate offense — but maybe like you, my awakening to the truth (and my responsibility) has been a process, fairly recently begun, and viewed through the magnifying glass of our 2008/2009 economy.  But awareness is the first step toward change.  And building this awareness into our childrens’ minds is a guaranteed step toward change.  My kids recently heard me ask a sales guy in Bed Bath & Beyond if they carried any lines that were made in the U.S. (the answer was no).  If we ponder, question, ask, seek & make decisions based on what’s best not just for our checkbook, but for the greater good, they will follow our example.  And the prospect of what they might do with that level of consciousness is exciting, to say the least!

Let’s end our love affair with cheap goods, and instead look more lovingly upon good goods — involving our kids in our own transformation.  And when we can’t find any good goods?  That’s when a little activism is needed.  And that I will save for another post.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Specifying Gifts: Party Invite Faux Pas, or Conscious Parent Protocol?
January 21, 2010 at 3:43 pm
Mama’s Two Cents on the Big Gulp Issue: Embracing “No”
March 5, 2010 at 12:42 pm

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Anastasia January 13, 2010 at 7:50 am

I’m with you here–I make a great effort to stay away from “cheap plastic and made in sweatshop” goods, but it’s tough. I’ve really taken a stand with my kids’ toys. The wooden ones are so much more expensive–but well worth it in the end! They last longer, and are generally less about bells and whistles and more about imaginative play.

It’s difficult to control children’s possessions when well-meaning family and friends give gifts that you wouldn’t buy for your children (ie, cheap plastic).

redpillmama January 13, 2010 at 11:37 am

Yes, Anastasia, it IS tough! But I agree, well worth it in the end if you stand firm. And you bring up a very good point, about gifts for your children that don’t quite meet your own ‘criteria.’ I have struggled with this with my own kids’ birthday parties, thought about putting conditions on gifts, or asking for no gifts, but have always, finally, just given up (not wanting to offend anyone) and then cringed as they opened all those packages! Yet when I talk to other moms about this, they think I should just say what I need to say on the invitation to stick to my own standards. I will do a post about this — I have some ideas, and I’d love to know what other people think … thanks for bringing it up!

Anastasia January 15, 2010 at 6:32 pm

I look forward to the post!

Jenny L January 18, 2010 at 9:30 am

I am not against all plastic. Plastic makes a lot of things possible. However I do search out more ways to have the kids play creatively. I am an elementary educator and for me the key is not only about the product but how the product is displayed and offered for sale.

When I was little my mom would bring me to Industrial Plastics on Canal Street. I was allowed to get a small plexi box and then reach my hand into this large bin full of animals, letters, shapes cut out of thicker plexi. I would go home with my treasure box and find different ways to play or use the contents. Many of them found their way into huge puddles of Elmer’s glue on the collage du jour.

So now that I am a parent I recall those types of activities. I try to replciate them.

I also try to purchase locally made items – has a variety of local (or at least USA based) toy makers.

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