Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.
In times like these (Donald Trump, the climate crisis, environmental degradation, police brutality, etc.), it’s natural to feel a need to do something. But what? It’s easy to donate online to any one of hundreds of organizations. Heck, even making an Amazon purchase online or an in-store Whole Foods purchase is accompanied by an opportunity to donate to an organization that needs your spare change. But where does that money go? And really, do you know what effect it is having?
While it’s nice and convenient to text-to-donate or round up for charity, there is a more direct, and more effective way to take action to make the world a better place, and it starts in your own backyard. It’s keeping your money where your home is by shopping local.
The impact of this simple action is so profound you might add years to your life, and to your neighbor’s. Here’s what happens when you buy local.
1. You live longer. Every time you walk into a local store, you see people who live in your community. Over time, you get to know these people—even a simple daily smile or hello can foster feelings of comfort and be good for the soul. This, in turn, curbs loneliness—a condition affecting nearly 60% of the U.S. adult population that is as harmful to your health as “smoking 15 cigarettes a day” and can shorten your lifespan by eight years. So skip Amazon and go to your local store. It might cost a few dollars more, but you’ll be adding years to your life.
2. You support a local family—and they support you. Each dollar you spend in a local store helps them pay their bills and stay in the community. If you spend your dollars at the local hardware store and not at Home Depot, what do you think will happen? You’re helping put food on their table, pay their bills and stay in the neighborhood. They, in turn, get to know you. Those few extra dollars overall you spend in your neighborhood are goodwill. One day you might forget your wallet, or your car might fail to start. Your local shopkeepers and their families will know who you are and will care—they might let you run a weekly tab, or help you carry purchases home, or do some other small kindness Walmart would never do, because it’s just not in their rule book. That kind of support is priceless—it’s a reciprocal kindness you will not get from a big-box store.
3. Depositing money into your community is better than paying to advertise a brand that sucks money away from the community. Why pay $150 to advertise Adidas? Or Nike? Whether you’re paying $20 or $200, the bulk of that money is going to corporate salary, expenses and shareholders, and a tiny bit to cheap labor. Keep your community unique and special by purchasing brands produced locally and products made with local pride (and think the little guys or hyper local teams, not the big leagues like Cleveland Cavaliers or the New York Jets). This way, you are promoting your own neighborhood and the people in it, and you are helping to keep your community special. After all, a Starbucks cup from Boston is the same as a Starbucks cup from Miami.
4.You support local prosperity and justice. Chain stores and brands pay notoriously low retail wages and often produce products overseas where labor is cheap. Even big brands like Forever 21 that claim their products are American-made are using undocumented labor that pays below minimum wage. Plus, many big corporations use prison labor. Why pay to promote a store that uses prison labor? When you buy at the local store, the bulk of that money stays with the owner and employees who live in that community, generating local prosperity, creating more local jobs for more people in your community, keeping the community healthy and the kids out of prison.
5. Quality. What tastes better: McDonald’s or a burger from your local mom-and-pop restaurant? You know it’s the local burger. Sure, mom-and-pop might not have a dollar menu, but what’s going to be healthier for you in the long term? It might not be as fast, but consider the benefits of slowing down and eating a good meal with people you care about, including healthier food, better academic performance, and again, less loneliness.
6. You are voting with every dollar you spend. If you think of your dollars as votes, every time you spend money someplace you are affirming you support them and their business practices. Do you really support overworking and underpaying employees? Prison labor? Donald Trump? If the answer is no, turn your attention to your local stores.
7. Local peace. It’s that simple. Shopping local cultivates community health, and that in turn, cultivates global health. That’s a little less sweatshop labor, a little less taking advantage of already vulnerable people, and a little less stress on the planet and your fellow humans.
The bottom line is the cost of sickness and loss of identity and loneliness is exponentially more expensive over the course of your lifetime than a few extra dollars here and there, deposited regularly into the account of community kindness. Keep your money in your home community, not in the bowels of an Amazon warehouse, and reap the benefits over the course of a longer, healthier, happier lifetime.
Valerie Vande Panne is an AlterNet writing fellow. An award-winning freelance journalist who contributes to Columbia Journalism Review and Reuters news service, among other outlets, she is the former editor-in-chief of Detroit’s alt-weekly, the Metro Times, and the former news editor of High Times magazine. She is the founder of Blackbird Literacy, an organization providing books to residents and literacy programs in Detroit. Connect with her on Twitter @asktheduchess.
Header image source.