Sunday, 4 November 2007

Made in China

I picked this book up from the library

and I was prepared to like it very much. I knew that it was written by someone who had made some conscious choices about her shopping habits, she chose not to shop at Wal-mart and now she was attempting to stop buying any products made in China. I started to read it expecting to be inspired. Sadly, I was not. Not at all. I found the whole book rather annoying. I guess that I assumed that part of the reasoning behind the author's boycott was to cut back on the amount of cheap, useless gizmos and gadgets that often come into our lives (our world) but serve no real purpose. I assumed that the family would be very serious about cutting back on their consumption, stopping the flow of plastic toys and trinkets, and excess possessions coming into and out of (as gifts) their home. I thought that if a family was going so far as to not just stop shopping at Wal-mart, not only completely stop buying any item made in China, but to actually write a book about it....well, I thought that there would be much to learn from them. Time after time, I read the author's solution to not buying a made in China toy for her children was to buy a plastic toy made in any other country. How is that beneficial? I do understand that the book was only meant to be about not buying Chinese made products but c'mon. Why not take the opportunity to explain to her oldest child in more detail all the reasons why it is better not to buy more plastic toys from anywhere. Why not use the child's demands for more toys as an opportunity to show the child how much they already have to be grateful for. Why not just get down on the floor and play with the child - there is no better "toy" for a child, no "toy" a child wants more than the attentions of their parent. I absolutely believe that and I believe that any child would agree.

For months leading up to Christmas the parents stewed about what they would get the kids, spent time phoning catalog service numbers and wandering the mall looking for things not made in China. Why not make something? What little girl wouldn't love a home-made wooden doll house? How about a big box of dress up clothes from the thrift store in a big wooden trunk? Wooden blocks? We've done that, they are very easy to make and they have none of the nasty paint on that the store-bought kind have. There are so many ideas. I could not believe the Christmas wish list that the author's four year old son made, there were about 25 things on it, some of them some pretty big ticket items. Go ahead and call me a Grinch but I just think that is ridiculous. As a parent, why support that? Take the opportunity to explain why that is excessive, that material things do not equal happiness, that the products he is seeing on TV are not what they appear to be on the commercials, better yet, turn off the TV. Explain that sometimes we want something but that if we wait and think about it for awhile the "want" will wear off. Don't actually let him buy the plastic electric pumpkin (which of course will lose its appeal after he owns it for a few days - it's crap) for a Halloween decoration, and don't buy him more Lego to try to distract him, say, "No" and mean it, and then go out and get some real pumpkins and carve them as a family. Make some traditions that don't involve hanging out at the mall being tempted by holiday crap. I find it hard to believe that any child would feel deprived because they couldn't get a plastic pumpkin if he is given a more meaningful alternative.

I also was left with a sense that the author herself just didn't get it. In one chapter she talks about her husband going to a "snooty cook shop where he goes to look for a gadget to help me make pie crusts." He wants to give her the gadget for Christmas. He doesn't get it because it is made in China, at the end of the story she writes, " I really do need the gadget to help me make pie crusts." Really? You really do need it? Funny that, my family has been making pie crusts for generations without any sort of gadget, probably yours too. I can tell you that most "gadgets" actually do not serve any useful purpose. Usually they end up being used once or twice, you realize what a pain they are and that you can certainly crimp pie crusts faster and better with...wait for it...your very own fingers, and then they sit in a junk drawer in your kitchen, taking up space with all the other gadgets that were must-haves. It is rather like the idea of the electric can opener, could there be a more useless item? I recently saw one of these in the thrift store and could not help myself from holding it up and saying to my boys, "Behold!! The most useless and (frightfully embarrassing) thing humans ever wasted their time inventing, producing and buying!!" O.K., I didn't say behold, but I did say the rest. One of the things that bothers me most about Christmas is that it seems that many people see it as a time they "have" to give a gift, and they run around buying indiscriminately just so that they have something to give, or something to fill the stocking with. I would like to see less "stuff" in our society and more "meaning".

Now I am not trying to say that my family is perfect, we consume things too, but I do always try to stop and think about every thing we buy. Do we need it? The answer is usually no. If we do need it, do we have something else we can use to do the job? Can we get the needed item second-hand? Can we borrow it or share ours with someone else? We try to think outside the box and we do not do things just because that is the way it has been done or just because that is the way everyone else does it. Another example, the author was having a hard time finding Easter treats and plastic eggs to fill that were not made in China. Here's an idea, don't buy any!! Yes, that's right, don't buy any. How about buying a couple dozen real eggs and dyeing them for your egg hunt? What child (or adult) doesn't love that? Then buy some decent chocolate - it doesn't have to have foil wrappers and be bunny shaped (or Shrek shaped or whatever ridiculousness is in that year)- and give that.

All that said, I realize that many people will enjoy this book so please don't let my negativity dissuade you from reading it. I suppose that it could bring some awareness about as to just how many products in our country are made in China, and it could encourage people to try to find products made closer to home (although I would say that Manufactured Landscapes would do a better job of this). I guess the book really just left me wondering how on earth this woman got to write a book. For a moment I considered that maybe I should write a book about shopping for products. Then, I realised that I really couldn't write a very good book, mine would be only one page, it would read like this, "If you don't need it, don't buy it! And you probably don't need it! If you really, really need it, buy it second hand. But remember, you probably don't need it. The end." Not such a great read, heh?


Samantha said...

Awesome post Heather! And what great timing for it as the stores are filling up with Christmas crap and advertising how much you NEED this and that. I've told L already that his "present" this year was the trip we went on and he was perfectly content with that. What better gift then time with his dad (who is often working) and his grandparents (who he only sees a few times a year)?

I agreed and cheered everything you said (except for the dying you own eggs thing because, well, you know I have smell issues with hard boiled eggs ;-)

p.s. This was the same reaction I had from the year without buying it book. Very disappointed in that one as well.

Nicola said...

I think it really is time you wrote a book, Heather.

We decided a long time ago not to buy any more crap from dollar stores - balloons and stickers and little plastic toys that don't even last until you get them home.

Seeing this book, I would have been ready to applaud this family's commitment to buying locally made products, but it should also have given them a chance to consider whether they really NEED something. Hell, all I use to make pie crusts is a rolling pin and a fork. I do it like my mum did it - press the prongs of the fork down on the pastry all around to seal it. That's good enough for me!

Great post!

Anonymous said...

For those with bad arthritis in their fingers or just for someone who is very old and frail an electric can opener is a wonderful tool.

Kim said...

I hear you...

Heather said...

Hmmm, alright Anonymous, perhaps you have a valid point about the can opener and arthritis, although I do think that it is still important to exercise a joint even when it is arthritic, isn't it? And really, how many cans could a person possibly be opening in a week? I wouldn't think very many. Anyway, I admit I was being fairly sarcastic about the electric can opener - I didn't actually know they were still available for sale, I thought it was something that had come and gone in the seventies.
My boys know that I tend to be somewhat sarcastic, so they didn't actually take me literally when I said that it was the most useless thing ever. Surely I can come up with some even more useless items. Hmmm, the gas-powered leaf blower that our city workers use to blow grass bits off the concrete after mowing the park. A bottle opener given to my brother once that had a picture of Homer Simpson drinking beer on it and when you use it to pop the top off your bottle, it would say, "Mmmm beer...good.". The cheap plastic "surprise" inside Kinder eggs. I mean you've already got a chocolate treat, why do you need a plastic crappy toy too? Cosmetic breast implants. I'm sure there are tons of way more useless things that should really never be made but I can't think of them. Ooh, I know one that Nicola mentioned - chewing gum. That's a good one.
I guess what I was thinking of, with the electric opener, was that it is kind of the ultimate sign of laziness if a person can't be bothered to open their can with a regular can opener (although I am not talking about that kind of useless $1 kind that really is hard work to use and never works properly), I wasn't really meaning someone who had a valid medical reason for using an electric can opener. Now that you have me thinking of it I can see that also a person with one arm would likely find an electric can opener very useful indeed. So, point taken, and there are so very many useless items available for purchase that I guess there is no need for me to pick on just one. :-)

Anonymous said...

That is a great rant Heather.... You sure do have a knack for a clear, concise and passionate argument - with a little humour thrown in. Maybe you should write a book... I'd love to read it.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post Heather. I do love your rants. My neck gets sore from nodding my head so furiously as I read them!!!


Anonymous said...

I can't even imagine what a pie crust making gadget would be! I use a rolling pin, and honestly if I didn't already have one I'd probably use a glass. We do use the plastic eggs, but we use the same ones year after year. Now I'm trying to think of what my most useless kitchen gadget would be...

Anonymous said...

The best part(being sarcastic) is the follow up to that story. I was watching a documentary on one of the discoveries channels. I am handicaped and homeschool my son with the help of my Step Dad in regards to Math as my son has super far surpassed me! lol. So on days my neurological symptoms due to my failed spinal fusion are killing me & I have to lay down. In between our regular lessons, and I can't go outside or fieldtrip, For a hour or so, to break up that day for him. I use interesting learing programs and then I created this form that he fills out with all sorts of Q&A and what he took from it..etc. I collect those and keep them togeather in a folder and last year we did added them to geography...with all the Ancient Almanac shows, Underground Secret Cities..really super neato stuff! Regardless back to my story..I was watching a program by one of the big News Men about consumers here, and in China.(the similarities&differences) Suddenly!,Low and behold "Said Author" was on the program talking of how she could only keep this up for a year but gave up since almost all plastics are made in China or India..etc..WELP,she gave up! She went back to giving in and the shot was of her taking her kid into some snooty expensive boutique and shopping for plastic glitter sunglasses, other crap that is useless! She should have never bothered to write that book.The title should have been, "How to overindulge your child so they can't run their own finances when they pretend to be grown ups" But what she is really teaching those kids is not to be a Good consumer, or a thrifty consumer, but just to consume consume consume! This woman just has a hole burning in her pocket, and the only thing her children are going to learn are how to just buy things they WANT, not NEED! That is a rule in our house. Do we want it, or do we need it? Every now and then we will indulge and each child will give a healthy set of reasons as to why they believe they want to purchase something they believe they want. We discuss whether it can be made..and most times it can! Creating our own concoctions is way more fun that just buying it! (unless it's used books! that's our biggest weakness!)Exp. My daughter whom I am transtioning to homeschool and stepdaughter love smell good bath stuff. SO I got neato jars and pretty containers and ribbon from GoodWill & we bought a big thing of epsom from the dollar store& Sea Salts, then I used a few drops of my essential oils, we created our own lables and they ended up being so pretty we make them all the time as gifts and such. Another neato thing to make with washed out used baby food jars(also at GoodWill or thift stores,or yardsales by the case) are those little water filled shakable glitter balls.You can cover the lid w/ old fabric and ribbon and put those little nic nacs people use to scrap book at the dollar store in them w/ super glue..put in distilled water, glitter,seal it up with epoxy and you have your own tailor made shakable snowglobe. Perfect for little ones! We make all sorts of different ones and then in the homeade cards the kids write a story about what the globe means..whats the little imagined story behind that they brought to fruition! Very exciting!. Sorry I combined my thoughts. I am a bit frazzled today! But I did think it was funny to see that Mother/Author back in the store...that woman needs to know what it's like to be thrifty..SHE needs a solid two years of low income living to teach her a lesson and maybe JUST maybe her kids them could be detoxed and relearn how the world really works! But somehow I think they will just end up like the hand that rocks the cradle. What a shame. Try the globes they are super fun! Much Love to Mama's teaching their kids real life lessons! Blessings to you, dear!