What exactly does buy ‘local’ mean, and why can’t we agree?
December 21st 2020
Since the beginning of this pandemic, there has been a surprisingly pleasant rise of the collective consciousness regarding our individual purchasing habits, one of which is the importance of buying ‘local’. It’s a simple enough concept, but I challenge you to take a minute to think about what ‘buying local’ means to you…You probably came to a neat and straightforward conclusion but, surprisingly enough, I’ll bet that if you ask the next person that you see, they won’t have the same definition! ‘Buying local’, as simple as it sounds, really seems to have different meanings for different folks.
If you ask my neighbour, she’ll tell you that she does indeed support local business because she buys everything (and I mean everything) from her neighbourhood Costco, where her friend’s son works. Maybe she’s right (but probably not).
If you ask our PM François Legault and his friends at Panier Bleu, they’ll tell you that, as long as you buy from a business that has its head office in Quebec, you’re ‘buying local’. That’s fair enough, and I think we’re getting closer…if you overlook the millions of products that are made in China that are competing with our local artisans. Still, maybe they’re right?
Let’s turn to our trusty, know-it-all friend, Wikipedia. Wiki will tell us that “Local purchasing” is in fact a “preference to buy locally produced goods and services rather than those produced farther away”. So there you have it, thank you for reading! That has to be right….it does, however, somehow feel incomplete. Would that mean that if, let’s say, my Winners store down the street sold nothing but ‘locally’ produced goods, they would be more local than my independently owned corner store that sold products made in Bangladesh? Why or why not?
‘Buying local’ has surprisingly become a complex concept that’s difficult to put in a box, as it seems better suited for some form of a sliding scale. I firmly believe that unless we, as a society, can agree on its definition, it may lose its actual real-world importance altogether (more on that in our next article). Rather than attempting to agree on the exact fleeting definition, let’s begin by agreeing on the variables that make up the ‘buy local’ conundrum:
What is the product’s origin? It’s safe to say that a product that is made in Quebec is definitely a local product; moreso than Made in India or even made in Canada, right?
How far does the product travel? Even just getting those denim pants from the other side of town, as opposed to directly from your neighborhood, means increased traffic and carbon emissions, and less investment in the place that you live. Now just imagine what that Amazon product you just bought had to go through to get to you…
How close to your community is the company’s head office located, and is it independently owned? Buying from your neighbourhood store keeps 4 times the money in the local economy compared to shopping at chains. That has many implications that we’ll further explore in our next article.
Taking these variables into account, it becomes really easy to give the one and only true, purist definition of what ‘buy local’ really is, and here it is:
“Buying a product that is made with materials/components/ingredients sourced as close as possible to you, from your independently-owned neighborhood merchant.”
That sounds fair, right? Unfortunately, this would make ‘buying local’ a near impossibility if you were to want to do it on a regular basis. I believe and hope that this definition of ‘local’ will someday become an everyday reality, but we have a lot of effort and compromise ahead of us until we get there. In the meantime, it’s important that we all take baby steps towards that guiding light by making conscious purchasing choices that feed at least one of those variables.
And if you were to ask me which of the variables I think is the most important, I would say that it’s whichever one that best serves your community.