Saving the planet by shopping locally


It was a simple but profound thought that struck me as I recently read Anna Lappé’s “Diet for a Hot Planet” (Bloomsbury Press, 2010): Where and how we shop for our food –– and for everything else, for that matter –– is directly tied to the health of our planet.

It is an argument that I believe the small-business community should latch onto. Here’s why.

Lappé, a founding principal of the Small Planet Institute, points out in “Diet for a Hot Planet” that once upon a time (as in half a century ago), people primarily shopped locally, so they didn’t travel far to acquire the goods and services they needed in their daily lives. They shopped in their downtowns, which were the nerve centers of their communities. Small farms dotted the land, and folks ate in-season fruits and vegetables from farm stands or their own gardens. Milk and meat could be had from local dairies.

In today’s parlance, most folks were localvores in those days.

Then along came the enclosed shopping mall, the first of which was built in Minneapolis in 1956, according to “A Brief History of the Mall,” published by Richard Feinberg of Purdue University and Jennifer Meoli of Indiana University. The mall was conceived as a town center where people would come from near and far to purchase anything and everything, to dine out and to take in a movie.

The box stores followed, with the first Meijer Superstore constructed in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1962. It was called Thrifty Acres, according to the Meijer company website. Then came the first Walmart Supercenter in Washington, Mo., in 1988, promising cheap goods for all.

With the introduction of each new mega-mall and superstore, ever-greater numbers of shoppers were drawn farther and farther from their local downtowns. By the mid-1990s, small farms had virtually disappeared, and our downtowns were shells of their former selves, with many resembling ghost towns, their once-vibrant shops boarded up, their streets strewn with trash.

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