Southern Shopping

What if everything we spent went to our neighbors in the city, state or country in which we live?

Our coffee grinder finally broke. First I went to Target, but when trying to decide which of three choices to buy, I looked to see where they were made. In a jingoistic pique, I rejected all the Chinese imports, and decided to try elsewhere. I scoured local grocery stores and googled “coffee grinders USA” and found some interesting sites: usstuff which lists by product category and buyamericanmart –a website that sells online. I wrote lots of emails, and heard from Coffee Wholesale USA in Round Rock. Here is what Cristi Helton, Customer Service Specialist responded:

None of the grinders and coffee makers we stock are made in the USA. You might find a Bunn product or two that is at least assembled in the US, which you may be able to order from us. I would suggest contacting the manufacturer directly for this information.

I called Bunn’s home products division, and their Bunn-O-Matic peppy customer representative said that they don’t make grinders for home use, but that one of their brands, Velocity, is “assembled” in the US, but not 100% of the parts are made domestically.

I started wondering about what is produced where, and started with my state. It would seem logical that most states have websites promoting local products, like, although it was difficult to find them on cursory web searches.

So then I started thinking about REALLY local production of goods and services. I got an email from a friend telling me to give gift certificates for the holidays for people to do lawn work, hair cuts, Spanish lessons, etc. Nice ideas, so I’ve started trying to think of what services my friends would like. I realized I felt pure guilt when a friend gave me a gift of 5 Pilates lessons from her sister, who I didn’t particularly like.

Then I thought about the folks growing their own. When I walk my dogs down our San Antonio alleys where the garbage lives, I’ve admired the home gardens, and gotten to know several families who planted for their kids, and others who have a more survivalist mentality (with VERY large woodpiles). This summer was rough, though, since the drought forced us into only weekly waterings, so most of the gardens dried up. Others have been far more successful (and courageous) with their backyard efforts. My favorite book on the subject (which convinced me not to try it) is by Novella Carpenter, called Farm City.

I definitely like the idea of professional foragers and it might influence my restaurant choice if the restaurant promoted it, if I could get over the idea that it’s dumpster diving.

While I’m really into the idea of reinvesting my money into local, state and national goods (& jobs), when it comes right down to it, I feel so uneducated about where everything comes from. I’m also wondering if I told my friends and family that I will only buy US (or Texas or San Antonio) goods, would they do the same? Would I reject a birthday present from A+R, Global Girlfriend or the MOMA? This raises all those other issues about being a global citizen, and how to support the good work around the world.

When my refrigerator and/or car dies, will I be disciplined enough to take the extra time to search and pay the premium price to support the US economy? What about the “Main Street” folks who live local, but sell products from elsewhere? What about the domestic phone companies and support services with foreign call centers? What’s my choice?

I’m probably going to need some help to sort all this out. Can anybody recommend a good coffee grinder?

Suz Korbel

Susan Korbel

Graduating in '71 from Cornell gave me a few unencumbered years of protesting, followed by 4 happy hipster grad student/worker years at U of Michigan, completing a Ph.D. in public administration. Followed a comedian to San Francisco, then my heart to Austin Texas to learn the TV business, dabbled in hot&heavy politics in DC, and returned to Austin & San Antonio, Texas to hone my political/media skills. I make my money conducting consumer and political opinion studies.

    1. Suz Korbel

      Thank you for reminding me about the entire secondary world of retail – the millions of dollars that are exchanged for used goods – from cars to coffee grinders. After I read your suggestion, I found over 12 garage sales in my neighborhood (one that has also seen many “For Sale” signs up recently). What started as just musings about supporting our domestic economy has now mutated into thoughts about our recycling efforts, flea markets, “fences,” black markets, trademark protection and the underground economy both in the US and abroad. Alas, more consumer confusion, but happily, a logical solution for the coffee grinder dilemma.

  1. Susan: Wish I could offer help on the coffee grinder, but some English friends talked me into just drinking Nescafe instant a while back. Shameful, I know. I’m not recommending it, and who knows where it’s made anyway? But your article raises so many good questions. When I first started talking to anti-globalization folks decades ago, I thought they were already behind the curve. Stopping or reversing the global shift seemed impossible. My hope was that somehow smart people would figure out how to manage the global economy so that it would work for the good of all. Pretty stupid of me, huh? Now, I wonder how the U.S. managed to export so many jobs and abandon so much manufacturing. I also wonder as I watch developments here and around the world whether anyone can ever manage a global economy. But I’m interested in all ideas, big and small, that will help — help my neighbors here at home and my neighbors around the globe — have jobs and incomes that afford a modestly decent lifestyle.

  2. Suz Korbel

    Keith, I agree with everything you said. I was particularly interested in the Nescafe comment, because it subtly suggests that we could just eliminate extra appliances such as a coffee grinder.
    As for supporting all ideas, have you seen the commercials and discussion about this upcoming weekend dubbed “Small Business Saturday”?
    What’s especially interesting is one of the main sponsors: American Express.

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