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Buying consciously

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Does the origin of our purchase matter? 
08/07/2009

Made In Israel

We live in a consumer culture, no question about it. I’ve got friends and relatives who never met a sale they didn’t like (hi, mom!). But how we make decisions about what to buy – and we want to buy-buy-buy – can tell a lot about us.

On a recent trip to Boston, I checked into a Courtyard Marriott hotel in the city’s Theater District. The first thing I saw in the bathroom were towels proudly proclaiming “Made in Israel.” Seeing that label made me smile. As conflicted as I might be on Israeli government policy sometimes, I firmly believe that buying Israeli is one of those essential things, a sort of statement of belonging to the Jewish people.

In fact, seeing “made in Israel” on a label often doubles the chance that I’ll buy the item, provided it fits well/suits my lifestyle. I don’t go out of the way to find “made in Israel” and I don’t shop exclusively for Israeli products – it would be impossible to eat or wear clothes if I tried that. But Israeli wines have found a permanent home on my wine rack, and many of my clothes have Hebrew on the label.

For many, the origin of the product can be a deciding factor:

Some friends refuse to buy a German-made car or tool. Despite painful Holocaust history, I refuse to believe that blaming modern-day Germany for the sins of its past leaders is a valid strategy for preventing another Shoah. And one acquaintance, who works for the German tool-maker Bosch, always prefaces talking about his job by adamantly distancing himself from his employer.

Journalist Sara Bongiorni and her family tried to live for a year without buying any products made in China, a decision spurred less by notions of idealism or fair trade-though she does note troubling statistics on job loss and trade deficits-than simply “to see if it can be done,” according to a review of her book. As readers will see, Bongiorni struggled with the choice because everything from her kids’ shoes to school supplies to home repair equipment is produced in China.

For others, consumer choices center on environmental consciousness: they buy local, organic and fair-trade. They prefer to pay more for the comforting knowledge of having helped our planet and its people through their purchases. Shopping at farmer’s markets and participating in community-supported agriculture (CSAs) are the eco-conscious way to procure food. In fact, Chicago even has a kosher CSA, which operates in partnership between Anshe Sholom Bnai IsraelAnshe Emet and Hazon, a national organization whose goal is to create a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community.

And if none of these reasons drive your purchasing decisions, what does? A good price? A good time? A chance to fulfill a need regardless of how?

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