[On Sundays, this blog looks beyond work and career in “Sabbath.”]
Craft Beer and Choices
In today’s Chicago Sun-Times, brewer Ben Minkoff is profiled in the “Grid” section. Minkoff, at the tender age of 25, is leading the effort to change the identity of Berghoff beer. His family owns the brand and is updating the way its beer is being brewed and marketed to fit the craft craze that many beer drinkers, including me, enjoy and support with our dollars.
Craft beers reflect a larger trend in American culture and taste. Consumers are willing to pay more for locally produced and artisan products. In turn, they reject the cheaper offerings of mega-corporations that often cut corners on ingredients to save themselves and shoppers a few nickels. I buy craft beer and locally roasted coffee because I like the taste. I also appreciate that the people selling these products live near me. Some of them support the same local schools and other causes that I do, which makes me happy to dig a little deeper to pay for their beer, coffee, bread, pork, and eggs.
Farmers Markets are part of this trend. Where the grocery store offers consistent, unblemished fruits and vegetables. Goods at a farmer’s market will often be of different sizes and shapes. Sometimes, they will even have a little black or brown on a peach or apple. So what? That’s how people ate before agri-business developed factory farming. I’d rather cut a bad spot out of a tomato and enjoy its taste rather than eat a perfect red globe with no flavor. People roam and choose their products at a farmers market. We are able to meet the growers and ask them questions about how food comes to our tables.
The craft-local movement has educated consumers that real choice means more than the best price. Brand loyalty is now a matter of knowing who makes your food and drink. Rather than a flashy logo and advertising campaign, we look to personal relations and local connections.
Will craft beer ever put Budweiser and Miller out of business? I don’t think so. Will my friend Crystal Nells of C.D. Farms shut down Smithfield, one of the world’s leading pork producers? Never. That would defeat the purpose. Small and local needs to stay small and local. Some people, out of choice or necessity, will buy the cheaper mass market products. Some of us are able and interested in an alternative market, one where the maker cares as much about his or her product as about profit. It’s good to have these kind of choices.
Laura Clawson, writing in Daily Kos, explores the impact that buying products made in America has on jobs and hiring. She cites an ABC News report claiming that if every American purchased just $64 on products made in the U.S., the impact would be 20,000 new jobs.
Conventional wisdom claims that nothing is made in the U.S. Such thinking is silly. Clawson includes three lists of American manufacturers: one from ABC, one from the United Food and Commercial Workers, and one from Union Plus. If we purchase products made by union workers, we do even more to build a strong American economy. To this list, let me add a great resource, the website How American Can Buy American.
Clawson ends with one more idea: Buy local. If you’re giving a gift of cookies, rather than buy the cheapest box available at Wal-Mart, go to a local bakery. You’ll pay a little more, but you’ll be keeping even more money in the community where you live.
Have happier holidays – Buy American – buy local.
[On Sunday, this blog ponders work and life in “Sabbath.”]
Today’s Chicago Sun-Times features a depressing article on the decline of manufacturing in the U.S. and more locally in Cook County. Looking more deeply into the numbers, the problem is deeper and long term than the last decade. The U.S. has been losing manufacturing jobs since 1980. Between 2000 and 2010, however, the loss was staggering with the number of factory jobs shrinking from 17,321,000 to 11,580,000.
Part of the problem is cheap labor that is available in the developing world. An equally important factor has to be considered: greed. Operations that were profitable in the U.S.become even more profitable when companies can cut payroll and not adhere to regulations. Some people, including presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann, want to respond to this problem by making the U.S. more like China. That’s a mistake. In the most recent edition of the Atlantic, Orville Schell reports on the growth of sustainable manufacturing in China. What shocked me about this article was the American company leading the change: Wal-Mart.
There is a small bit of good news in the Sun-Times article. Manufacturing jobs ticked up a little from 2010 to 2011. More importantly, while the American economy has been down over the past few years, we are not facing what the country did during the Great Depression of the 1930s. We are still making things, and some of them reflect an interest in a better quality of life.
I met a friend yesterday for a few beers at Hopleaf, a bar in Chicago that specializes in beers from all over the world (However, it does not sell Budweiser or Miller.). We both drank beers that were brewed by local companies Metropolitan and Half Acre. The craft brewing movement is just one aspect of a growing economic trend in which products are made locally. While I write this post, I’m drinking Metropolis Coffee, which is roasted in an old warehouse located two blocks south of my office in Andersonville.
It’s easy to blame cheap labor and greedy CEOs for the loss of manufacturing jobs in America. However, we as consumers need to take some responsibility for this problem. Americans want cheap products. Manufacturers answer that they can only deliver what the customer wants if they can exploit cheap labor abroad. There is an alternative. Consumers can pay more and buy American, especially by buying local whenever possible. Many companies still manufacture in the U.S., and their products are available.
Will America ever be the world’s manufacturing leader again? Probably not. Both China and India have populations nearly five times as large as the U.S. Those countries will need factories to provide goods to their own people. Hopefully, rising standards of living in those countries will push wages up, which will make manufacturing in the U.S. more profitable. What can we do in the meantime? We can remember that there are still people making things in America. Buy American. Buy local.