Thus I pensively wrote down on a scrap Scientology flyer at the divey but homey Lanesplitter Pizza on Lake Merritt in Oakland, CA.  Home of my favorite vegan slice in the world, so far.  It was Lanesplitter, the East Bay pizza mini-chain that still reflects a mom-and-pop status, that had me ruminating and redefining my definition of purchasing goods and services “locally.”

With five locations and a great menu, the establishment seems poised on expanding out of it’s 10-mile radius; how far would be too far to remain “local?”  And, of course, not all the ingredients in the slice I was eating were grown or produced locally, and probably not even purchased from a locally owned and operated supply company (maybe global?).  But, the few bucks spent on the final product, that awesome slice, were helping a hometown favorite thrive.  The politics of “local” are complex.

Would it be possible for me to spend every earned dime in a local fashion: in my neighborhood, my city, the general Northern California region, or perhaps no further than the entire state?  How far would I have to look to find things I needed to survive, let alone those superfluous items and trinkets that constantly flaunt their attractiveness in our 21st-century USA?

This debate is nothing new; I already purchase almost all my fruits, veggies, nuts and grains from organic farmers located primarily in Northern California, as we here are lucky enough to have the immense Central Valley and Sierra Foothill breadbaskets in our backyard.  Almost, because certain things I desire – but are absolutely unessential to my survival – cannot be found in this state, or country, or even general latitude, such as bananas and mangoes.  This then brings up another major consideration in many of our diets: coffee, and most teas, which will not grow in our country or hemisphere.  And what would many of you do without coffee (you know who you are)?  So, certain choices I make on a daily and weekly basis, such as purchasing goods that can only be produced in the tropics, seem to absolutely break my intentions of buying local-only.

However . . . if I buy my coffee from the Blue Bottle Coffee Company in Oakland, which doesn’t grow but roasts and sells its organic product in the same facility, wouldn’t I be doing more for my local economy, the spirit of community and the environment (not to mention my taste buds) than buying a can of the estate-grown, multi-national Folgers from Safeway?  Yes, definitely; but is my desire for coffee itself more important than supporting a local company that still must transport its beans thousands of miles using various forms of polluting transportation?  It seems that I would need to sacrifice this coveted beverage, which not only provides physical but social stimulation in my favorite nearby coffeehouses, if I were to behave as a truly local consumer.  The pros and cons are still being weighed.

Although such arguments need not be reproduced here, the ins and outs of this issue extend to every aspect of our material lives: clothing, furnishings, entertainment, transportation.  Is sacrificing one aspect of responsible purchasing for the benefit of another justified?  And who can weigh such a balance; the value of personal enjoyment found in a high-def, flatscreen TV, the usefulness of a plastic broom, the necessity of commuting to a car-accessible career, versus the obvious and multifarious detriments caused by supporting Chinese sweatshops and violent skirmishes in desperate countries?  Has it become impossible to find and accomplish these things by pushing our dollars no further than our area codes, short of learning to make and grow every single little thing yourself while living and working no further than you can see?

How much financial and personal sacrifice will be necessary for me to satisfy my own subjective definitions of “buying local?” I will answer all of these questions myself before the year is out.  But in any case, if it comes to it, I may find it considerably difficult to give up on the Lanesplitter vegan slice.  A blessing, and a curse.
-Jeremy Pearson