The more I think about it, the more unnerving it seems to me just how much we rely on foreign, primarily Chinese technology and manufacturing these days, for just about anything - our clothes, electronic devices, household products, toys, all sorts of equipment. Even our food comes from afar. When I first saw Spanish and Italian olive oils in the stores, I was surprised - why should we import olive oil when Israel is full of olive trees? But it turns out, even with the cost of shipping, that the foreign oils are often cheaper. It's hard when you're torn between the desire to buy local and the need to lower your grocery store bill.
Things used to be different. We used to produce more of our own food, clothes, household tools, etc. Much of it is now imported. Experts say it makes sense economically, but I'm not sure it makes sense from the point of long-term strategy, community ties, and the environment.
Things used to be of better quality, too. Clothes, toys and equipment were made sturdier, for longer-lasting use. When I look over some clothes that were made before I was even born, I marvel at the quality of the fabric and the seams. Even the colors didn't fade with time. Now half the things we buy at such a fabulously cheap price break down the next day, so we can go on and buy more. The discarded items then pour into our landfills.
Obviously we can't go back to the days when we all lived on isolated farms where we baked the bread from the wheat we'd grown, drank the beer we brewed, and wore the clothes from the wool we've spun, which came from the sheep we'd sheared. But our current economy seems so impersonal and wasteful it literally gives me the creeps.
Still, I sometimes think - what if we wake up tomorrow to a reality that makes foreign import no longer possible, or at least not possible to the extent we are used to today? I don't know - a massive civil war in China, perhaps? Obviously we would have to make adjustments, but what if the change is so abrupt our economy can't handle it?
Here is a very interesting (pretty long, but worth the effort of reading) article on over-consumption. It was written nearly 20 years ago, before the age of massive instant internet shopping, but it's amazing how so much of it as relevant as ever. For example the following quote:
"MANY of us who attended college in the 1960s and 1970s took pride in how little we owned. We celebrated our freedom when we could fit all our possessions -- mostly a stereo -- into the back of a Beetle. Decades later, middle-aged and middle-class, many of us have accumulated an appalling amount of stuff. Piled high with gas grills, lawn mowers, excess furniture, bicycles, children's toys, garden implements, lumber, cinder blocks, ladders, lawn and leaf bags stuffed with memorabilia, and boxes yet to be unpacked from the last move, the two-car garages beside our suburban homes are too full to accommodate the family minivan. The quantity of resources, particularly energy, we waste and the quantity of trash we throw away (recycling somewhat eases our conscience) add to our consternation."
I grew up in an apartment of 56 square meters (about 600 square feet). We had no storage shed, no garage, no balcony. The 56 square meters were all the space we had available for living and storage. Nevertheless, when we moved and I sorted through my stuff, I was amazed at the bags upon bags of junk that came out of my little room. How did I ever accumulate all that clutter?
Today, scrounging through our closets, drawers, storage shed, kitchen cupboards, etc, I'm still amazed at the amount of stuff that somehow sneaks in. Certainly we could live very well without most of it - and with less items to shift, rearrange, dust, organize, pack and re-pack every time we move.
What I really want is a simple, harmonious home that holds all the essentials and the comforts of family life, but isn't overflowing with stuff. Such a home would be easy to maintain and enable us to live a peaceful, satisfying life in harmony with nature. Getting rid of excessive possessions is just a detail. The big picture is longing for what you can grow, or make, or find, rather than what you can buy.
We try to do our bit by supporting, as much as we can, local Jewish farmers who grow very high-quality food. We also took to buying second-hand. It isn't just about saving money; when I buy second-hand, I'm not contributing to over-consumption and over-production, because I'm using something someone already bought. If I don't take it, it will go to the landfill.
I really feel it's such an amazing privilege G-d has given us, that of living in Israel and seeing the rolling hills of the Shomron out of my window every day. We love this land, and hope to do our bit towards keeping it as beautiful as it is today.