This evening I joined the Madison Knitters' Guild. I've known about the Guild for years now, but never bothered to join until now. The main reason I signed up was that I really, really wanted to hear the guest speaker at tonight's meeting. Her name is Clara Parkes, she runs the website I linked there, she has written three books (all of which I own, and all of which she signed for me, squee!), and she has a lot of really interesting, important things to say.
Her talk was about the industry of knitting and yarn companies and publishers and how all that has been impacted, nay, revolutionized, by the internet. Independent designers, small U.S. yarn producers, and indy dyers have a presence now that simply wasn't possible 15 years ago. On the flip side, large online retailers offering huge discounts and cheap production costs in China combined with a tough economy make it hard for local shops and producers to stay in business. I won't go into more details here about the because 1) if you're already a knitter and you are online you probably know this stuff already, 2) if you're not a knitter these details probably won't interest you a whole lot, and 3) she said it better.
Here's something that really stuck with me, though. At the end of her talk, Ms. Parkes said "We are all flawed, and we live in an imperfect world, but we have to take responsibility and acknowledge that our buying decisions have real consequences." Of course she is right. And it wasn't until I got home and tried to tell my husband (he is a non-knitter and not really at all interested in knitting, but supportive of me and my passions) that I realized one can draw several parallels with the knitting industry and modern food production.
You see, of all the things wrong with the world today, I see the modern rise of the local food movement as a very positive thing. More and more people want to know where their food comes from. They shop at farmers' markets, they subscribe to CSAs, they choose their meat carefully, they buy produce in season. More and more people are making decisions about the food they buy that ultimately promote their own physical health and the health of their local economies. Same with yarn, and I'm not saying this just because I'm a fanatic (which I fully admit), but because it's true. If you buy a skein of yarn produced entirely in the United States, or better yet from an alpaca or mohair goat or sheep farm near you (I realize that living in Wisconsin I have a lot more of these available than in many parts of the country), you are supporting American farmers, American labor, and a lesser carbon footprint than if you bought a skein of superwash merino that was raised in Australia, processed in China under who-knows-what working conditions and eventually shipped here.
We can't all make the best buying decisions all the time, of course. Most of us can't afford it, and both the food industry and much of the yarn industry is so opaque, we remain largely ignorant of where a lot of it comes from, despite our best efforts. But simple awareness is certainly a starting point. I'm really glad now that I bought several skeins of Romney wool (if you don't know what that is, go look it up in The Knitter's Book of Wool! or google it or whatever) at the farmers' market last summer.
Buy local. It's patriotic.