Letters to the EditorNews

Consumers Can’t Always Afford to Shop Ethically

Here’s the situation, as I see it. The subculture, which I think consists of people interested in ethical consumerism, creates small, local businesses mainly targeted towards other members of the sub-culture: people interested in buying their locally grown, harvested or made items. The dilemma here is this: Members of the sub-culture don’t tend to have a lot of money, because they are artists, spend time volunteering, work in social services, don’t want to be utter slaves to the system, etc. They aren’t traditionally the executives and managers at huge corporations. Thus, many members of the subculture can’t really afford to buy all of their goods from these small, locally-owned shops, no matter how much they want to. Meanwhile, the mainstream culture sticks to what they know, and might even scoff at the ethical consumer movement.

I’ve been thinking about all the businesses closing and/or having financial trouble in Athens, and I can’t help but feel a twinge of despair given my, and so many others’, financial situation. Since I can’t afford to buy all my groceries from the Daily Groceries Co-op, I often go to Kroger. And even though I love window shopping at Community or Dynamite, I end up buying clothes at America’s Thrift Store. I was so excited to support Eden’s Vegan Café, but I mostly cook at home. As a budding artist, I can’t afford to buy all my art supplies at K.A. Artist Shop, so I buy from Amazon and Hobby Lobby—two of the worst, I know. I have shopped at these small businesses before, and I feel sad that I can’t afford to shop there more as to bypass the terrible corporations that define what it means to be “unethical.” Ethical consumerism comes at a high price—a price that the relatively impoverished but “woke” millennial generation cannot always afford. It is truly a dilemma.

I feel a sense of social duty to buy exclusively organic, local and ethically made, and to support local artists and small shops in Athens. I just can’t afford it without having to get a second job. Even then, my extra cash will go to my student loans. I fear this seemingly impossible dilemma is going to cause Athens to be filled with somehow even more McDonald’s, Urban Outfitters and other atrocious fast-food and fast-fashion companies, and that this town will become just another suburb of Atlanta.

I know local businesses can’t help that their relatively ethical goods are more expensive; that’s just what it’s like in a country that subsidizes huge corporations and factory farming operations. We can’t help that the mainstream culture isn’t very interested in healthy, organic vegan food, no matter how many Facebook posts we make about the topic. And even then, how many of those mainstream culture members can even afford these ethically made products? The staggering costs of health care, rent and education and the fact that wages are unfairly low are burdens most of us share.

What do you think? Should we all get second jobs to afford ethically made goods? Should we collectively decide to make rent prices go down for small businesses? Who is really in control of this: the consumers or the government? Is this a dilemma that doesn’t really have any solutions? Or can we somehow ensure Athens will become a vibrant and unique town full of successful small businesses?