Throughout the recession and the current presidential election cycle, we’ve heard the same call to action over and over again: “Buy American.” So all of this “Made in America” talk got us thinking: is living solely on American goods even possible anymore? How much of the goods we come in contact with every day are even made within our borders, let alone labeled as such?
So one of our staffers undertook an entire day to see if she could do it: spend a day in the life of “Made in USA.” She lived to tell about it — but just barely. Here’s her story:
7:00 A.M. — Time to make some breakfast. Luckily, I had the foresight to check out the Union Square Greenmarket yesterday, where local farmers and growers from the greater NYC area gather to sell their meats, breads, and produce. This should be easy — a bowl of fresh blueberries with a little organic honey. Of course, it’s early, so I’m going to need some coffee…oh wait. Starbucks French Roast? Guess where that’s from? If you guessed France, you’re wrong. It’s actually made from a blend of Latin American coffees. Go figure. Looks like I’m sticking to good ol’ NYC tap water this morning.
- Kona Coffee
- Bigelow Tea, “US-Plantation Grown Governor’s Gray” variety
- Florida’s Natural orange juice
8:00 A.M. — Getting ready to head to work, I realize that my clothing options are slightly limited. American Apparel it is, seeing as they are vertically made and manufactured in Los Angeles. Thank goodness it’s too early to run into anyone. I turn on the TV to prep the day’s headlines…and realize I’m holding the remote to a Samsung TV. Definitely not made in the USA (few electronics are). I’ll have to grab The Wall Street Journal on my way out.
8:30 A.M. — Touching up my make-up on the subway. Don’t even get me started on beauty products. It turns out that moisturizer and a coat of Burt’s Bees lip-balm (made in Durham, North Carolina) do nothing for the fluorescent lighting I’ll be under all day. I realized afterward that I should have stocked up on Mary Kay, who still makes many of their cosmetics in the US (and is one of Forbes magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work for in America”). Now that I’ve got “Made in USA” on the brain, I’m realizing two equally scary and interesting things: first that, like most consumers, I actually have no idea where most of my daily products come from; and second that, as it turns out, very few of them are from the US.
- Mary Kay beauty products
- Morphe cosmetics and supplies
- Conair hair dryer
11:00 A.M. — Snack break time and I’m taking inventory of the things on my desk. Pens: made in China. Notepad: made in China. Dell computer: headquartered in Round Rock, Texas. A lucky find. Still, I know the company manufactures many of its products in Malaysia, China, and India, so I can’t be sure where this specific model comes from. According to FTC regulations, the company might be headquartered in the US, but unless it contains “all or virtually all” ingredients and manufacturing from America…no dice.
Some American-made desk products:
- Expo markers and pens
- Safco office furniture
- Duluth Pack laptop case
3:00 P.M. — Running late for a few meetings, so I’m going to grab a cab. Let’s just hope it’s a Ford Expedition, GMC Sierra or Chevy Impala…otherwise, it’s going to be a long walk to midtown.
7:00 P.M. — Workday is over and I want to get a quick workout in before dinner, so I lace up my Saucony sneakers. The company, which was founded in Pennsylvania and is headquartered in Massachusetts, “assembles” some of its shoes in the US, while most of the manufacturing happens overseas. Does that count as “Made in USA” by FTC rules? You guessed it — nope.
- New Balance running shoes and apparel
- Monster headphones
- Poland Spring bottled water
The Take-Away: Trying to stick to the American brand has left me hungry and undercaffeinated — yet also intrigued. How much of a commitment do we need to make to “Made in USA” products to benefit the US economy, anyway? Is supporting one local farmer upstate with my morning blueberries enough? And what about the majority of the products that I encountered today, which aren’t entirely “Made in USA” but still provide jobs and innovation to US manufacturers?
In the end, I decide that there needs to be a balance. We do what we can. I buy local fruits and vegetables when I can because, well, they taste better. But also because I like reaching across the counter to hand my bill to the actual person who harvested them. On the other hand, I use an iPhone from Apple, a company that is based in the US but manufactures most of its products in Asia. Does this make me unpatriotic? Am I stunting the US economy? I don’t think so. At the end of the day (or night) I’m just your average consumer, choosing the products that I like and that make my hectic life easier, at a price I can afford. But, the “easier” part is key — and, realistically, buying All-American is just not.