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December 2nd, 2008
04:00 PM ET

O Say Can You Buy?

Nicole McClelland
MotherJones.com

Who knew that going Made in the USA would leave me hungry, broke, and half-naked?

I had been cursing up and down the aisles at the grocery store for half an hour when I finally found a can of black beans claiming to be "100% usa family farm organically grown." I was on a weeklong mission to buy only American-made goods, and my very first shopping trip had turned into a debacle. I'd been forced to put back the bananas, cherries, coconut, and chipotle peppers, and I was about to blow $15 on a tiny bottle of US-made olive oil.

I was hoisting the beans triumphantly above my head when my roommate approached. "What about the packaging?" she asked. I scowled at her. More of the world's aluminum comes from China than from anywhere else; the only way to know the origins of this particular can was to call the company—and it was Saturday. "Buying American is such a pain in the ass!" I wailed.

In 1990, when I was in grade school, I watched a union-sponsored commercial in which a mother told her little boy that they would have to move because Dad had lost his job—too many people were buying imports. As union jobs dried up, so did that campaign; now, 14 years into nafta, buying local is hot, but buying American is, at best, a joke (though in August Barack Obama dusted off the sentiment with his "Buy American, Vote Obama" slogan). When I told Scott Paul, executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, that I was going to buy only American for a week, he laughed. "I'm very sorry to hear that.

"It's exceptionally hard, if not impossible, to be 100 percent pure," he explained. "There are just some things you can't buy. It's incredibly difficult and depressing."

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Filed under: Economy • Nicole McClelland • Raw Politics