12 October, 2010

Alternative Systems

If only we can move beyond the oversimplistic definitions of cheap food, we can change the current system.  In practical terms, what this means is shifting shopping patterns to follow three main principles: local, seasonal and direct...Keeping alive alternative systems of distribution is one of the most important things individuals can do in the face of ever-growing retail concentration.  That, and ensuring farmers get a fairer share from our shopping so they can survive.
Felicity Lawrence, Not On The Label: What Really Goes Into the Food on Your Plate
The system for food has changed somewhat since Lawrence's book was published in 2004.  There is comparatively little sense of urgency out there about changing the system for clothing.

There are difficulties in transferring her call to action to clothing.

The alternative systems of distribution for clothing were dismantled and abandoned much earlier and to a greater extent than those for food.  It's been a long time since the black sheep made direct sales of wool to the little boy who lives down the lane.  Peru is the only place I've heard of that retains a vibrant alternative system of clothing production and sales.

You can argue that in the West there is not nearly the monopolistic control on the sale of clothing as there is on the sale of food (especially after you read in Not On the Label how monopolistic that control is), and I will agree that there are probably more large clothing retailers competing for your dollar than there are large supermarket chains.

Try and see what proportion of your diet you can fill with the 100 mile diet principles, and then try and see if you can be clothed at all on a 100 mile fiber diet.  Go to the nearest farm gate and see whether they want to sell you raw materials to stock your pantry or your wardrobe.

Ask how many of your friends have brewed beer at home or tried bread-making or canned some fresh-caught salmon and then ask how many have knit their own mitts.  Look at their fishing rods and garden spades, then search their spare rooms for spinning wheels and looms.  Challenge them to go to the nearest bank of clay and stand of trees and come back with a drop spindle and warp-weighted loom.  Quiz them on the location of the nearest blackberry patch, then ask about the nearest fibre animal or plant.

My guildmate and I were asked at the farmers' market if handspinning was gaining popularity.  We weren't sure.

I am spinning yarn and trying to learn to make my own clothes from the fiber up.  I consider myself to be a pretty mainstream, conventional person.  Alternative, underground scenes only hold my interest in a train-wreck, fleeting sort of way.  I am not out to overthrow anything.

I want a resurgence in our capacity to produce and to trade on a peer-to-peer basis.  That's the part of capitalism that captures my imagination, the means to control production.  My rather idealistic sympathies are with the small independent producer, and in my idealism I lean toward egalitarianism.  I would like everyone to be proficient at handspinning and making handspun clothes.  Then we'd have a basis for a workable alternative system.  Realistically, I just don't think the economic incentive or the cultural mood is there right now.

I've only recently started wanting an alternative system to meet our need for food and clothing.  I used to think the conventional system of clothing manufacture and distribution was pretty smart.  I thought it met our needs quite well with little trouble.  I thought it was the only civilized way to go.  I see it differently now.  I think the conventional system lacks resiliency, is exploitative, creates a lot of waste, and floods markets, which undermines competition and sovereignty.  Even if climate change and Peak Oil doomsayers' dire predictions come to nothing and the clothes keep coming in the ordinary way, there will still be issues and areas where the conventional system fails to meet a lot of needs.

And, yes, thank you, I am aware how many handspun-wearing ancient civilizations were exploitative and monopolistic.

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