Sunday, December 21, 2008

Gun Tso Sun Tan'Gung Haw Sun! (That's cantonese for Merry Christmas)

Awesome upside down tree at Oxford Floral.'Tis the season for decking the halls and whatever else you've got with the sparkliest, stripiest red, white and green stuff you can find! And if it smells like frasier fir or peppermint, even better!
I was in the Christmas aisle at Walgreens a few weeks ago, when a young lady asked me a question.

"Do you know if I need to buy a stand for those Christmas trees they're selling at Walmart?"

"Are you buying a fake tree or a live tree?" I asked.

"A fake one."

"No, then you won't need a stand. The pre-lit ones open up like an umbrella and they come with feet."

From Business News:

In 2007, 17.4 million people bought artificial Christmas trees -- a whopping 87 percent jump from the previous year's total of 9.3 million, according to a survey conducted for the National Christmas Tree Association, whose members are farmers and retailers of real trees. Rick Dungey, a spokesman for the association, could not explain the huge jump and said it seemed to be a statistical anomaly, although the margin of error for the survey is only 3.1 percent.
While live trees are still outselling fake ones, with about 31.3 million bought last year, all signs indicate their artificial counterparts are becoming a bigger and bigger piece of the Christmas tree buying pie.

To fake or not to fake?

Sure it's easier, but it's not always cheaper. I'm sure the fake trees at Walmart are the cheapest you can get, but much like all those cheap decorations and ornaments, what exactly are you buying? Where did it come from? What is it made out of? Can we save the U.S. economy by spending our dollars on cheap stuff that no doubt has a Made in China stamp right next to the Warning Flammable?

In my own search for answers this holiday season, I discovered the truth about fake trees. I do not condemn anyone who has chosen to go faux, it's too late now, right? But for future consideration for all of those folks considering buying a fake tree, consider these words from Umbra Fisk from Grist:

[In search of information on fake Christmas trees]
I've looked on site after site and called various places, and I can tell you that polyvinyl chloride is the monoculture of the artificial forest. Even worse, lead is apparently used to stabilize certain PVC products, which is why you'll see a label on faux Christmas trees cautioning you to avoid inhaling or eating any bits of lead dust that may fall from the "branches" of the family heirloom. Now, I'm not saying you need to run screaming from the house, but between the lead and the vinylness, I just can't support artificial trees.
If you must have a tree, the good old-fashioned wooden kind is the right option. That does not necessarily make them a great option, though, and you should do your tree-selecting with care. Christmas trees are an agricultural product and carry the attendant issues of all mass agriculture. There are trees grown with pesticides and herbicides vs. organic specimens, there are family operations vs. large-scale producers, etc. The bottom line: Go for the actual tree and try to support a small-scale sustainable grower if you can.

The key word here for me was small-scale sustainable grower.

However, we did not have room for a full-sized tree. And in the end, I could not find anything appropriate for the space we have. To my surprise, I came across a true Mississippi anomaly: the handwoven kudzu Christmas tree! And it's pre-lit!

Mark Barnes collects the long and winding strand-like branches of the kudzu that silently engulfs the Mississippi woodlands. If you've never heard of kudzu, it is also known as the vine that ate the South. It's that crazy palnt/vine that turns trees into green elephants. It's the stuff you see of the highway that has engulfed all vegetation.

From Wikipedia:

Kudzu was introduced from Japan into the United States in 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, where it was promoted as a forage crop and an ornamental plant. From 1935 to the early 1950s the Soil Conservation Service encouraged farmers in the Southeastern United States to plant kudzu to reduce soil erosion as above, and the Civilian Conservation Corps planted it widely for many years.
In the Southern United States, where the plant has been introduced with devastating environmental consequences,[14] kudzu is used to make soaps, lotions, jelly, and compost.[15] It has even been suggested that kudzu may become a valuable asset for the production of cellulosic ethanol.[16]

People are constantly spraying and cutting kudzu to keep the perpetual jungle in check. Mark Barnes turns this Eastern Asian invader into something useful and lovely. He weaves the kudzu strands into baskets and cone-shaped trees. He then inserts Christmas tree lights inside the cone so that they come through the tight kudzu weave. You can find his trees at Mississippi Hand Made on the downtown Oxford square.
I heard a program on NPR over a year ago that talked about Walmart's shopping monopoly. The program claimed that 10% of all Americans shop at Walmart once a week.
I thought back to the first time I heard of Walmart. In high school, a Target came to Richmond. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. So much stuff! So cheap! I loved it. When people first started talking about the new Target in Richmond, they explained that it was a store like Walmart, but nicer. I had never heard of Walmart in 1996. And the first time I set foot in a Walmart was in college, probably around 1999. All I remember is that it was big and disorienting, and I never went in there again until I was in graduate school, on a budget, and living in Savannah. I really only went there to buy stuff in bulk for art projects.

It's easy for so many urban dwellers to say "down with Walmart."
Those urban folks probably have a myriad of grocery stores, fancy boutiques, specialty stores and craft shops like Ben Franklin or Michaels. But for those of us who live in more rural areas, we are very limited in our selection of stores. And here in Oxford, MS, Walmart proves to be the one-stop-shop with very low prices. There are a few generic brand items sold at Kroger that are cheaper than Walmart's "Great Value" brand. However, folks who are in a hurry (who isn't?) are going to take the easy way out: they are going to go to Walmart and buy everything in one fell swoop and head back to their homes with all of their Walmart goodies, most of which are cheaply made, low-quality products. And those foks are going to live happily ever after. Are they not?The untold story of Walmart and so many other big brands and companies that sell mass-produced items is slowly being exposed. If you want to read more about it, pick up Charles Fishman's book,
The Walmart Effect. It is so disturbing that I can't finish reading it.
I have to give Fishman a shout-out here, he was very thoughtful to post a comment on my blog.
We have much to be thankful for this Christmas, though times are tough for the average American. (Times are tough for the daddy Warbucks too!) If we make informed decisions in the grocery store and at the super store, we CAN, over time, influence what items are offered. If no one bought organic food and products, no one would be selling them. In my opinion, what is most important for Mississippians and Americans alike, right now, is to buy locally produced and manufactured goods and to support local small business. We live in a sprawling country, a giant landscape capable of producing everything we need. If we can make the choice, as a nation, to buy everything we can from our neighbors and neighboring states, rather than what seems like EVERYTHING from China, we can influence our own situation. I realize that all of these electronic goodies that folks want are not made in the USA. But the idea is still something to consider. Everyday, I consciously try not to buy anything that is made outside of the US. I make exceptions for items made in Canada or Mexico, since we are continentally linked. I want to take this action further with this New Year's resolution:
No more shopping at superstores of any kind.
Care to join me?
Pick It Up Oxford will be back in January of 2009.
Happy Holidays and a hope for a Fantastic New Year!

1 comment:

IndoorCat said...

You never cease to amaze me. See you soon!