The exotic nature of local: or why generic foreign gifts suck

On Christmas Eve, why not discuss gifts.

For, what, the past few hundred years, the more far-flung and exotic the purchase or discovery, the better. Those emotions are mixed up into colonialism and exploration and Manifest Destiny and so many human and American spirits that I don’t care to explore them.

But I think there’s something changing there.

In 2005, I spent a small fortune in the local currency on hand-crafted wood carvings and jewelry from new friends and acquaintances in a Ghanian mountain village, all to be given to friends and family at home. I was back home for no more than two weeks before I showed off a necklace I was particularly fond of and someone remarked how similar it was to something she had seen at Target.


I was brought back to this thought and what it means by a great last-page essay in the strong Philadelphia sustainability magazine Grid.

…I realized that local products are exotic. In this era of cross-culturalism and international trade, it’s easy to lose sight of just how little of what we buy is made where we live. Consider your morning cup of coffee, the T-shirt you’re wearing, or the bottle of water on your desk. We rarely stop to consider that an everyday product could have traveled 3,000 miles to get to us.

So, this year I’m looking forward to giving gifts that have the exotic provenance of my hometown. The objects will still be vessels for imparting my experiences, still carry the stories of the people I’ve met and the things I’ve enjoyed. I’m excited to show off the counter-global foods and wares that make Philadelphia unique. When you put some thought into the source, you’re giving a gift that benefits more than just its recipient. MORE


So as technology and globalization makes the world flatter, it will be supporting a local economy and finding the most local and most special product that will be *better*.

We’ll see a trend of the local becoming more and more interesting before, of course, as a friend noted, it switches again like all trends do.

It fits into a world of sustainability and urban renewal that thrills me. I don’t know what to do with all those wood carvings now.

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