Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How long could we live without imports?

I don't know how much press it's getting back east, but here on the west coast there is a lot of hubbub in the news about the port slow/shutdowns that are going on in Los Angeles as well as other cities.  The shutdowns are part of an ongoing labor dispute between the port workers' unions and the companies which control shipping to and from the ports.

A recent news report said that if the differences are not ironed out soon, that we can expect to see shortages of products on store shelves -- everything from plastic Easter egg baskets to canned fish to bicycles, furniture, clothing, and other stuff we so often refer to as "cheap Asian crap,"  which is at least partially true. And the world can expect to see shortages in the things we export -- stuff like avocados, oranges, and almonds, among other things.

But this led me to wonder how much American families would actually suffer in a prolonged port shutdown.  Once again, with so many other things discussed on this blog and others like it, it all comes down to how you live.

Yet, there are products I know my family uses that we would have to learn to do without.  The first one that comes to mind is the sockeye salmon I love, which I use to keep my cholesterol in check so my doctor doesn't insist I take Lipitor. Yes, my caught-in-the-USA sockeye salmon is, most likely, actually shipped in a refrigerated tanker all the way to China for canning, then shipped back across the Pacific to the USA for sale.  That's a long trip for a live fish, and even crazier for a dead one. 

Many other products are things Americans could certainly live without, but would require a lifestyle change in order to do so.  We'd have to do things like start re-upholstering furniture instead of buying new, keep our electronics going for longer instead of replacing things as they break or as we tire of them, and in general just do more repair and maintenance of things our society now disposes of and replaces with great regularity. Most homesteading families do this already, but the majority of American families do not -- not at this point, anyway.

While it will probably never happen, I can imagine a semi-permanent port slowdown where our country would actually start canning its own fish again, building its own furniture, and more importantly, making better use of what we have already bought and paid good money for. I'm sure the port shutdown will not come to such dire straits, but part of me wishes it would, because I would love to see our nation turn back into a country of production rather than a country of importation.

But I do believe everything you grow yourselves, or make, is one more thing that does not have to traverse the great seas to reach us, which saves a lot  of fuel, and reduces pollution. Maybe we could end up taking over some of the work we currently send to China.  Maybe we could be distributing our avocados and almonds right here in this country (and growing less, since us west coasties are currently in a drought.)

And maybe, instead of shipping a dead salmon 12,000 miles back and forth across the Pacific, we might be able to catch it and can it right here on the Pacific coast, just a few miles from where it was caught. The foodie in me says "yum" to that.

So bring on the shutdown. Let's take back our ingenuity, our industry, and our craftsmanship. It's not nationalistic jabber, it's just common sense. And while I might feel bad for the longshoremen put out of work by such a change, I'll bet there would be great opportunities opening up within the upholstery, bicycle-making, clothing and canning industries as a result.


  1. I agree with everything you wrote. I've always thought it was ridiculous to send things overseas only to have it sent back again. You make a good point with the salmon.

    I noticed that the lamb in our grocery store is imported from New Zealand. With all the land in the country, why can't our lamb come from our own farms? Certainly we can produce enough sheep.Why do we need to import our meat from a country halfway around the world?

    It would be good if this country could start producing things again. I think you are right about the benefits of a shutdown.

    I also think you should run for president! You would get my vote.

  2. Have you considered submitting this as an editorial for your newspaper? You make excellent points.

    1. Thanks Molly. I actually was a newspaper opinion columnist before starting this blog; when I began getting ready to move here I decided to give up the job after nine years, and I figured I would just write for fun from here on in. But once in awhile I still do a typical op-ed piece I guess! I agree with you on the lamb, too, why in the world are we importing any kind of meat? We've got more than enough resources to feed ourselves in that regard.

  3. This is getting zero press here! I really try to at least consider the country of origin whenever I buy anything. I read this last night and was thinking about it while grocery shopping this morning. Pretty unsettling to think how many of our nuts and bolts aren't made here. I loaded up on wine (snowstorm coming) thinking "well at least I could always get this!" But then wondered where the bottles are made? I doubt in California. Very interesting. In some food doc I watched a while ago I remember a woman saying "people would be a lot more inspired to grow their own garlic if they knew their garlic were coming in a steel box from China next to flip flops and sex toys". I always think of that when I buy garlic! Hope it's sorted soon. These disputes seem to be happening quite frequently? I've been looking into manufacturing some things here in the States and it really is bleak. Very few capable resources. yet there are dozens of viable Chinese options.