Small = glorious

Why can't Europe-adoring vacationers bring a lesson home?

Todd Walton is a writer, musician and longtime contributor to SN&R

I find it fascinating that so many people from Sacramento and elsewhere across the United States love going to Europe, because so much of what used to be true about America is still true there.

Small towns, little farms, ancient ways of life ongoing; cities with crooked streets, winding roads, trains going everywhere; all kinds of different kinds of people and ways of living and existing side by side; so many people walking and riding bicycles and buying bread at local bakeries, every loaf unique. Lovely shops and bookstores and villages, old picturesque churches, little museums and art galleries, and fabulous food found in marvelous pubs and cafes and restaurants and inns, no two alike—richness and diversity!

Then, these millions of Europe-adoring people come home to the United States and shop at big-box stores and chains, because why pay $1.49 for that can of tomato sauce at your neighborhood grocery store when you can get the same can of tomato sauce at Walmart for 99 cents? Why pay $14 at your local bookstore for the same book you can get on for 30 percent less? Why shop at your local stationery store if you can get 500 of those same-sized envelopes at Office Depot or Staples for practically nothing?

And these Europe-loving folk never seem to make the connection between the way they buy things in Europe and what they love about Europe—variety, surprise, depth, small, unique, locally grown, fresh! Nor do they connect the way they buy things in America and what they hate about America—sameness, blandness, stale, shallow, plastic, made somewhere else. Why, I wonder, don’t these people, some of them my dear friends, make the connection between where we buy things and the ongoing ruination of America and the world? Perhaps because we have become so enslaved to convenience and the illusion of paying less for more, that to admit our actions are the cause of the problem and then change our behavior would be too painful for us, too inconvenient, too costly.

After leaving my Sacramento home, I made my way to a new home in Mendocino on California’s coast, a popular tourist destination largely because there are no chain restaurants, no big-box stores, no Starbucks or McDonald’s or Taco Bell adorning the bluffs overlooking the mighty Pacific Ocean. The houses and storefronts are old and quaint, relatively speaking, and to fully enjoy the town and discover her secret charms, one must walk around. Imagine. The best way to experience the European feel of the few square blocks in Mendocino is to leave the car behind and stretch those legs. What a concept! I actually think walking around, that act alone, is a big part of what people like about coming here.

“Paris!” countless people have said to me. “We walked everywhere! It was glorious.”

“England! They have trains and buses that go everywhere. So many wonderful villages and small towns and winding country roads. Glorious!”

“Holland! We walked and rode bicycles everywhere! And the cheese! The bread! Glorious!” Ditto Sweden, Spain, Italy, Germany, etc.

So, the next time you pull into Walmart or Staples or Costco, any of those places you go to save a few bucks, think about the Buddhist idea that we are the owners of our own karma, that we create our happiness and unhappiness through our actions and the choices we make, both as individuals and collectively. Then we might better understand that choosing to shop locally at one-of-a-kind stores is how we can help create a happier and more interesting reality right here at home.