I first heard of this book on an NPR radio interview and given my interest in all things local and therefore those things not local have been curious about it ever since. I raced to Megan's blog, Fix, when I saw she had reviewed it and asked if she was up for a guest post here. She was and here it is, in an extended version of her original review. Thank you, Megan! And per her review, just in time for some end of summer reading.
A Year Without "MADE IN CHINA," Sara Bongiorni's witty, very readable chronicle of her family's year boycotting goods from China, isn't exactly a green read, falling into the slightly outlying anti-consumerism category that interests eco-readers all the same. It's not clear why Bongiorni embarks on her experiment: she expresses exhaustion from all the plastic crap creeping into her home and a desire to see just how difficult it is to buy things from places other than China. She doesn't have any major revelations, just neurotic obsessing about China and funny anecdotes about her two kids and husband. It's a lot like 'Not Buying It', arranged by the months of the year but lacking Judith Levine's subtle pathos and pointed philosophic moments.
I was astonished by the amounts of crap (Chinese or not) Bongiorni and her husband declared they absolutely had to have, especially for their kids. Plastic Halloween decorations? Squirt guns? Either her freelance writing job and her husband's academic position are unlike any other in America, or they're in a mountain of plastic-induced debt - every time they go to Target, they walk away with a huge pile, seemingly everything in the store that's not from China.
Bongiorni is surprisingly un-self-aware about this fact and others, one of the major shortcomings of the book. She doesn't delve very deeply into the economic inequalities between the US and the rest of the world, nor does she often recognize her place in the equation. Once in a while, she expresses regret about inflicting some kind of punishment on a faceless Chinese worker, but the book completely lacks a discussion of the changing Chinese economy and what this means for China's citizens. To be fair, Bongiorni admits that every American replicating her experiment would seriously reverberate throughout the world she's not proposing it as a solution. She certainly succeeds at writing an entertaining book about her individual family's experience and probably edited out historical and philosophical background in order to keep it light.
But here's where the lack of clarity on the family's intentions for the experiment weaken its impact, in my opinion. Bongiorni's not not buying from China in order to protest the effects Chinese manufacturing have had on the environment. She's not not buying from China in order to discuss unfair labor conditions or human rights. She's not not buying from China in order to examine the effect exporting manufacturing and manufacturing jobs has had on the American economy. She's not even not buying from China in order to investigate the energy and resources that go into making and transporting plastic crap in general. She just not buying from China and laughing about it. And you will too.
Rating: 3 out 5 stars, owing to the book's lack of hard facts about making stuff in and exporting stuff from China. This probably made it much more fun to read. I literally couldn't put it down!
Recommended for newly green readers, though the book doesn't itself supply the connections between environmentalism and consumerism.
Also recommended for more experienced green readers, who can supply these connections and enjoy a breezy summer read for once.