It is about 15 miles (a 30 minute trip, one way) to the closest city and about 65 miles (1 hour, 15 minutes) to the closest city large enough to support natural food stores. So often my choices for shopping are 1) local but not organic or even "natural" and I have to burn some fossil fuel; 2) organic and/or natural but I must burn even more fossil fuel plus the money is spent outside of my community; or 3) internet shopping where I can get exactly what I want, delivered to my door by the post office, UPS, or Federal Express truck, all of which make deliveries in my community anyway so I don't burn any additional fossil fuel; however, the money spent goes far from my community. All three choices, for the most part, involve products from overseas which are more likely than not made with slave labor. And even when I do internet shopping, I have to consider whether it is best to purchase from a large corporation that gives deals, such as free shipping, or to buy from a small company or individual but have to pay the full cost of shipping. But local grocery purchases typically involve buying at a large supermarket chain.
It's not just shopping, either. It's packaging and personal products and cooking utensils and preserving food....The list goes on and on.
Pet food - I have to choose between what is available at our local pet supermarket, all of which is tested on animals, even the "natural" brands they carry. Or I can purchase small bags of healthy brands I know aren't tested on animals at one of the health food stores 65 miles away. Or I can purchase large bags of that same food via the internet; I can even have it set up for auto-ship.
Preserving food - I have to choose between freezing or canning. If I freeze, I have to either have enough large-mouth canning jars to fit everything in or I have to use plastic freezer bags that I can either discard when I'm done or wash and save to reuse the following year or for other projects. If I tried to can food, I would have to set aside a good amount of time, boil a large quantity of water, and keep my fingers crossed that I know what I'm doing and the seal will take and I won't poison my family.
Plastic - earlier this week I wrote about BPA. Much of the plastic in my kitchen probably contains BPA. If I replace all of my storage containers, drinking glasses, etc. with BPA-free, am I really helping myself or are the substitute materials just as bad? Or I can replace everything with glass or stainless steel. The problem with glass storage containers is that most of them come with, guess what, plastic lids. And these lids not only come into contact with the food, they wear out over time. The ones with glass lids don't seal well so don't travel well. And if I were to replace everything with glass and/or stainless steel, where would I find these products - not locally, I'm sure.
Books - if I want a new (to me) book, I have several choices. I can check out a book from our local library, burning fossil fuel to get there (we do have a bookmobile but I would still have to drive 5 miles for that). I could purchase a new book at a bookstore, a 65 mile drive for me (we don't have a bookstore in town). I could purchase a used book at our local thrift shop, but, again, I'm burning fuel to get there. I could download a book from an online bookstore right to my e-reader, but the e-reader is made with conflict minerals and plastic, not to mention that soon the version I own will probably be obsolete, requiring the purchase of a new e-reader. Or I can download an e-book from one of the libraries that I have cards for, but I still have the e-reader problem.
So there's always a question about whether or not I'm doing the right thing. But in the end that is also the answer: It's important to make an effort to do the right thing, even when the choices aren't perfect.