The shame of our consumer culture

By now you have probably heard that a crowd of people desperate to get into a Long Island Wal-Mart at 5 am on Friday trampeled a worker to death:

When the madness ended, 34-year-old Jdimytai Damour was dead and four shoppers, including a woman eight months pregnant, were injured.

“He was bum-rushed by 200 people,” said Wal-Mart worker Jimmy Overby, 43.

“They took the doors off the hinges. He was trampled and killed in front of me.

“They took me down, too … I didn’t know if I was going to live through it. I literally had to fight people off my back,” Overby said.

Damour, a temporary maintenance worker from Jamaica, Queens, was gasping for air as shoppers continued to surge into the store after its 5 a.m. opening, witnesses said.

Even officers who arrived to perform CPR on the trampled worker were stepped on by wild-eyed shoppers streaming inside, a cop at the scene said.

I have nothing profound to say about this tragedy. It is a disgrace to our country that buying things has become such an obsession during the holiday season that a crowd of people will step on someone to get in on a “Black Friday” sale at the crack of dawn, and even step on the people trying to help him.

Clearly stores are going to have to stop offering special deals on the day after Thanksgiving that are only good for the first X number of customers, or only good until a certain early hour of the morning. Doing away with first-come, first-served “general admission” seating at rock concerts prevented a recurrence of the stampede that killed 11 people trying to see The Who in Cincinnati in 1979.

I wonder if the media will reduce the hype about post-Thanksgiving shopping next year as well.

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Need more reasons to buy local?

The weekly Cityview has published a special supplement about locally-owned businesses in central Iowa.

I am passionate about buying local. At first, I was influenced by the fact that both of my grandfathers were small business owners. The more I learned about the economic and environmental benefits, the more committed I became to shopping and dining out at locally-owned businesses.

In addition, as a volunteer for many non-profit groups I know that local business owners are often more supportive of charitable causes in the area than corporate executives at companies with headquarters out of state.

One of the main reasons I got involved with 1000 Friends of Iowa seven or eight years ago was that the group supports economic development with a focus on locally-owned, Main Street businesses.

Rob Marqusee, the rural economic development director for Woodbury County, recently directed me to this outstanding website. It’s full of resources on the economic benefits of buying locally-grown food. I’ll write more about this in the near future, but meanwhile I encourage you to go explore the website yourself.

Marqusee has done a tremendous job in promoting the growth of organic farming and local food networks in northwest Iowa.

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Who knew?

Apparently you can spend more than a million dollars on a wedding in Des Moines. I thought that level of absurdly conspicuous consumption was limited to places like Chicago or New York, but Cityview sets the record straight in an article on Des Moines extravagances.

Caterers and event planners describe cakes that cost more than $5,000 or take more than 30 hours to make. The article culminates with several paragraphs on a dinner for 14 friends that cost $25,000 “just in food and wine costs.” Many foods were flown in to Des Moines for the meal. My favorite example was vinegar that sells for $250 a liter, which the host requested because he “likes his foie gras glazed in it.”

Consider this an open thread to discuss ridiculous extravagance you have observed or heard about. For instance (this is a true story), one of my college friends attended a wedding reception where butternut squash soup was served featuring the couple’s initials written in heavy cream in every bowl.

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