Anat, a non-profit collective in Syria.

Sustainable Travel — Buying Local Produce & Local Products

As we’ve travelled the globe over the past few years we’ve noticed an increasing trend for markets around the world to all sell the same trashy manufactured stuff.

From Jordan to Spain and Bangkok to Bahrain the same cheap, mass-produced souvenirs, plastic trinkets and machine-made textiles and carpets keep turning up, from Kashmiri ‘pashminas’ made in Korea to ‘local’ tribal jewellery sold right across the Asia and the Middle East that comes from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Conversely, the amount of authentic, locally produced handicrafts and other products are in serious decline, or are simply finding it hard to find buyers.

In recent months, we revisited a handful of markets across the Middle East and in Thailand that once sold largely locally-made goods that are now selling tacky foreign-made ornaments that have nothing to do with the country or culture where they’re being sold. In Petra, Jordan, for instance, most of the stalls that are scattered about the site are selling junk from China.

While we find it mindboggling that people buy this stuff, we can only assume that most people don’t know where the things are coming from and are trusting the vendors who tell them it is made locally. It’s disheartening to know that traditional crafts are dying in the process, as much as it is to know that this rubbish is being transported halfway around the globe.

We’ve persistently promoted locally-made products in the writing and photography we’ve done over the years, writing about everything from home-grown specialty food products, such as njuda, the fiery sausage from Calabria, Italy, to bespoke, handmade leather bags in Rome, to handcrafted musical instruments such as the oud (Arabic lute) and saz (a Turkish instrument) and their makers in Cairo and Istanbul.

One example of the kind of projects we love to discover and support is Anat, a non-profit collective in Syria, established and operated by a Palestinian-German family, with a workshop in the Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, that markets and sells beautiful embroidered products made by women in villages across Syria (see the photos above).

This year, we will continue to seek out and identify unique, authentic, locally-produced goods, both traditional and modern, from food and wine, handicrafts and textiles, to clothes and accessories, and highlight these here on Grantourismo. We’ll visit the craftspeople and artisans who make them and talk to the people keeping their traditions and culture alive.

Is there really anyone out there who is happy to see a stand in a traditional market selling knock-off Crocs or fake designer sunglasses, where once there were locally made leather sandals and handcrafted bags? Are we the only people who get annoyed about seeing unplayable Chinese-made guitars and Indian knick-knacks for sale in the souqs of Jerusalem? We’d love to know what you think.

And if you know of some ‘must-have’ locally-made handicrafts, artisanal foods and wines, or other authentic goods that you want us to report on here, please let us know in the comments below.




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  1. Antonio

    Here I am, to agree with you once again on your point of view on rubbish sold in markets around the world. I had the same feeling many times and I as well get pretty annoyed when I can’t find anything “authentic” in a place I expected more genuine. You can tell right away if something tells a story or not and I like the first kind of object. In fact, I adorned our house in Sardinia with lots of things that have a story and this story is perceived by whoever gets to visit our place. Talking about something unique and authentic in Sardinia, you must try the “Pecorino Sardo” and all the other goat cheese you’ll find on your journey there! They are absolutely fabuolus. My wife and I often buy a log of freshly made Italian bread, half Pecorino cheese, then go to the beach and have it for lunch! What a treat! :-)

  2. Michelle Page

    I have also noted the paucity of truly local artisanal goods in the world’s markets.

    My solution has been to commission pieces of hand-painted art from signboard artists in Nepal. Over 1400 pieces have been commissioned to date, making a real difference to my artists and their lifestyle.

    If you’d like to see more about this project, go to NepalDog.com or to my blog at NepalDog.typepad.com. Any mention in your fine blog would be appreciated.

    Someone once asked the best way to order a Nepal Art Dog and I say ‘go to Nepal, walk down the street, look and find a signboard shop, give them your pet’s picture, give a third to a half advance (trust me on that — otherwise it’s party time — they are artists after all), and go trekking, ride an elephant, do a yoga retreat. When you return a week or two later, enjoy your very own Danger Dog.’

    This would work in any country. There are artists everywhere, go to their studios and galleries and buy their art directly. We need to support them. I like Folk Art, but buy and promote what you like.

    By the way, your up-coming year-long adventure sounds stunning. Have fun!

    Michelle

  3. Prêt à Voyager

    great post. especially at ankor wat i couldn’t help but wonder where in the world this giant warehouse of mass-produced cheap touristy crap was! everyone throughout the grounds sold the exact same thing! i wish there was a way to educate locals that we don’t always want what they think we want. maybe with time there will be a shift back to the “handmade” in the way that it’s getting revived in the US (especially through things like etsy and blogs – seeing one person do it, and the ideas spread).

    anne

  4. Lara Dunston

    Michelle – I don’t think we got around to telling you how much we love what you’re doing! I think we’ll have to get one of those pieces commissioned ourselves at some stage – they’re wonderful – and what a great initiative! We think it’s a terrific model – good on you!

    Anne – we definitely think there will be a shift back to the handmade, but totally agree that it generally needs a few people to take the lead, and then others will follow.


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