As a small business owner my family directly feels the impact of your buying decisions. When you choose a product made by a family business there is a real family that feels that purchase. I believe that it is almost always a conscious decision that leads customers to pass up the big brands (or the CAP sales) and choose a product that is made by a small or local producer.
When it comes to our family's food we garden, join a local CSA farm, gather wild foods, hunt and fish, buy directly from local farmers, and find the rest of our food at the farmer's market and the coop. At the coop we hardly venture into the center isles. We rarely see a need for packaged foods. It's just not how we eat.
Well, its not how we usually eat anyway.
Yesterday we had a busy day and no meal plan. A Crisis Dinner if you will. I dashed to the coop to pick up something (anything!) to eat and came home with an amazingly local dinner. A local pizza crust. Regional pizza sauce. Local cheese, spinach, and asparagus. Even regional beer.
What was interesting to me was how conscious the purchase of this meal was. I put back the zucchini (from Mexico) that I wanted when I saw the asparagus (from six miles away). I chose a different sauce and beer than my first inclination when I started thinking about the miles those products had traveled to my coop. I questioned the disappearance of the local pepperoni we have bought in the past and mentioned that I'd like it stocked again to a manager.
Edited: Thanks for the link to the newest chart. I replaced the older version above with the new one.
What it really came down to was my conscious decision to be awake in my purchasing even though I was in a hurry. Even though for us this was fast food. It was my decision to be present to the reality that Muir Glen is owned by General Mills but Eden Foods is a small family owned business and DiSalvo's, the sauce I bought last night, is a family-owned Wisconsin company.
Unless you live in a town with a vibrant local food economy, you might not feel like you have choices as great as these. The document above can help you make better choices with your food budget. Created by the Cornucopia Institute, I believe this chart should hand on the wall of every coop and natural foods store. (I requested it at my coop but was told that it was "too depressing.")
This chart lets you know what corporations own which food brands so that you can choose consciously. The same goes for body care and other products, but there isn't a chart to guide your buying decisions. Your best bet is to do your homework and choose local when you can. Relevant examples for body care are that Colgate owns Tom's of Maine and Clorox owns Burt's Bees but I own LuSa Organics (see photo above, taken 30 seconds ago without even brushing my hair.)
I am a real person, not a corporation.
I care about your kids, your community, and our planet.
We speak our values with our dollars. Its just that sometimes we forget.