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patriotic buying

The challenge: To live (and buy) 100% Canadian Add to ...

Darren Barefoot is having a hard time finding shoes. It’s not because he has an obscure size, but because the Vancouver-based Web-marketing consultant is on a year-long mission to be the ultimate Canuck – for 2011, his goal is to consume nothing but Canadian products, food, media and culture.

“The project has been significantly an experience of denial, or going without,” Mr. Barefoot says of his “One Year, One Canadian’ venture in an interview at his west-side condo. “There are huge categories of stuff you simply cannot get. Shoes are a good example. I’ve yet to find hiking shoes or running shoes made in Canada. Even men’s dress shoes – I’ve only found two styles from Roots.”

Mr. Barefoot, who’s documenting his experiment in all things Canadian on his blog (oneyearonecanadian.ca), has devised a classification system to help define exactly what “made in Canada” means. Gold goes to items that are entirely sourced, manufactured and designed in Canada – which are rare, he notes. Silver is for stuff that’s manufactured and designed in Canada but that contains ingredients or materials from abroad, while bronze denotes items that are merely designed in Canada.

Mr. Barefoot’s favourite footwear, Fluevog, for instance, gets a bronze rating. Although designed by Vancouver icon John Fluevog in his Gastown studio, the shoes are made in Portugal, Peru, Vietnam and other parts of the world.

Meanwhile, his boxer briefs of choice, Stanfield’s, get silver. They are made in Truro, N.S., but sourced elsewhere.

“The only place I can buy clothes are boutiques on Main Street,” he says of the hip east-side neighbourhood that’s home to many independent designers and businesses. “If I went only gold standard, I would be wearing mukluks and snowsuits.”

Here’s how the project works: Every month, Mr. Barefoot adds a category in which he restricts himself to Canadiana. He started out in January with household goods; the next month was clothes. It’s cumulative, so by the end of the year, everything from the food he eats to the websites he visits to the music he listens to will all be purely Canadian.

Or at least that’s the theory. Mr. Barefoot admits the rules are flexible, and he regularly seeks input from those who read his blog and from his friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter.

A few factors motivated Mr. Barefoot to put his nationalist notion into practice. For one, he calls himself a bit of a patriot. “I wanted to shine a light on Canadian media and products and services,” he says.

For another, the timing seemed right, given the popular interest in going local. His project isn’t so much another 100-mile diet but rather the 3,000-mile lifestyle.

Then there’s the fact that he likes a challenge – and there’s been a few of those since the project began.

“I miss a lot of the cultural things, especially movies,” Mr. Barefoot says. “I used to go almost once a week, and the reality is there are very few Canadian movies in theatres. I’ve only seen a handful of movies this year.

“I didn’t watch much TV before … and I watched a lot of HBO shows; they’re so good. With Canadian television, a lot of it is pretty dreadful.”

That said, he has taken a liking to Being Erica and Dan for Mayor. Other cultural aspects have been easier: He’s reading John Vaillant’s The Golden Spruce. He has a membership at the Vancouver Art Gallery (where this year he’ll look only at Canadian work), while the Cowboy Junkies and Vancouver’s Dan Mangan are among his favourite musicians.

Food, too, has been a trial, not just because there aren’t plenty of options that are all Canadian (except, Mr. Barefoot notes, when it comes to processed food), but also because he’s the antithesis of a foodie: Never before did he care much about what he ate, never mind where it came from. Having to think about the source of his next meal is more of a chore than a pleasure.

“I can’t go out and grab a sandwich, and we probably won’t go out for dinner very much,” he says, noting that his wife and business partner is only randomly participating in the project. “There’s a new Indian place nearby, and she’s excited about that.”

Mr. Barefoot has also had some pleasant surprises.

He’s found a line of household goods – soaps, shampoo, cleaners – that’s entirely sourced and made in Canada, called Nature Clean. He thought it would be hard to find toilet paper, but discovered that Purex tissue is made at a mill in New Westminster, B.C., and a converting facility in Calgary.

He’ll be ordering sugar beets from Taber, Alta., where more than 600 producers grow the only domestic source of sugar.

The month of March presented finances, and Mr. Barefoot was relieved to learn that his financial adviser had already put his funds in Canadian investments.

The cost of living Canadian, Mr. Barefoot figures, will all even out when the project wraps up.

He did an experiment where he bought two sets of food and household goods, one strictly Canadian and the other not. The all-Canadian basket cost 33 per cent more. But such costs have been offset by denial – he likely went to 40 movies last year, compared to five or so this year. That’s a big saving.

Mr. Barefoot, who hopes to write a book about the project, stresses that he’s not out to change the world, nor is he about to give up Hollywood blockbusters or Italian leather for good. And he’s certainly not going to start making his own toiletries.

“The project is about thoughtful consumption. It’s not about getting back to the land,” he says. “A lot of people will write in and say, ‘You can use baking soda as deodorant’ or ‘You can make your own shampoo and here’s how.’ Those are not things that interest me.

“I’m interested in the decisions we can make or modify in our consumer culture. It all comes down to thinking a little bit more about what we consume.

“I think it’s healthy for people to be slightly more thoughtful about what they buy and where it comes from, and to consider what it took to make it.”

Plus, the patriot in him has loftier goals.

“I’d like to convince people to buy a few more Canadian things, watch more Canadian television, support Canadian magazines,” he says. “I’d like to see a week of Canadian buying every year.”

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