Then in the middle of a "Manufacturing Processes" lecture, the prof said something about how, as opposed to manufacturers, consumers don't consume raw materials.
I perked right up. I'm a consumer, I thought to myself, and I consume raw materials all the time.
Moreover, the resurgence of craft in the US* has redefined what it means to be a consumer.
* cf. MAKE magazine, steampunk, TechShop & The Crucible, hobbyist/amateur frame builders, this WIRED article mentioned previously, and even The Whole Earth Catalog
These "crafters 2.0" are consuming raw and semi-raw materials (as well as scrap materials, even better). They're a different kind of consumer.
It's a niche, but thanks to The Long Tail, it's a valuable niche.
This way of consuming smacks of a bygone age, when a family used what nature provided to produce what they needed to survive.
The settlers who populated the American frontier didn't head to Wal-Mart to stock the wagon on their way out of town. There was no all-inclusive, Chinese-made, Frontier-Settling Kit.
They processed the raw resources around them, and they used those resources completely, wasting little.
They manufactured on-site a lot of what they needed: a house, a plow, leather goods, clothing, food. Manufactured goods were expensive before mass production, so it was cheaper to make rather than buy.
Perhaps I'm being sentimental.
But I wonder what can be learned from these frontier ancestors. The best of them were tough, innovative, self-sufficient, and hard-working.