Getting it out There or Why it Takes me so long to Shop for Groceries

I try to stick to food for this blog – but today I’ve been really struck with a few items that while not directly related to food, do have a union with that topic, and are worthy of spouting off a bit about. Nor am I normally so vulnerable here, but I believe I need to be. It is good therapy for me. And perhaps also for you.

Today I am haunted by my own consumption. Judes and I joked a little over the holidays about how I believe that our consumer culture is the root of all evil (and, well, I do). But nonetheless it is our culture – so how do we live in this culture and keep a clear conscience? I’m not sure that we can.

I spent $50 a Wal-Mart today. I went in because it was convenient and I wanted to buy a mixer for less than $10, and Target was out. I hate shopping at Wal-Mart. Nickel & Dimed just flashes before me at every turn. I was both appalled and secretly thrilled to find things there so cheap. Two frozen rising crust pizzas for $8? Normally that would cost $10-$12. And they carry things with the appropriate key words: natural, organic. I can never decide if I am actually making the prudent choice or just being deceived.

I did end up buying organic milk and butter (something I NEVER do because of the cost differential) partly because I felt guilt for being in Wal-Mart period, and partly because I just watched Fresh. I mentioned this film in a previous post, but it really is sticking with me. I’ve known about the horrors of the meat and food industry in this country, but this film sort of solidified them for me. In particular the scene of baby chicks being dumped on the ground out of plastic bins – they make a terrible squawk, as well as the description an industrial turned natural farmer gave of a wound he received from one of his own pigs. The injury proved UNTREATABLE because of the amount of antibiotics pumped into his animals. Thinking about the schlock that makes its way into my food, before I even begin to work with it, horrifies me. Matt and I cannot afford to buy all our meat and food product as “organic” and “free-range” or “natural.” But I sure do want to. Not so much even from an environmental or political standpoint (all though those are important to) but more from a health standpoint. If am going to eat fats and meats and what not – I would like them to be doing something for my body other than making my summer pants too small. And not eating meat isn’t really an option at this point (although I considered it) because I cook for and eat with a Texan – to whom vegetarianism might as well be asceticism.

Another stroke of guilt that rolls through me when shopping (and not just at Wal-Mart) is that of indulgence. Unfortunately attending private college gave me a taste for expensive things – DAMN those wealthy roommates. For example, expensive candles really do smell better. So I will periodically indulge in one of these items, today it was nail polish, which really wasn’t that much of an indulgence given it was Revlon, but anyway – I spent about $8 on nail polish and as I was driving home was panged with the thought of how far that $8 could go in Haiti right now. HOW DO WE MANAGE THIS PEOPLE? Is it wrong to buy nail polish when we I could be making a donation to support Haitians? I rather think so, and yet, I rationalize the purchase as an attempt to better enact my femininity, which I regularly suck at. That is lame too. Not as lame (lame is not the appropriate word here but bear with me as I attempt some parallelism) as the horrific situation in Haiti, but lame.

At least the drive home was stunning. The wind is blowing snow around today, so the trees our delicately outlined. The sky is white – so the limbs appear delicate, black and tender. My trip home from Wal-Mart involves a long downward stretch lined densely with trees, and in concert with the sky today, they moved me to tears. Granted, it may have been the stress of deciding between nail polish and Haiti, or organic milk for $3.50 vs. standard antibioticized milk for $1.50 that built me up to that point, but the trees put me over the edge. And although my father will cringe to read this, I was so thankful for the opportunity to send all of these thoughts – the fear and guilt over Haiti, the concern over our food stuffs, and the awe for natural beauty – to God. I don’t feel like here is the place to justify or discuss my religious standing as I am kind of trying to wrap this all up nicely, but I will gladly go into more detail later (for a quick overview of my feelings perhaps watch a little Studio 60? I sort of rest somewhere in the middle of that argument). But today it was nice to put faith in the idea of a plan – that somebody, or something, some where’s got all our backs. Whether we are painting our toes or navigating rubble, I praise God for the peace and opportunity to put it all up to him and mindfully get on with our day.


  1. Here's me in the grocery store:

    I storm around with my basket, pawing at old produce, groaning at the difference in price of organic milk and non-organic, raging at all of the shitty substitutes we try to call food, and the laziness involved, and grimacing as I take the ruffled looking boring cabbage, which I know nothing about. What can be done?

    These questions are really hard ones to ask. They're also very important. I've spent most of my time living away from home in total anxiety about how I'm spending money on food. My family's always spent more on food: it's a priority. I've started to be more gentle with myself: I will go to the grocery store close to my house and just buy what I need for dinner. I make choices about what I buy organic and what I don't. Eggs? I try at least to buy free run from the market. Milk? Organic. Meat? Local and with no antibiotics - this doesn't always happen. I'm not made of money, neither are you, but I think we're part of an important generation, one that needs to make smarter food choices. That being said, choose your battles. I was so stressed out about what I was eating that it wasn't fun. It was affecting how I was participating in the world, and how I was contributing. That seems unproductive. So I buy organic when I can. Most of the produce I buy isn't organic because there isn't a good supply of it here in the dead of winter in Mtl, or one that's close to my house. Will I walk the 15 minutes to the market and haul back a sac of organic potatoes and onions? Yes. The stuff I've heard about those two crops is horrible. Doesn't mean I didn't go to the store the other night and buy a sac of non-organic onions. I didn't have time to buy organic ones. So I feel we have to juggle our priorities, even when we've decided what we want to make a priority. The fine line is a smudged one.

    Speaking of God, our higher being, our greater force, our whatever: Yes! To not completely lose faith in everything we're trying to do, we have to think elastically. Greater forces are at work. It is up to us to make decisions actively and to participate to make life a better place. But why? Why do we want to make it a better place? What is the point of continuing on if we've fucked it all up? Because life is more than a sac of potatoes, organic or not.

    This kind of writing, this kind of thinking is mixing philosophy and cooking, literature and cooking. It's what I want this place to be. Because we cook and eat to live. For me it's the center of everything else that goes on: one hell of a lot, regardless of your faith. Plus! It's where all the good stuff comes from. Honesty breeds discussion and thought. It was beautiful. Thanks for the words miss! Expect some from me soon.

    By the way, I'm all for buying nail polish and nice candles, especially beeswax ones (apparently any other kind will kill you!) We can be conscious consumers, and we can give to the world in such a way that we help make our home a better place. Hopefully that will radiate out and touch other places, like Haiti, to spread some sort of rationality about living conditions in general.


  2. Also:

    Note this link about milk from our favourite Mr. Amster-Burton!

  3. JUDES.

    Milk article, excellent. Makes me want to move home.

    And this is it: "The fine line is a smudged one."

    Thank you!


  4. These thoughts I think are what are so important. They are the defining moments of not only who we are but what we want to be. I too must admit to similar anxieties. Sitting in huge lecture halls, learning about the reasons that fair trade coffe might be a terrible idea, creating surpluses and ultimately dropping prices, but also learning about how awful life is for those farmers who are not fair trade. Where is the balance? Where do my decisions fit in? Why was I fortunate enough to be born on Vancouver island, provided daily with all the nutrients and neccesities for life? What impact do I make? How do I concientiously consume? Is there a way to no consume at all? Is that the best answer?
    And I think "the fine line is a smudged one" addresses these thoughts perfectly. There must be balance between being concientious consumers, or non-consumers, but also there must be maintenance of sanity, and yes, femininity, even in such things as nail polish. Becuase it is these things that make us individuals and only as individuals are we able to make differences.


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