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February 24, 2011

Consumer Confessional

I mumble to myself and corral three young children towards BJs Wholesale warehouse. Reciting the grocery list aloud has proven beneficial for the 40 (or so) minute challenge that's to come. With simultaneous kid management, cart maneuvering, comparative pricing, and shooting down an infinite need for cartooned based fruit snacks, I simply can't afford much aisle backtracking.

Here's a partial account of our ridiculous grocery list, a list created by husband and wife who are both allied health professionals:

"Pretzels, syrup, waffles, bread, butter, dishwasher detergent, fish crackers, diet soda, granola..."

Don't get me wrong. The granola is the fully loaded, sugared-up type. The "wheat" bread is basically delicious white bread with brown dye. If I recall, the only healthy and whole items on the list were blueberries and yogurt. Most yogurts are still good for you, right?

Amy does plan and prepare home cooked meals that include vegetables and all that. But waffles and cheerios are a battle worth fighting only once per day. Okay, Honey Nut cheerios. I throw some fruit in and call it a meal.

This is not a misrepresentation of our typical shopping experience. Nothing on our list is organic or certified anything. Kid friendly finger foods outnumber truly healthy fare by at least 3 to 1. Denials outnumbering requests by 30 to 1. There's anticipation, surprise, laughing, crying, adventurous grocery cart antics, and free cheese. There's friendly and not so friendly gawks from innocent store patrons caught up in our situation through no fault of their own.

Are we careful consumer?  Is our lifestyle and the votes we make with our dollars harmful to our health and our neighbors health? There are reasons why we choose not to worry too much about the conditions of the workers and animals that produced our Progresso chicken noodle soup.

Wholesale big boxes are just so convenient. A few weeks ago my "grocery" list included underwear and a new digital camera. I'm plainly unsophisticated and simply don't care too much about the finer details of these items. Going by history, I'll ruin both of them in less than a year, probably while mountain biking. 

They're also cheap. We're no "foodies." We simply don't have the desire (or demand) to cook strictly healthy, unprocessed meals three times per day.The six (going on seven) of us are a fairly genetically blessed bunch who tend not to overeat for our activity levels. BMIs and cholesterol counts are well in check. We really try not to buy what we do not need, and try not to waste what we buy.

I'd love to take a few hours every few days to drive up to the Central PA Farmers Market for fresh, locally grown goods. I've never been there, but I'm sure it would be an awesome and meaningful rhythm to the day. We would commune with vendors who know us by name, buying ground meat from a burly guy named Hoss and home made jam from a bonnet-wearing lady who goes by Granny Howard.

I can rarely afford time for that. We've made decisions on our work, leisure, home educating the children, and related areas. Although our income is sufficient, I'm certain that we cannot financially afford to support our large family on organic, fair trade, free range foods AND pay back student loans AND generously share our blessings with those in need both here and abroad.

I'd like to think we're at least moving in the direction of "doing the best we can with what we have." But I'm far from sure that big warehouse shopping can be compatible with good stewardship. There will always be something that we could be doing better.

My coffee. I could probably afford to make a better statement with my coffee...

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2 comments:

Sam Van Eman said...

You know what's amazing? It takes you 40 minutes with your kids. It takes me nearly two hours without.

Got to make decisions faster.

shrinkingthecamel.com said...

Bob, first of all thanks for the honesty here. I am all for organic, healthy, locally-raised meals, and the ethical politics of food, but I keep coming back to this exact thing you bring up: It's not a practical, convenient, or cost-effective reality for just about 90% of the population (it seems). Some would argue this, but it just seems like it has turned into a practice for the elite, who can afford to live in certain areas or shop in certain areas. Or hire someone to outsource certain areas of life.

I think of the rant from Annete Benning in the movie, "The Kids are All Right." She says, "If I hear one more person say how much they love heirloom tomatoes, I'm going to effing kill myself."

Funny.

Don't get me wrong - I do love eating well.