Some days I’m dumb.
Like last fall, for example. I lined up my 3 coolers in the back yard, filled them full of bleach water and then scrubbed them out while wearing my most favorite, comfortable, blissfully casual, long sleeved, V-neck black dress. Obviously that little frock immediately landed in the rag bin out in the garage.
Then there was the day I used the self-checkout at the grocery store. I kept trying to pay for my order, but every time I attempted to run my debit card the little automated voice thingy would say things like “assistance needed” or “please use the touch screen to complete your order.”
This went on repeatedly. I was getting fired up. I even remember thinking this situation is the exact reason we need to interact with humans in our daily lives instead of relying on stupid machines. I turned to summon help from the all-knowing 12ish-year-old attendant working the self-checkout station when I noticed an older gentleman staring at me with this completely dumbfounded expression on his face.
“These self-check out machines drive me crazy,” I explained. “It’s just not working!”
His face suddenly melted into this look of genuine compassion. You know, like the kind of face we make when we see an injured baby bird or when a really cute little toddler falls down and skins his knee. It’s that look where we tilt our head and press our lips together, making just the slightest consolation of a smile. His eyes kind, almost apologetic, he says to me “ Honey this is my check out station. Yours is back there behind you. ”
What the hell is wrong with me that I would run all of my groceries through one self-check station and then just obliviously waltz on over to another station to pay for my order? I seriously had to do some soul searching after that incident.
Anyway, now that I’ve convinced you of how dumb I am, let me balance it out by telling you how I’m slightly smart. (I realize this will take some convincing…)
A few years back, I got serious about making a dent in the way we live as consumers. Specifically, the way we consume our foods. There were several sticking points that I continuously found myself struggling with every time I stocked the pantry, the fridge or the freezer. I wanted less packaging, less preservatives, less mileage going into my salad bowl and more nutritional value going into my children’s bodies. Think about it. We spend hours researching the safest car seats, infant carriers and strollers for the safety of our children, but we’ll go out that very evening and purchase fake chemical packed cheese slices for their lunchboxes and feed them antibiotic-ridden, hormone-filled chicken breasts, raised beak to butt in the darkest most unsanitary, unnatural, completely disgusting environments on earth.
It just doesn’t make sense.
But here are a few of the problems I face as a consumer who wants to be more responsible. First, it requires a lot of thinking, researching, planning and intention. (This is where being slightly smart helps.) Second, real food requires a real chunk of change. This fact is the biggest challenge for us. I can’t afford to buy all locally grown, organic, non-GMO everything. And realistically, I can’t stop the major food packaging industries in our nation and beyond from placing their products on Styrofoam, then shrink wrapping them, then slipping them in a pointless plastic bag, then in a colorful box and then shipping to our country – a world away. This is just the way things are done. One person making a few mindful purchases at the grocery store each week can’t possibly change all of that. Am I right? Yep. I’m right.
But guess what?
Many people making a few mindful purchases at the grocery store each week can change all of that.
But we have to band together. We have to want to change this industry in our country. It has to be a priority in our lives. We have to be willing to change our lifestyles a bit. Think more. Plan more. Allow our selves to be a little inconvenienced from time to time. But most importantly, we have to be smart. We have to consciously make purchases (or choose to NOT make purchases) based on the changes we want to see in the food production, processing and packaging industry in our country.
Sometimes this means our 4-year-olds will go completely limp in the frozen food section of the supermarket because they can’t have the mini corndogs with the super exciting carnival scene on the front of the box. As your precious wee one slides out of your arms, drips down your body and melts onto the supermarket floor whilst belting out bloodcurdling screeches, you will be faced with disapproving looks from self-righteous humans who will most certainly be judging you. And while it will be an epic challenge in that moment, I implore you to remember one specific thing… For every crotchety bystander who writes you off as lacking in parental aptitude, there is a crunchy mama one aisle over who is most likely making that same “compassion face” the old man gave me when I lost my sanity at the self-check station several months ago. (See previous paragraphs outlining why I’m dumb.) PRESS ON in spite of the conniption fit. Get serious about making this change in your consumerism.
So what does this sort of change in thinking and eating and purchasing look like for the average person? First, it’s crucial to know that this lifestyle looks different for everyone. For some folks, it means avoiding animal products, resources and processing all together and simply living as a vegetarian or vegan. My husband would most likely become catatonic if he didn’t consume animal fat from time to time. Not an option for us.
For one of my dear friends, feeding her family healthy food and buying ethically raised meat and responsibly packaged products requires her to spend about 3-4 hours of her Saturday mornings or Sunday afternoons market hopping to prep for the week ahead. She does this by choice to get the best prices and the best food she can for her family. The time and effort it takes to stock her pantry is energy well spent and ultimately energy well consumed.
For others, conscious consumerism means shopping exclusively at high-end grocery stores with a vast selection of the most responsibly sourced, nutrient rich, non-GMO, grass-fed, free range magic. You know the places of which I speak… Take a peek at the family history of these pork chops and sit down for a screening of the documentary about the farm where your eggs came from and while you’re at it, read this pamphlet on why everything we stock on our shelves is made of wizard-like goodness, deliberately selected with your gut health in mind, all of which will most likely provide shoes for every human in third world countries across the globe. PS… Plant the pamphlet when you’re done, it’s made of biodegradable fairy dust and beanstalk seeds.
Realistically we are a one-income family with 3 children who prefer to wear clothing, have toothbrushes and access to running water. So yeah, if ever I find myself becoming a plastic surgeon or real-estate tycoon then I might be able to buy a $7 package of pasta. Until then I’ll keep exploring other options.
So for us, conscious consumerism looks a bit different. I grow as much of my own food as possible, including vegetables, berries, citrus, chickens, turkey and quail – for both meat and eggs. Through canning and pressure-cooking, dehydration and freezing, I am able to preserve a significant amount of my homegrown harvests. We make an effort to buy grass-fed beef and locally grown pork. It’s an investment we feel good about. This is the first year we’ve been able to purchase both local pork and grass-fed beef from family-owned farms. Maybe our income will change and it won’t be an option again for a while. Or maybe we’ll save up and get that Dexter cow I’ve been dreaming about for a couple years. Who knows?
But even with our little hobby farm and what I would consider a fairly “hardcore” approach to more sustainable and healthy nutrition, we still fall drastically short of being perfect around here. Just open my freezer and you’ll see about 6,000 of those absolutely disgusting skinny, multicolored, frozen, plastic-wrapped sugar water popsicles that most definitely bring out demons in children. Sometimes the whiney kid wins… (Or in this case, the whiney husband. He is passionate about those sweet treats in the summertime!)
No matter how serious of an effort we make to limit our consumerism and grow our own, we still have to shop for food. Sure, we visit local farmer’s markets to pick up certain fruits and vegetables that I’m either not growing or that aren’t yet ready for harvest. Not to mention, we visit those farm markets because they’re nearby and our contribution helps financially sustain my neighbors. And let’s face it, the vegetables are almost always more flavorful than the tasteless imported selections we find at the grocery store.
But farm markets can be pricey and I can’t grow vegetables all year round. Therefore, just like the rest of society I require supermarkets to feed my family. But the point is, we’re thinking about how we eat, we’re identifying ways to make changes in our consumerism and most importantly we’re doing something (no matter how small) to embrace change. All of that matters.
I’ve not solved the problem. We still waste things everyday. (KEY WORDS: Paper towels) We still buy things we don’t need and occasionally I cave in and snag the sugar cereal for the turdlings of the house. But I’m using my brain to identify ways to put a dent in this wasteful lifestyle that we have lived for so long. And although I’m not as “svelte” as I once was, I am eating more nutritiously than I ever have in my life and I certainly feel better than ever as the result. We don’t have to be perfect. We just have to start somewhere and make real food a priority.
So, yeah. Sometimes I’m dumb. But sometimes when I cook dinner for my family, I feel pretty smart.