Tuesday, August 28, 2007

On dichotomy

The market has united us all as consumers, but divided us as citizens. I don't mean divided us into two parties or anything like that. I mean divided each one of us into two parts: the "I-want" consumer and the "We-should" citizen.

Here's an example I'm dealing with right now. If I eat locally and organically, maybe a hamburger and french fries dinner will cost about $7 for me -- that's if I cook at home, not if I eat out. If I eat the same amount of food, with the same amount of protein and "fuel," at a fast food restaurant, I can spend as little as $2. Obviously there are health issues at play, but all things equal (amount of grease and salt used, etc.), the mass-market option costs me less. That's money I can use, since we're none of us rolling in the dough. Five dollars saved for dinner is not negligible.

Then there's WalMart. The writer I'm reading, Benjamin Barber, calls the new economy "the WalMart economy." The WalMart economy divides each of us between our desire and sometimes our need for cheap products -- not because we're supporting Asian sweatshop labor but because we do not have $200 for a local, renewable-resource, craft-made set of dishes. What we have is $30 for the on-sale stuff made in China, and sold at WalMart. But given the choice, would you buy the same toilet paper for $1 a four-pack on sale at WalMart, or $3.50 at your independent drugstore? Well?

That's the problem. For me, and most of my friends and family, the issue is not "I want it cheap and I like to go to WalMart!" (as Barber claims is our infantile "gimme" desire). The issue goes beyond that into what can we actually afford in this economy that looks to go sideways at any time, and leave our generation with no Social Security and no retirement funds. But we also know that the WalMart and fast food model is not something we can afford, either, as a society.

So I've figured out the way to get out of it. Of course, it's theoretical ... and on something like TP, you can't really do this ... but the only way I see to get out of this is to get off the ride of where to get this stuff entirely. Just jump off. If I think I need something and can get it for cheap at a big box, or I can get it for too much money locally made, maybe I don't really need it. I can improvise something else, I can get it for free on freecycle, I can buy it secondhand in any number of places, I can borrow it from a friend, I can fix what I have that the new product would replace, or I can just do without it.

Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.

That's why I want to grow and raise my own fruit and vegetables. This gets me off the organic/local is expensive / Safeway is cheap seesaw. Right now I just try to compromise and buy local, organic, and cheap stuff.

And then when it comes to the TP, the only option is to support my independent drugstore. I can save that $2.50 by failing to go into WalMart at all and picking up those other things that seem to attach to big box shoppers like leeches.


Cindy said...

I struggle a bit with the buying food verses growing it myself. I haven't been able to garden before, but I plan to next year. At the same time, I want to continue to support local farmer's, so they can continue to thrive to be available for others who 1) don't have the skill, time, space, etc to grow food (I realize that I have the luxury of gardening) 2) be a local option instead of far-away foods in grocery stores 3) remain in business. too many farmers have been lost already.

My solution may be to garden items M& I wouldn't normally buy, or garden the things I really like (cucumbers, tomatoes, and other things), to open up the option to buy different items from local farmers than we have this season.

tk said...

I think you have a good way of thinking about it -- not just "I'll garden everything we're going to eat" but also trying to actively help the farmers stay in business, too. Since we DO live in a community and not on our own homesteads 20 miles apart, we have to think about those guys too. There's no point in ignoring that fact.

You could also garden what you can gift to others around the holidays or birthdays. One less way to have to shop in the mall ...