A blog about writing . . . and a lot of other things

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Guilt of Economizing

One of the most consistent parts of my personality, second only to my love of talking, is that I am cheap.

I have generations of economical German housewives in my heritage - solid women built like linebackers who could feed a family of ten for nearly nothing and saved all sorts of things for future use: aluminum foil, tape dispensers, etc.  In fact, my grandma died nearly a decade ago and I still have some gift wrap that I inherited from her that she bought on sale in the 1970s that I'm slowly working my way through.  It's hideous, but, by golly, it wraps gifts!

Mindy's garden of lettuce and kale.  I'm so proud!
My cheapness gets a good, regular workout at the grocery store.  I do most of my grocery shopping at WinCo.  The company began in Boise, has stores all over the western United States, and is a marvelous place where everything is a great deal.  It's not like a Grocery Outlet or a Save-a-Lot where you never know what you'll find.  WinCo is a full-service grocery store.  Does it have the best produce?  No.  Does it have a classy deli?  No.  It doesn't have much organic food, either.  In fact, it doesn't even take credit cards or bag your groceries.  However, it is cheap, and I find I spend between 20% and 40% less by shopping there.

Sometimes I do feel a little awkward being the only person there not using food stamps, though.

Unfortunately, there isn't a WinCo in my town.  I force myself to shop locally for smaller shopping trips because the cost of gas and the time expended to drive up to the closest WinCo really takes a lot of the fun out of shopping there.  However, it causes me physical pain to put things into my cart at normal grocery stores knowing I'm spending too much on them.  I find myself thinking, "$5.98!!!  This is $3.29 at WinCo!  AUGH!"  And then I get to the checkout line and my one bag of groceries is $65.00, and I have to bite my tongue to keep from sounding like a 90-year-old man who remembers the depression.

My tomato bins.  Very classy, huh?
Recently my cheapness has come head-to-head with my desire to pursue a healthier, more socially-conscious lifestyle, and this is a problem.  I watched Food Inc., which I recommend wholeheartedly if you want to feel guilty about what you eat and never be able to go into a McDonalds again.  I cried through the entire movie.  I am not joking.  After watching it I was determined to eat only local, organic food.

But do you realize how expensive local, organic food is?  It's insane!  And right after watching it Safeway had a deal on extra lean ground beef for $1.99 a pound and even though I knew that those cows and the men butchering them must have been soundly abused to get me meat at that price, I bought eighteen pounds of it and most of it is still in my freezer today.  Every time I pull some out I'm torn between glee at getting such a deal and shame at caving in to big agriculture.

Nothing says nutrition like
food growing in a Home Depot bucket.
The issue is just not that simple.  (Nothing ever is.)  Many of the practices of big agriculture, much like big banks, are absolutely appalling if you do any research.  Between poor labor and business practices, environmental abuses, and dirty political lobbying, hardly anyone who is not on the payroll of one of these companies would really want to have anything to do with them.  However, big agriculture sells really cheap food, and most Americans don't have the luxury of buying local and organic.  They're just trying to put food on the table and don't much care what it is.

So what's the solution?  Honestly, I have no idea.  I couldn't choose a political party, either.  That's why I'm baking my own bread and raising my own produce and going to my farmer's market even though sometimes the cost gives me heart palpitations.  But I'm also still shopping at WinCo because those prices are really, really good.

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