Grocery Shopping

I tried to buy butter and I had a crisis inside the grocery store.

I am having a really hard time with consumerism.  Buying things is one of the things that makes me miss the road most sharply, I miss being a rucksack wanderer and leafing through Kerouac while hitchhiking from one small town to the next: “See the whole thing is a world full of rucksack wanderers, Dharma Bums refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming, all that crap they didn’t really want anyway such as refrigerators, TV sets, cars, and general junk you finally always see a week later in the garbage anyway, all of them imprisoned in a system of work, produce, consume, work, produce, consume…”

Living and traveling without money was in many ways an intensely political act.  Living out my own principles and learning how to survive for two years without a job, turning my life into as total a rejection of consumer culture as possible, was a powerful experience.  And in moving to Boulder, I resolved to continue that rejection, even while making certain compromises (I would be paying for a place to live and thus working).  But then I started to realize what things I would need in order to be comfortable and clean in a house, so I compromised about not buying anything, and I started going to thrift stores and yard sales.  Then I compromised about household products like toilet paper and soap and I started spending money at Target.

And now I’m trying to figure out how to stock a kitchen.  I’m standing there in the grocery store with a basket dangling from my fingers that contains a bag of rice and two apples and a pear and I don’t know what to do.  There’s an endless array of items in front of me.  If I buy a box of cereal I’m paying for the release of toxic chemicals into the atmosphere to manufacture cardboard and plastic wrapping.  If I buy the wrong apples I’m funding the pointless burning of fossil fuels to ship these things halfway around the world from New Zealand.  If I buy meat I’m paying for the slaughter of animals, etc.  If I get unhealthy food, since I’m no longer just eating what I find, I am now fully responsible for my poor diet because I’m the one choosing what I eat.

It’s really important to me to be conscious about this!  But the last time I stocked a kitchen was in college, when I bought microwave dinners, hot dogs, and frozen pizzas.  I simply don’t know how to buy food the right way.  Never mind the fact that I don’t really know how to cook healthy, nutritious, conscious meals (unless I’m cooking over a campfire).  I don’t know how to find an apple that wasn’t shipped ten thousand miles to the store.  I don’t know if I’m supposed to buy bagged flour, generic flour, bulk flower, or go to a natural market for flour, or go to the bulk food store for flour, or if I even need to have flour in my kitchen.  It was so much easier to just outright reject the whole system.  But this process is important, because now that I have to make these compromises and decide what ways I am going to engage the system, I have to actually learn to make smart decisions, which is going to take me being much more knowledgeable and informed.

The butter was difficult (Salted?  Unsalted?  Sweet Cream?  Organic?  Whipped?  European style?  Lite style?  Spreadable butter?  Butter-like spread?  Oh my God), but the dish soap makes me freak out even harder.  I would love to know what I must have looked like to someone else.  Restlessly pacing back and forth in front of the shelves, grabbing at mostly identical bottles and staring feverishly at labels, setting them all down and arranging them in a line and staring at them as if I expect all but one of them to explode from the intensity of my gaze.  Somebody probably walks by and notices me, does a loop of the whole store, comes back to grab something they forgot, and is startled to see me in exactly the same place as I was last time, still pacing frantically.  Do I get Dawn, because of the comfort that comes from its unconscious association with my childhood?  Or do I succumb to the influence of propaganda and go with Palmolive, since I just saw a nice commercial?  Do I buy the generic store brand, or should I pick Seventh Generation because the words “natural” and “organic” are printed on the bottle?  Does it even make any difference at all?  I’m tempted to just automatically grab organic everything, but that’s really no better than just buying what advertisements or my unconscious tell me to buy—I am still totally uninformed and simply being influenced by labels and packaging.  I can’t buy my way out of the need to be aware of how I’m affecting the world.  What it comes down to is that I simply don’t know what the effects of my purchasing decisions are, and right now what bothers me most is not the fact that if I buy a non-organic, not fair trade bag of coffee, I might by paying for genocide, what bothers me most is the fact that I just don’t know either way.


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4 Responses to Grocery Shopping

  1. kmcnay says:

    I love it and love the photo!!! Congratulations Dave. You look great in your new duds!!

  2. Shawna says:

    I can’t help it, this post left me giggling. You have opened up a can of worms my friend, lol! You know the saying “ignorance is bliss” ? Well, you are no longer ignorant. I have been that person in the grocery store so many times, shoot I still am if they throw a new product that I’m unfamiliar with in front of me. I was vegetarian for a long time due to this moral confusion we face when it comes to consumption. Then I started to realize how inhumane the process of producing eggs and milk is and how many chemicals are sprayed on my fruit and vegetables, and how unfair the work practices are on most agricultural farms, and that my asparagus were being shipped all the way from Peru, leaving a huge carbon footprint. It can be so frustrating! I finally broke from vegetarianism when I moved out here near my dad and realized I was actually refusing home cooked meals that were being offered to me because it didn’t meet my moral standards. Then I realized how ridiculous, not to mention unsustainable it was to be refusing food, especially familiar meals that have brought my family together at the table for years. I still am quite picky about what I purchase from the grocery store, but have learned to not stress on it so bad. Sometimes just the experience of enjoying something out weighs the need to be constantly sustainable. However, we vote with our money in this capitalist society. If we want to see more organic foods in the market, we need to buy more organic foods, therefore creating a higher demand. A few tips I’ve learned.

    – Don’t look at price tags, look at labels. That $1 more that your spending may seem detrimental, but it’s just freakin money!
    – If you can’t understand even one ingredient on the label, try to avoid buying it.
    – If the list of ingredients is insensibly long, don’t buy it.
    – Buy local from farmer’s markets whenever you can, even if it’s not completely organic.
    – Oh, and learn to cook, lol. Pre- made foods are almost always going to be filled with unnecessary chemical preservatives.
    -When it comes to cleaning products it’s much more confusing because they are not required to list ingredients. Look for free and clear products (no unnecessary chemicals), and try to learn to make your own.Vinegar and water is great for cleaning your kitchen.

    Currently I am learning how to make my own soaps, and you can buy many soaps from people online that make them. Check out, I’ve purchased all my bath soaps and shampoos from there for a long time now. I could even send you bath soap that I make, if your interested. The bottom line is search for simplicity (I love the KISS philosophy, Keep It Simple Silly) Just remember, you’re voting with your money and by doing that you are making a difference in the world, and turning consumerism into a political act.

    Once again, your blog post has got me rambling, lol. I hope you don’t mind. I love to read your posts! and to respond to them, I love thought provoking conversation 🙂


    • Dave Korn says:

      I’m so sorry I never responded to this comment. But know that I read and appreciated it very much. I’m hoping to get this blog going again fairly soon, and I intend to be much better about keeping up with it! I hope you’re doing well…
      Thanks again

  3. Shawna says:

    Oh, and for furniture and other random items, have you checked out ?

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