Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Big Box Stores - An Industrial Dilemma

I’ve been avoiding thinking about this, much less discussing it. At the risk of sounding somewhat melodramatic, I have to say that I hate the big W. It is the ultimate representation, in my mind, of what ails our society: consumption, consumption and over-consumption of cheap crap that you won’t care about tomorrow. Montana has been slow to get on the W wagon but a Super W just opened in Kalispell and I finally went shopping there last week. Usually, I only buy prescriptions or health and beauty items (toothpaste, shampoo, etc.) there, but after seeing the prices, I did my grocery shopping there. Here’s the thing: I can’t afford not to. In the past three years, my income has decreased by 2/3rds and I was barely above the poverty line before then. I receive food assistance from the government, go to the local food bank and apparently, food shop at the Big W. I could kick myself now for every time I’ve shopped at W without giving it a second thought. Before my education.

I don’t want to support W with what little money I now make. I do want to eat. I will eat healthy. There’s no way I can afford food shares from a local CSA and W has beautiful produce with an organic selection that someone on such a limited budget simply can’t pass up.

The food I bought at W would’ve cost me over twice as much at my local grocery; close to three times as much at my local health food store, both of which I would much rather support. I would boycott W if I could. But for our household I have to make decisions and obtain the best food at the best price that I possibly can. So I’m presented with a major ongoing dilemma.

Last year I joined a club store so I could afford to purchase items like wild salmon, nuts, bulk olive oil and a peach mango salsa that I became addicted to. Then I worked at that store for two days. I didn’t work for that store because I worked for the contractor that handles the flowers sold there – or rather the contractor that the contractor that handles the flowers hired to maintain the flower display. My first day after a 6-hour training 4 weeks earlier was Mother’s Day weekend, the second largest floral holiday of the year. I arrived at 7:00 on Saturday morning and met up with 10 pallets of flowers to be stocked, restocked, maintained, displayed and sold on my first day of work. Nice. Workers are hired through a system whereby the employee is completely dispensable unless they're part of “corporate.” At the end of the day, all the flowers that weren’t sold and were showing the slightest bit of age were required to be thrown in the dump with a club store employee present. And that’s just the beginning. Air miles, ground miles and despicable waste is being produced to get those stupid flowers into that stupid display so stupid people can buy them at the least cost. Only people aren’t necessarily stupid – just very uninformed, dulled by the promise of more of the best and always for less no matter what – no matter the cost to our planet and millions of people in third-world countries who can’t afford not to produce the food for the conglomerates. Now it’s time to re-up with the store and while I hate it, I will probably do it because otherwise I will not be eating those items, only one of which I consider a complete luxury.

I guess the best advice I have if you find yourself in a similar predicament - not wanting to buy from the big stores, but unable to afford not to, is to do what you have to do right now. Don't feel guilty about it, but be very aware of all the social consequences you're supporting that you would rather not. Become more conscious and start small to empwer yourself away from the corporate food grid for the long-term.

On the positive side, my permaculture campaign with the cowboy is slowly but surely making progress. I hope that by next summer we will at least have a goat, some chickens, a worm farm and share a garden like I’m doing this year. We’ve also decided to store some dry items like rice, beans, salt and grains. Following the links will show you how each one of these things is not only fairly simple, but healthier for humans and the planet. I believe that for the planet to heal, food production needs to go as absolutely local as possible: like your back yard. Don't forget good dirt: an acre of organic cropland can take approximately 7,000 lbs. of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year.

Meanwhile summer just can’t quite get here this year. We built a fire for warmth on the 5th of July. But last Saturday it was 80 degrees and we kayaked McDonald Lake in the Mission Mountains. That's where the picture above was taken. I'm so fortunate to live in a place that still retains remnants of wildness.


Sherri said...

Man, that's always been a dilemma for me, too. But I came to the same conclusion you did. At the moment I need to shop there. Being more ecologically aware has definitely changed the way I shop, though. Shopping isn't a sport, it's a way to get the things I need.

Just do what you can.

Jules said...

Very real issue. I think you are right - be aware and do what you need to do in order to survive now.

Angela, As always you prompt me to think. (((hug)))