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It’s Not Easy, Being Green.


As a lefty/crunchy granola/pop-culture influenced foodie type, I am well aware that “green is the word.” I read Michael Pollan, Russ Parsons, and Barbara Kingsolver. I watch the network entirely devoted to all things green, from Ed Begley Jr. installing solar panels and a rain barrel to Emeril teaching the clueless how to cook entire meals using only the vegetable section of Whole Foods. I recycle, I re-purpose, I shop at the Farmers Market, I covet the Prius, I make my own non-toxic cleaning products, and I am always meaning to start composting. Conceptually I am in. Way, way in.

Here’s the thing, though. It is very, very expensive to be green. The only eco-friendly things that I do that actually save money are making my own cleaning products, using cloth rags and napkins instead of buying paper, and using energy-efficient light bulbs. It may be TMI, but I will tell you that money is very tight around here these days, as it is for many people.

We don’t have a Whole Foods in these parts, but I know from a variety of sources that there is a  high price to be paid for all of that fresh, organic wonderfulness. I know firsthand that the small selection of organic produce available at our local health food store and co-op is much more expensive than the same produce at my grocery store, and that I pay farmers at the market at least 10% more per item than I would pay at said grocery. Whenever cash flow allows, I buy all of my weekly produce at the Farmers Market, and I love everything about it, from the contact with the farmers to the knowledge that my family is supporting local agriculture. When cash doesn’t allow, I buy my eggplants, zucchini, onions and melons at the large grocery store where I buy everything else. At this time of year, because we live in farm country, much of what I purchase at the grocery store is locally grown, and I look for those things. I still feel guilty.

I continue to feel guilty when I do not buy the line of grass-fed beef sold at our grocery store because it is TWICE AS MUCH as the undoubtedly chemical-fed, tortured, ill-used beef I feed my family. Organic milk is at least a dollar more a carton than “regular,” and organic, minimally processed anything is generally more expensive than it’s more processed counterpart. Since Rob and I started eating healthy/low carb I have noticed that highly processed, refined “crap snacks” are infinitely cheaper and likelier to be on sale than the vegetables, nuts and cheese that we eat in their stead. Our one serious indulgence, low carb/reduced sugar ice cream bars are nearly twice as much as the full-sugar variety.  Quinoa costs more than rice, pasta or potatoes per serving, and low-glycemic pasta costs more than that made with white flour. Healthy costs more, green costs more, organic costs more.

The nervous tic near my right eye starts to twitch when I read statements by food pundits about how we are not used to paying what food is really worth, and that we have become used to a McDonalds and Walmart pricing system that makes us shocked at the prices of food that is produced in ways that are humane and earth-friendly. I am not a frequent McDonalds customer, I will not shop at Walmart, but I am still a person working within a tight budget with a growing boy in the house. We have to have enough food in the house that I can make filling, healthy meals, and we can have reasonable snacks. If, to quote the Barenaked Ladies, I had a million dollars, I would be all over the grass fed beef, the locally grown produce and the hormone free milk. Until then, I buy what I can afford. And feel guilty.

Cleaning products and paper goods are another whole issue good for a little guilt action an my part. I make my own cleaning products which are incredibly cheap, as effective as anything I can buy, and safer for my family and pets. Win-win. I use rags instead of paper towels; even win-nier. I try not to use plastic wrap and bags, which drives Rob crazy, and which I’m still working on, but, if it works, it’s both green and economical. I also use trash bags made of recycled plastic which tend to be punctured with a mere glance, and recycled toilet paper which is kind of like what you’d find in a campground bathroom, both of which make Rob even crazier, but he puts up with it because he loves me. I hit the wall when it comes to laundry and dish washing products. It’s really hard to make your own laundry soap; I’ve never seen a “recipe” for detergent, spot remover or fabric softener. The same is true of dishwasher soap. The last time I shopped for such things, my budget allowed me to buy “green” laundry soap and dish soap, but even then I could not countenance the incredible expense of green dishwasher soap which, according to my sources, doesn’t even work very well. Next time out, I may just have to buy the bottle of Palmolive dish soap on sale for $1.50 instead of the Seventh Generation version for $3.00+.  Sometimes, it’s what I have to do, but I’ll still feel guilty about the pollutants I’m rinsing into our water supply.

I have only touched on the purchases we make that are subject to green scrutiny, internal and otherwise. Shampoo and conditioner from one of the health-food store lines is two to three times more expensive than Pantene or Herbal Essences. Pet food is vastly more expensive. Deodorant, toothpaste, dog shampoo, canned soup, crackers, yogurt, cereal…all a great deal more expensive in their organic/green formats.

The point of this rant, I guess, is that it is very easy to preach about the value of the grass fed, the solar, the phosphate-free and the organic when you are in a position to afford it all. My mother has wisely reminded me that much of the preaching is not directed at me; I already know and understand ecological “best practices,” and implement them as often as possible. The fact that I feel guilty when I make the choices I have to make is really my own issue. What about the people who have less money than I do, though? What about the people who buy food from the dollar menu at McDonald’s because it’s really, truly cheaper than buying the food to prepare a meal for the same number of people? What about the people who might save money if the drove a Prius, or installed solar panels, but who lack the funds? Is “being green” realistically the province only of the well-heeled and the folks whose lifestyles allow them to leave the grid completely? Maybe, until such time as the economic playing field is equalled a bit, there should be less bully pulpit and more compassion and assistance.

It will be a beautiful day when green choices are similar in cost to less green choices, but until then I can honestly live without affluent greenazis looking down their noses at those of us who still shop at regular grocery stores, drive gas-burning vehicles and commit various other sins against the environment. I’m betting that my IQ and social consciousness are a good match for the best of them; all they have that I don’t have is enough money to buy a Prius and spend $7.00 on organic dishwasher soap.

9 responses »

  1. Ann,

    Having the benefit of a Missouri Synod upbringing, let me confide that some of us are guilty no matter what we do. I would not change a thing though, because it makes one evaluate where we fit into the larger picture.

    Conciousness of our station in this life helps make the day to day desicions almost a default. But, a conciousness of our planet and what our task here is what makes us strive for more. Do we even know if the claims of ‘Green’ are true, or just a marketing scam. I am sure that the final judgment will be of our hearts, and not so much of the labels in our recycle bins………..

    • You are right as usual, particularly regarding the fact that the current fashionableness of “green” makes it tough to discern what is really good for the environment vs. looking good for corporate and consumer image. I do feel that as a steward of this earth I have a HUGE obligation, but it is not one to be met entirely by my choice of beef or soap at the market. I suspect it has a lot to do with voting, paying attention and helping where I can do the most good.

  2. Ann,

    First, I am truly enjoying what you write–your thoughts and style are a treat that I look forward to regularly.

    As for the green/organic issue, I have several thoughts:

    1. The world is becoming muddier on those terms, as mainstream companies race to capitalize on the green movement, which really means that you can now buy Clorox Green Works cleaning products, for example, but that are still made with petroleum derivatives to make them behave more like the conventional stuff. On the food front, as you surely know from your reading of M. Pollan, the fact that meats, say, are being labeled as grass fed or organic by no means indicates that those animals have been treated humanely, or that that beef isn’t just grass finished as opposed to having been raised entirely on a free-roaming grass diet. Unfortunately, many of us would find the truly free-range stuff less palatable than what is currently packaged and sold, particularly in light of the fact that much of the conventional meat products.

    2. If the people you worry about had more money, do you think that they would opt to spend it on whole foods, or would they just eat Applebee’s burgers instead of Mickey D’s? I feel like this is an educational issue in large part, and until we make this a part of the national discourse on food, many will opt for the cheapest and easiest, oftentimes irrespective of cost.

    3. We also struggle with how green is enough, and how that relates to cost. Example: we recently had an old hot water heater replaced with a tankless unit, which saves a substantial amount of energy, not having to constantly heat a tankful of water. The cost was triple that of a new tank heater, although thanks to your tax dollars, will end up closer to double the cost. Was that wise use of money? I don’t know–we waste elsewhere. The bottom line is that I think being green is an evolution in thought and habit–it doesn’t come immediately, and not without substantial frustration along the way.

    4. I, too, look forward to the day when economies of scale will allow for reduced prices on real, good food. Unfortunately, our economy favors industrial farming, and as long as the lobby keeps pumping money into the federal government, the FDA will continue to relax the regulations on organic regulations (can you say certified organic genetically engineered crops? they’re coming…). In addition, they make the regs for local farmers more and more difficult and expensive, which effectively nudges them out of the market by making them uncompetitive.

    5. Have you considered finding a local farmer who raises beef or pork and gotten yourself a freezer to keep the butchered (how you want it!) meat for you? VERY cost effective, and you could probably find a friend or two to go in on it with you, making the order a more reasonable amount for each of the families. We do it with pigs, and the stuff we’ve gotten has been amazing!

    • Thanks for both the compliment and the incredibly thoughtful comments.

      1. I completely, totally agree. I know my cleaning products are “green” because I make them, and that my “green” detergent may not be, and I only really know about food when I know the farmer/grower/producer. I try to do that within the limits of time, money and sanity.

      2. That is a HUGE question. I suspect Applebees, for now. I also think that the kind of education that might change that is a huge struggle, but that if it could be done successfully there would be a much higher likelihood of increased accessibility to fresher, healthier food for everyone. I would love to figure that one out….

      3. Yes on the frustrating evolution. I just tend to think that if I REALLY cared, we’d be drinking water out of rain barrels right now….

      4. Yes, and I buy from farmers every Saturday who are in that bind. I will say that this year I am seeing local grocery stores posting “locally grown” signs where appropriate. Part hype, to be sure, but maybe also the beginning of something real?

      5. We have. The budget doesn’t allow for purchases of both a deep freeze and the protein this year, but we are on the lookout for good second-hand freezers for sale.

  3. Hello,
    I too really try to be ‘green’ and share your awareness that it sadly does cost a little bit more.

    However, I really feel that everyone needs to do their bit to change the world, this is not something that you need to take total responsibility for. Even if you did everything that you could to be as ethical as possible, you would not stop climate change, you would not end the deforestation of the rainforest and you would not put an end to intensive farming. The solution to all of these things will come only when huge numbers of people get involved (I am sure that this time is coming). Please don’t take the world’s guilt on your shoulders!

    One of my favourite quotes is taken from a monument in Zimbabwe, I’m not sure who wrote it originally.

    “Many little things, done by many little people will change the face of the world”.

    With this in mind, you should continue to make the little changes that you can afford to make and rest assured that you are doing the best that you can. If you really want to do more, maybe encourage others that you know to also make the money saving changes that you have discovered. This will in itself increase the positive impact that you are having on the world.
    By sharing your experiences on-line, you are already encouraging others to follow suit. All we can do is do the best that we can with the time and resources available to us, it appears that you are already doing this so should feel pleased rather than guilty.


    • Thanks for reading and for your great comments! The quote is excellent, appropriate and (for me) inspirational. Guilt is a huge waste of time; I will try to do as you suggest and focus on spreading the word about the positives in this process, while doing what I can (little things) to change the things I find frustrating. You are a wise woman, whoever you are. 🙂

  4. I DID feed my kids McD’s last night, out of necessity. I try to go green, and am forced into buying soymilk at $6/gallon. We do what we can with what we have, it’s all we can do. Maybe you should watch back episodes of 18 kids and counting, I saw one where she was making her own laundry detergent! 🙂 But I have to buy special detergent or we all break out in rashes. . . we are so difficult!

    • You know, someone sent me a recipe for making laundry soap and I got so exhausted just reading it that I decided I’s rather just buy Ecover (sp?) or some other phosphate-free brand. As for soy milk, I buy it for myself, and it is expensive. You know you are going to jail for feeding your kids Mc Donald’s, right?

  5. A Fantastic wordpress post, I will bookmark this post in my Mixx account. Have a awesome day.


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