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.