Smarter Shoppers, Please

23 08 2009

For those of you who only get your news via blogs, allow me to summarize the flap du jour concerning the boycott of Whole Foods for political reasons:

“Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Healthcare Whole Foods wgah’nagl fhtagn.”

There, you’re caught up. Stick around for the long-winded explanation, charts, graphs, and spin. And links!

Hokay. My understanding is that the CEO of Whole Foods came out publicly against public funding for health care. That might dumb it way down from what he really said, but I get the gist. The thing is, the best way to summarize this is to say “the CEO of Whole Foods said something publicly that liberals/progressives/whatever disagreed with… AGAIN.”

Yes, again.

Yo, protesters, where have you been?

Unless Whole Foods has a revolving roster of butthead CEOs, that guy was anti-something else not that long ago, and there was a wringing of hands, gnashing of teeth, and threats of voting via feet and/or wallet. But the siren call of Whole Foods was too great for most to resist (apparently), or perhaps the spectre of CEOs publicly not giving a crap about government oversight of publicly-traded companies wasn’t enough of an anathema to turn sufficient numbers away. Remember all that?

Here’s something else I remember: The spectre of boycotting Canadian seafood to protest the annual seal hunt – in 2006. I wrote the following back then:

On the subject of the boycott, I am unsure if it is really going to stop the seal hunting. It’s not like seal meat is a staple in our diets, so we can’t quite make a statement by refusing to buy any more. Seals are killed for their pelts, and I was amazed to discover who is using them in their “fashions”. With the advent of faux fur, I suppose I put it out of my mind that real fur coats and whatnot are still being made. My economic standing prevents me from wearing Gucci or Versace by default. But if a windfall were to arrive, I know what else to avoid. I’m not hurting either of these companies as it stands because I wasn’t buying their stuff anyway. As with any economic pressure, it has to come from the people who do.

Shelley Powers echoed such sentiments more recently:

People have to make choices if they want to live what they believe, and that includes choosing where they spend their money. I can do without the “progressive” whose beliefs are nothing more than Twitter tweets and social media bon mots, and who isn’t willing to put their buying choices behind their beliefs.

And there it is.

My contention – which I think got lost in my cheekiness over the seafood boycott – was that if one is to make purchases largely as a political statement and/or to exert influence economically, one must go “all in” to exert that influence.

Now, what has become clear to me as my economic standing has decreased substantially is that it’s very easy to mouth off about “principles” by refusing to shop at a few stores because you disagree with some political aspect of the operation. Wal-Mart is a prime target for this. Back when I could afford to pay extra to stick it to the Man (as embodied by Wal-Mart), I refused outright to shop there. When I had to make $50 last two weeks including food, I started to shop at Wal-Mart.

Yes, I know they are anti-everything. But I don’t have “principled stand” money.

My objective has been to shop at nearby Fiesta as often as possible. I trust the meat there more than Wal-Mart and right now they’ve got some key items on sale for less.

I smirked in the general direction of the Whole Foods Boycott site for two principal reasons. 1) My income is such that I can’t afford to shop there anyway, so steering clear doesn’t take a lick of effort on my part. 2) Someone sent a photo of a receipt “proving” that the submitter shopped at a rival store. Yah-hoo. Glad someone noticed that there are – wait for it – OTHER STORES IN THE WORLD THAT SELL ORGANICS AND SHIT.

I am sure I am completely living in a bubble here in Texas, home of every shopping avenue imaginable to Middle America. If I want to get all “eco”, I have Sprouts, Central Market, and Newflower to name a few. If I really want to stick it to the man, I can hie on down to the Dallas Farmer’s Market and deal directly with, you know, actual farmers. I’m well aware that not everyone has such shopping abundance close at hand.

But as is often the case, I think we’re faced with the choice between what is easy and what is right. Fast food is easy. Wal-Mart is easy. Heck, Whole Foods is easy from a certain point of view. Burning gas to travel one mile is easy. Turning on every lamp in the house “just to have light” is easy.

How much thought is put into how much energy is spent every day, and why?

How much thought is put into what foods we eat, and why?

How much thought is put into what one’s ideal world might look like, and what actions can be taken today to bring one closer to modeling that ideal?

It doesn’t come from boycotts or bumper stickers. It doesn’t come from the hardware store or an overpriced marketplace.

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