Monday, September 6, 2010


As I've moved closer to the people and processes involved in making the most basic material goods (food, clothing) in the past two years, the physical world has taken on a new weight. Driving past malls and outlet stores, the sheer volume of the stuff inside is overwhelming. I've had a little glimpse into the lives of those sewing and picking, so that in my more lucid moments I can't grab an appliance off a shelf without wondering how many hands were involved in making it, or pull a shirt off the rack without a peek at the tag to see where it came from.

Being a bit more aware sets me up for an exhausting series of mental gymnastics any time I make a purchase.

Today, for example, I found myself grocery shopping in Walmart. Already I’d had to do some justifying. Walmart is the Big Bad Wolf, up there with other dastardly corporations like Monsanto. They underpay their workers both here and overseas and force local operations out of business everywhere they go.

But…I needed a plastic storage bin. Target would have been my first choice, but it was out of the way and I have a sneaky suspicion my aversion to Walmart is partly a class thing (Target is, after all, where upper middle class folks by their Made in China).

On my list after the storage bin were a number of grocery items (since, as of Wednesday, whatever I eat will have to be transported home without the help of a car). I’d planned on patronizing a local grocery store, but did the impact of the extra gas from the trip outweigh the karmic good of supporting a local family?

So…I found myself grocery shopping in Walmart. Already feeling guilty, my calculating had just begun. How much more was I willing to pay per can of organic beans (and could I even justify beans in a can when the dried varieties were available)? Coffee: fair trade, organic, Rainforest Alliance…could I find all three? If I could buy non-organic brown rice in a bigger bag, did the plastic pollution I saved in any way cancel out the pesticides used in growing? How about salt – would going for the Morton’s be a capitulation to advertising or would choosing the cheaper Walmart brand create downward pressure on prices that often has consequences for workers and the environment? What size cans of crushed tomatoes should I buy – the smaller size (and waste packaging materials) or the larger size (and likely waste food, since I’ll be cooking for one)?

All this, and I get to the check-out aisle and realize I’d forgotten to bring re-useable bags.

At the end of that trip, at the end of a couple weeks of shopping to get ready for life and work in NYC, after so many tiny (and at the same time overwhelmingly significant) decisions, there is this:

A Short Testament
by Anne Porter

Whatever harm I may have done
In all my life in all your wide creation
If I cannot repair it
I beg you to repair it,

And then there are all the wounded
The poor the deaf the lonely and the old
Whom I have roughly dismissed
As if I were not one of them.
Where I have wronged them by it
And cannot make amends
I ask you
To comfort them to overflowing,

And where there are lives I may have withered around me,
Or lives of strangers far or near
That I've destroyed in blind complicity,
And if I cannot find them
Or have no way to serve them,

Remember them. I beg you to remember them

When winter is over
And all your unimaginable promises
Burst into song on death's bare branches.

1 comment:

    Check out this prodding article by Derrick Jensen. I like what he says about capitalism's reducing of our "potential forms of resistance to consuming and not consuming." I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on it...