Paralyzed in Aisle 6

So now that I care about packaging, source of my food, taste, and nutritional content, I need to take a handler with me to the grocery store. Sometimes it’s not so bad. Fruits and vegetables- organic? If no, how about just not gross-looking? Check. Eggs, organic/cage-free, check. Milk (after a brief “organic in nonrecycleable or regular in recyclable carton?” dilemma), check. OJ, biggest jug with largest pulp content. Check. Bread. Anything non-tasteless and Organic? No (rain curses upon the large bakery distributors). Anything non-tasteless? Check. Chicken without added water or hormones? Maybe.

So, my diet is unvaried, but at least by sticking to those items, I can shop within my ethical choices and with some expediency. I usually spend about two minutes in the cookie aisle salivating, but reminding myself wistfully that they never taste as good as I imagine, I’ll eat them too fast if I buy them, I haven’t been to the gym in a while, and on and on. Drool, drool. The last argument I come to, and the one that suffices for me where no others will, is I feel guilty throwing the 2-3 layers of packaging away afterwards, and thus taint any joy in their consumption. Frankly, if it stops me buying sub-par cookies, I will continue to nurse my irrational packaging guilt.

Shopping for anything else has become frustrating, though. Last weekend, I attempted to make a quick run to the grocery to pick up a few drinks and snacks for a gathering. Chips and coke, in and out. Once there, though, I spent a half hour in the aisle, calculating. What’s more efficient- coke in 2L bottles, or coke in cans? Bottle caps aren’t recyclable, plastic isn’t efficiently recycled, whereas cardboard and aluminum cans are fully recyclable. Which one costs less? Which one is packed most efficiently to minimize shipping costs? I turned away from the coke and to the chips. I was in Shopper’s, and they don’t carry any organic chips. Some are “natural” or “all-natural” but that doesn’t mean anything. What tastes good and is not boring and not expensive and not completely unhealthy and has the least packaging and is maybe a little environmentally friendly? Argh, nothing, so pick up some bags of various pretzels and and one bag of corn chips that look a little less processed, and sulkily return to the coke. I picked up a couple of bottles, on the assumption that they contain less product, and I’d have less left over.

I lost a lot of time, and ended up with 6 products chosen on no basis other than exasperation. In a different grocery store, this scenario might have played out better- Giant has a selection of organic corn chips that taste pretty good, and Harris Teeter, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s generally have all those yuppie organic snack things too. But still.

What to do? Shop somewhere else for snack foods, first off. Change my definition of snacks, and serve more fruit/veggies and fewer chips at parties. And a 60-second rule on chip selection- “If no organic/recyclable packaging chips are seen within 60 seconds, just grab something. They’re just chips.

As for the coke, I regretted my bottle decision. As my gentleman friend pointed out, we have a little less leftover coke, sure, but since it’s all in the same bottle, we now have flat leftover coke. Cans from here on out- decision made.

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2 Responses to “Paralyzed in Aisle 6”


  1. 1 Mrcalculo January 16, 2008 at 11:11 am

    Why not just shop for whatever you feel like, and then send some money to environmental organizations at the end of each month?

  2. 2 virescent January 16, 2008 at 11:35 am

    I got stuck at Whole Foods between hormone free meat for $5/lb and hormone free and free range and vegetarian fed or whatever meat for like $10/lb. I’d prefer my meat to have had non-gross living conditions, so the free ranging part is a big thing, but they also only stocked meat cuts that I don’t like as much in the free range kind. I ended up picking up the cheaper stuff, and obsessing about it this morning.

    Funny, I actually was considering donating to one of those animal rights type groups, but then I decided no. I feel like my money would be better spent on actually buying free-range chicken than on financing people who harass farmers to grow free-range chicken. It doesn’t make economic or moral sense to pay to lobby farmers to grow what I don’t want to pay to consume. Plus, if I buy it (well, me and a lot of other people hopefully) then farmers will produce more of it even without harassment, the prices will come down, and I can buy more of it, and the chickens will cluck a little less forelornly before I eat them with a mustard sauce. See, I actualy do think markets can work.

    The thing is, that’s really expensive chicken. So I’ll have to cut down on eating meat if I do buy the stuff- it’s not widely available, so at most grocery stores I won’t even have to make the decision.


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