I had something like a panic attack in the grocery store just now.
Let me back up. I went to the Glens Falls Farmer’s Market on Saturday for, embarrassingly, the first time in a long while.
My problem is that I can’t get my act together early enough on a Saturday, so most of the time I miss it. From my gut, honestly and truly, I feel the Farmer’s Market is the place we should all do our shopping. But I rarely make it.
Henry and I picked out his first foods, straight from the person who grew them. Butternut squash and sweet potato. I saw so many people I knew there. I had the feeling in the room that it was a really wonderful thing for Glens Falls and it made me glad that it exists here, and that I am a part of it (having done some design for the Farmer’s Market Association).
But also horribly embarrassed for not going regularly.
Then I read this article about spending $20 at farmer’s markets every week. Good thought. Good plan. A better way to think about it. Easier to bite off than all-or-nothing thinking about buying local or organic. Less guilt, more action.
So then today we went to Toys R Us to pick up a purple shirt for Henry for Marchival, the holiday we made up. And then we went to the dollar store for crepe paper. And the dollar store smelled like poison; like PVC gases and plastic. And to Jo-Ann’s for pins for Marchival prizes we’re making. And then to Price Chopper.
And that’s where it hit me, as it sometimes does when I’m in a big box store in Queensbury, how wrong it all feels.
So I’ll freely admit that that I love shopping – it’s something my mom loves and she passed it to me. I’ll go down every aisle and I love finding a deal. I like to browse.
I’ll also admit that I’m not a morning person and would make a shoddy farmer. And that I have a low tolerance for squicky things or scary things and honestly the outdoors kind of freaks me out when we go camping.
But when I see a documentary comparing how babies are raised in Africa versus how they are here, or watching shows about the planet, or when I’d go spend time in the woods by myself as a kid, or reading books about people who live outside, or when I talked to the rastafarian who gave a mini-class on our Jamaican vacation, I get this feeling of how things are supposed to be.
And it’s jarring to me how far away we are.
Checkout lines bring the point home, especially.
A few weeks ago, Cory and I were in a Babies R Us in Albany, standing in line to buy something I can’t even remember. We both got the feeling. It’s claustrophobic. Cold. Frightening. Like if you’ve ever been in a hospital bed alone.
The music was piped in, this crappy electronic pop echoing. Fluorescent lights overhead cast a numbingly artificial glow. Ahead of us, a mother was buying her kid some plastic crap he was excited about. The teenaged checkout clerk looked sick, and miserable to be there. Beep. Beep. Beep. Nobody needs this shit. A few feet away, three aisles radiated pink. Because if you have a vagina, you’re supposed to buy pink plastic garbage.
Cory and I looked at each other and I knew we were both having that same itch that got worse with every second that passed in the line. It passed when we left the store, but that’s what happened to me today in Price Chopper.
Every single thing I picked up was something I could easily talk myself out of.
Bananas weren’t grown here. How long were they on a ship and then a truck to get here? How many fossil fuels were burned just in their transport? Hummus, I could make myself. I have chickpeas at home, even. But I don’t have time because the chickpeas need to be soaked and then boiled. They come in a plastic tub. Who knows what added ingredients there are. Cereal, who even knows what cereal is? They sell it to us as kids. It’s mashed up nothing with a bunch of vitamins added, shaped into little O’s and baked and put in plastic bags and THEN in a cardboard box. Where’s the farm that cereal comes from?
Then we get into the convenience foods. I’m often working through lunch and don’t have much time to spare. It’s easy to throw an organic Amy’s pot pie in the microwave. At least when I have those in the freezer I actually eat lunch. But they’re not ultra cheap. And they come in packaging, of course. And you microwave them, and who knows about microwaves. Other days I look through the cupboards and end up with crummy bagged pretzel twists for lunch because I don’t have time.
Everything in the grocery store is covered in styrofoam and plastic. EVERYTHING! It’s covered in styrofoam, plastic, pesticides, MORE plastic, and also plastic and plastic and plastic. We buy it and we throw it away. And it never rots.
We make it and it never rots! NEVER! There’s plastic everywhere. That slapped me in the face and made me want to buy nothing. The same way, one day in high school, I realized in the grocery store’s meat aisle that I WAS SURROUNDED BY PLASTIC-COVERED BODY PARTS. Shudder. It’s horror movie stuff, if you let your mind realize the truth for a second.
I looked down at my baby and had that boxed-in feeling I had when we went to Babies R Us and were standing in the line. Henry looked back up at me. And even the carseat/stroller, his cute guitar pajamas, it all felt so wrong. We should be sitting on a tree stump somewhere warm, with him swaddled in cotton or just completely naked, breathing in the fresh air. Not bundled up in some plastic contraption, a zipper and flame retardants and seatbelt straps preventing him from playing with his toes.
What am I going to tell him about the way we live?
We walked by the fish section. What drove it all home was the lobster tank. Those lobsters belong in the ocean. There is no truly justifiable reason to have them crammed together in a dirty little tank in upstate New York. Our one job is to take care of the animals and the planet. We are not doing our job. We are just being absolutely horrible, instead. We’ve taken our gifts and destroyed everything we can.
I’m guilty, too. How do I tell Henry that I know this, but I still choose to live this way?
I know I sound like a crazy. And I am sure that I’m glamorizing life in an African tribe. I don’t want to die before I’m 35, I enjoy the perks of modern medicine and modern technology. I know I have it easy and I should really keep my mouth shut because it’s a convenient first world problem to complain about. I’m lucky.
But I really feel like it’s crazy to live the way we do, in our boxes (houses) eating our pellets (food, cereal, etc.) when we have such big brains and so much knowledge. We trade our time (work) for happiness. We work harder at our jobs to earn vacation time, and we work harder at our jobs to earn enough money to do stuff on our vacations. We’re all miserable, really. We all know there’s something wrong.
But we keep distracted.
I’ll say it: I’m addicted to my iPhone, my email, Facebook, my computer. Like, really badly. I don’t make time to breathe, to meditate, to eat, to live, to maintain eye contact with my own son.
It’s wrong and I know it’s wrong. It’s hard to change.
I don’t know how to fix things. I mean, for a while now I’ve tried to shop greener. But I realize now that the solution isn’t to shop greener, it’s to stop shopping. Stop buying crap you don’t need. Stop working so hard because you don’t need that shit that you think you do.
Time with family and time with nature and time with yourself – real time, offline time – is what’s important.
It’s hard to change, though. It’s really hard to change.
What do you think? How do you cope with the mind-bogglingness of our lifestyle and how it affects the planet and the other creatures on it?