Responsible Consumerism: How to Make it Work

Yesterday, I got my new favorite book in the mail. I ripped open the envelope and proceeded to ignore every one of my beautiful family members while I devoured the first few pages.

Radical Homemakers promises to be everything I could have hoped for. I can’t believe I almost let this link founder in my inbox until complete oblivion. How close I came to missing out on someone championing my cause, with far more eloquence and research than I could ever muster!

It’s got me thinking a mile a minute. It is a bit hard to slow down enough to tackle one of the many post issues on my list. Doesn’t anyone want to come over and do my Radical job for me, so I can just sit around and theorize about it?

When my sister was visiting for Mardi Gras, we were sneaking dessert one night after the kiddos went to bed, and she asked, out of genuine curiosity, “How can you afford to eat organic ice cream?”

This is an interesting way to begin this conversation because, for one, we don’t usually buy organic ice cream. And for two, not buying organic ice cream would be one of the ways we can afford to eat organic. Capice?

It got me motivated to write a post I’ve had in my brain for over a year. I think this is an issue a lot of people new to the green homemaking arts wonder about. Organic, fair-trade and sustainable products are more expensive. How can a family expect to have a lower than average (ie: single) income and buy higher than average priced products.

The answer is many fold. But the over-arching answer is– prioritize.

The organic thing has really gone crazy. I mean, I knew this before, but living 4 blocks from a Whole Foods, here in New Orleans, has really pushed the point home to me. There is organic everything. Marketed towards yuppies who, if you haven’t noticed before, actually prefer to pay a higher price for something in general, and especially if they can use the thing to assuage their inherent guilt. Which I feel is a real danger of the organic movement. Buying organic shampoo does not mean you are saving the Earth. Replacing all the same average American products with their organic counterparts would take a huge income. Every dollar spent is another log on the fire of The System. Pretty much.

The advertising world is, I believe, the real and true source of absolute power in our world today, and they scare the living shit out of me to be honest. When I walk into Whole Foods, I feel snared. I can’t help but like the look, the set-up, the labels. Everything is geared toward people like us (sort of like us) and I hate, hate that it works on me. But work it does.

The desire to change the world is a fad, to be sure. But it’s also just a basic human desire. To do good. To leave a good place for your kiddos. “They” know that. “They” know how to use that. The green shift has provided just another, tremendously effective, advertising ploy.

People have been taught to chant “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” but it carries no meaning. The first, and most important of the three has been completely disregarded. The second can be used to sell stuff, so it has maintained marginal import. The third is the only one that has really caught on, because it fits perfectly fine into our consumer world. In fact, the more you consume, the more you get to feel good about recycling, right? Bonus!

I think that we could make a new little mantra, for those of us trying to live as responsibly as we can on meager budgets. Reduce, make your own, prioritize.

Reduce what you need (and want!) as much as you can. This is still and always the most important thing, and the still and always the hardest to do. We are so enmeshed in the ‘want more, you deserve it’ advertising we grew up with, it is truly challenging to limit ourselves. I limit myself far more than your average American, but still not hardly enough. It’s especially difficult to keep challenging yourself once you’ve already gotten the basics down. When you look around and see how much less you need than everyone around you, it’s easy to get complacent. But we have to keep chanting to ourselves, “Less, less, less.”

Make your own is the fun part. It’s where you get to learn new skills, be creative, enjoy the fruits of your labors. There’s loads of make-your-own-every-kind-of-thing blogs out there. It’s also relatively easy. The skills are straightforward, and can be researched. But remember that this has to come after reducing. Make your own ice cream, after you have tried as hard as you can to want less ice cream. I’m really good at the make your own part, but learning to make less of my own, or just generally lower my living standards, is a never-ending challenge. Especially in the food department. It’s cool to make your own ice cream, but the fair-trade sugar you use still comes from a third world country where everybody’s more or less fucked. Even if they’re less fucked, it still gets transported thousands of miles via cheap, Earth degrading fossil fuel extraction. It is simply not sustainable for people in northern climes to eat sugar. Even in the places the sugar comes from, it would traditionally be an occasional treat because of how time intensive it’s production is.

Lastly, even after you’ve reduced as much as you can and made your own of what’s left, you’re likely to have a grocery list. And this is where prioritize comes in. Unless you are super kick-ass, and don’t buy anything, like Riana and her family, you’ll need to sort yourself out as a responsible consumer. If you’ve really gotten your list of needs down, you might be able to afford to buy everything from the highest quality producers. But likely, you’ll have to make some compromises. I have done a little research about this, and thought I ought to share my opinion on the wheres and whens.

But for now, I’ve tangentially written myself right out of time. And I need to go be the real life mama housewife I love to preach about.

Next on Apron Strings:

Setting Your Consumer Priorities!

6 thoughts on “Responsible Consumerism: How to Make it Work

  1. You’ve prompted me to outline how we consume and share our consumerism audit and my consumption assumptions with the working man of the house. We tend to list our goals and make plans, but I think it might be interesting to look at how we consume now and what that means about our implicit values….

  2. Holy shit! Suddenly I make sense! So there are words for what I’m doing! Lol, thanks for the link

  3. Ahhh, sister, every time I visit you’re speaking my language. These are exactly the sorts of things I’m trying to work through, sorting out my priorities. It’s the ‘reduce’ bit that hits at the core of our little consumer identities, isn’t it? It’d be so much nicer to just assauge our yuppie guilt by substituting worthy consumption for unworthy consumption, but just keep consuming!!

    Anyway, I’ve just gone and bought the book :-). Ahh, the trees and fuel that will go into delivering it to me in Australia will be worth it, I’m sure…

    PS I had to laugh at this comment:

    “Doesn’t anyone want to come over and do my Radical job for me, so I can just sit around and theorize about it?”

    Oh, this is SO me as well.

  4. I was so happy to find your blog from Homegrown Evolution! What you wrote has totally been what I have been feeling and didn’t know quite how to express. Can’t wait to read more, Syster! Keep ’em coming.

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