Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cost of living in America

Worth ≠ Cost

If you understand the underpinnings of Slow Food, you might just forgive me for my rant.

We are a nation swimming in a sea of worthless junk that costs unfathomably more than its combined purchase price. We believe that as long as we fund our retirements and our funerals, our children will not be burdened by us. Some of us whose “hearts are in the right place” simply say that we cannot afford to be green, or that we work hard to earn what we have. We also assume that, with the exception of sentimental items and garage sale steals that make it onto the Antiques Road Show, a thing is worth as much as or less than it costs, and that it costs as much as the price-tag says it costs. If the price tag says $5 (and we buy it, validating the seller’s claim that it is worth $5 – “fair market value” in action), then it actually costs $5 or less. That is how much it costs, and that is how much it is worth. The blinkered life is grand.

In many ways, we are skipping happily along, like children who are too young to understand the cost of living and the value of money. Our kids assume that food, shelter, and toilet paper are free and are rudely awakened when they fledge. We “grown-ups” assume that our grocery bags are free (they don’t cost anything), or that we pay for them through the elevated price of the bags’ contents. We also assume that the $10.00 New York strip we buy at the grocery store actually costs $10 or less to produce and sell.

I was listening to NPR this-morning, hearing about how this and that group want to make Tallahassee a “green city.” Tallahassee was listed in one publication as one of three up-and-coming "green" cities in the U.S. (Minneapolis and Sacramento were the others). The speaker said that Tallahassee needs to entice innovators and entrepreneurs to come here and develop green technologies for building etc. Someone said that the “people” of Tallahassee are ready to make a change for the greener, but our government is not (because the economic development office is promoting urban sprawl by approving development on our urban fringes). We also have a crappy transportation system, so we all have to drive cars here. Yes, it’s all true.


No-one ever really talks about his individual responsibility for preserving resources for the next generation. Even with city grants and loans, solar energy for our oak-shaded houses is not an economical option for most of us, even if we we cut down the trees(?!). If someone tells us to eat better quality and less food (instead of eating more and buying “functional foods,” diet pills and surgeries to trim our bodily excesses), we are personally offended. If someone suggests that we re-use our grocery bags, we wonder what good it would do to sacrifice such tiny, “free” things that are so convenient. If someone tells us to not buy the SUV that we actually don’t need and can’t afford anyway when our children are born, we wonder how we could possibly manage because everyone else has one, and that proves that SUVs are a necessity of modern life.

When I tell friends that I’m trying to transition as much as possible to organically grown produce and meat that comes from a humanely and sustainably farmed livestock, they tell me that these things are expensive and imply that I’m indulging in unnecessary extravagances.

Some individuals who are convinced that we should have fewer children are the same ones whose habits and homes cost more money and resources than entire extended families use in other parts of the world.

The fact is, worth (fair market value) does not equal cost. If we buy it for less at Walmart, lucky dogs, we may never consider the cost – the human cost (cheap labor, poor working conditions, unimaginable living conditions), the cost in natural resources (petrochemicals for making and transporting), the cost to the environment (for example China, where we’ve forked out most of our production, is the most polluting country in the world because of us).

And in case you think I’m picking on you, allow me to indict myself. I’ve got miles to go, and the more I learn the more indicted I become. But I’m making one tiny change at a time, all the while hoping that my child will not see the spoils of my existence in his lifetime.


Random Muse said...

I agree with you absolutely. Worth doesn't equal cost.

Listen said...

Great POST!!! Thank You!
I feel the same way, and its so nice to hear that others feel so passionate also.

Let's plant more gardens to together!!!

Anonymous said...

Change can happen. When I came here 21 years ago, I knew virtually nothing about slow food, recycling, energy efficiency, carbon footprints, etc. However, I was a graduate student in environmental planning! After marrying a sensible woman who grew up in the country, we are now composting, living in town, recycling fervently, driving minimally, and eating as locally as possible. And every month, a little bit more of everything. No fertilizer in the yard. No pesticides. Even green pest control. Planting trees. An 800 sq. ft. garden in the middle of town. Life is good, and we're slowly recovering our sanity, and teaching our daughter the joys of living simply. It can be done...

Food and Brew Love said...

Blog's alive! And since you're reading, I think it's time to start posting again. Thank you for the wisdom and encouragement.

Thanks listen and anon -- yes, more gardens indeed!

Much of my silence after that seething, discouraged rant was a hard concentration on making progress towards the goal, the need, to take stock and simplify. We're still working on this-- I imagine this to be an ongoing, lifelong process.

In many ways I'm glad for the rising cost of living, that people are feeling this on a personal level (gas, groceries, etc). I hope that it remains a catalyst for change for many, even after an upswing and return to stability in our economy.

We also live downtown, have a little composted garden, try not to drive too much (although the traffic really scares me-- bicycling seems like tempting death). It's great living close to work and being able to walk downtown, etc.

alshreef said...

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the content!

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