Monthly Archives: July 2011

Hard Things: Grocery Store

Going to the grocery store should not, by rights, be a hard thing. In fact, for people with true HARD THINGS to deal with, I imagine that going to the grocery store is laughably easy. By “hard things” here I mean dilemmas that I’m still searching for a good way to deal with. They are, most definitely, first world problems.

Nevertheless, the condition of being an American at the beginning of the 21st century is the condition of having too many choices.

Nowhere is this more apparent to me than at the grocery store. I love picking out what food to make, and I love the cooking of delicious food, but I do not love buying groceries, because there are just too many choices. The more I learn about the American food industry, the more treacherous I feel the trip to the grocery store becomes.

It always happens the same way. I come to the grocery store, happily purchase some bread and some pasta, and then, begrudgingly, look at the last thing on my list.

Eggs. It’s always eggs.

More times than I can count, I have found myself agonizing in front of the display of eggs, scrutinizing every egg carton, thinking “Free range?” “Cage-free?” “Organic?” “Natural?” I mull each egg carton, and their great disparity in price and think, “Should I just give up and buy the cheapest ones? They’re just eggs. Does the buying of eggs really have to trigger this existential crisis every time?” And then, inevitably, I always hear Leo McGarry’s voice in my head saying, “Think of the chickens.” And then I remember all the horrible things I’ve heard about chickens with their beaks cut off, crammed so close together that they can’t spread their wings, and I buy whichever eggs sound the least like that might have happened to the chickens that laid them.

This happens every. single. time.

I’ve come to expect it, and now I just walk up, grab the $4 eggs and move on. I have stopped purchasing meat at the grocery store (I still eat meat sometimes but very rarely buy it to make for myself) just because I don’t want to have this internal conflict several times per grocery visit.  It’s uncomfortable.

I don’t like thinking that my purchasing decisions have some larger global consequences. I don’t like the guilt that comes from buying bananas if they cause people to live in abject poverty. Usually, I just want some food, I just want to be able to make whatever I have planned to make, and I don’t want to have to think that I might be causing someone harm because of the decisions I make. I also hate thinking about how little information I really have, about what I’m purchasing, and how, in the end, I’m doing what I can and hoping for the best.

But I think, ultimately, my discomfort in front of the egg display in the grocery store is a good thing.

Because, unfortunately, there is no escaping this reality. The purchasing decisions we make do affect how companies behave, and there’s not a thing we can do about it. If demand for conventionally grown fruit evaporated, organic  (whatever that means) would proliferate more widely. Capitalism, baby. What we buy affects whether chickens are treated cruelly, how much the environment is polluted, and what fruits, exactly, those abroad can expect for their labors. We’re all, alas, in this together.

Like I said, first world problems. But I live in condition of having more resources than almost everyone else in the world, so the least I can do is use them wisely. I can vote with my dollars. I can cherish that awkward supermarket interaction between me and the eggs, and maybe I can grown to be more thoughtful every day.

That’s a good prayer. Let’s hope for that, for each of us.


Elsewhere: Faster

Full post tomorrow. For now, this wisdom:

By Eknath Easwaran on 07-19-2011

When we go faster and faster, we grow more and more insensitive to the needs of everyone around. We become dull, blunted, imperceptive. In the morning, for instance, when we are moving like a launched missile, our vigilance falls; we may hurt the feelings of our children or partner and never know it at all. To be aware of others, we have to go slowly and pay attention to what is happening. Our faculties must be alert and fully functioning.

Sometimes, under the goad of speed, we act as if other people are not there. When we move fast, those around us seem to be blurs, like statues glimpsed through the fog. Our minds are elsewhere, and we have just enough attention in the present moment to avoid knocking everybody down–and sometimes not even that much! We will shove our way in front of others when they are reaching for something, squeeze by them at the door, shut the lights out on them when we leave the room, disturb them by talking out loud to ourselves or whistling or banging things about–and all this because we do not truly see them.


This is more or less what I would like this blog to be – a place to go slower and think and speak and see others.

Practice: Making Things

It’s all about words, my job, which I love. Love, love, love. I was one of those kids who couldn’t ever get enough books because I was always finishing them. When I got to college and started taking English classes I was in heaven – really – we just read books and talk about them and then write about them? This is the best! And now I read laws and try to use them to help people, which is also, in it’s own way, the best.

It also takes a very long time. And maybe it’s my American need for instant gratification or just my human need to create, make something, change my environment a little, but I’m finding that I love making things. Taking something in my hands and changing it into something else. So that then I can look at it and say – that. I did that. Mostly it’s food (hey, that used to be frozen vegetables and now it’s COOKED vegetables), or, slightly more impressively, knitting (hey, that used to be yarn and now it’s a hat!).

In fact sometimes I get a little carried away and just get so impressed with the transformations I can’t stand it. Because, come on, some of these things seem pretty magical. That used to be flour and now it’s BREAD. That’s amazing! How can just stirring some things together, letting it sit and then putting it in an oven do that, really? How can repetitive motion with two sticks turn what is essentially string into a sweater? I’m convinced there is some magic involved in that. Though in the case of knitting, it’s not very speedy magic.

There’s a quote from 30 Rock where Alec Baldwin knocks up his girlfriend and then says, “I, like God, have created man.”

I don’t say that. I do spend a lot of time saying: I MADE that. I made THAT. I have created order from chaos, edible sustenance from inedible raw things, clothing from some yarn I bought last week! Ok, I don’t say exactly that either, but I do stand in awe of our ability as people to make change when change needs to be made, even if it’s in something small.

So today, here’s to that.

Two Things

Two things happened to me today. I heard a really great sermon and my husband was nice to me. On their own, these two things make today an awful lot like any other Sunday (my church is blessed with a seemingly endless series of really great sermons. It’s awesome). But together, today, they resulted in this post right here.

The preacher today told us something remarkable. She told us that the thing we’re supposed to do, the thing that we have to do, might be the thing that we’re running from, because we know it’s powerful enough to take a life of it’s own. She said it’s like fire, that passion, that secret thing it’s hard to ignore, because it’s what’s inside of us that lights other things up. And that we sometimes try to hide it because we just KNOW that we don’t exactly know how it will burn if we let it go.

I sat there in the pew today saying, “Oh no, I know.” I often sit in church and say Oh no, I know, because I so often hear commands like LOVE and TRUST and BE NICE. (In more eloquent words usually, of course), and those things are good and right and true and so, so very hard. It’s so much easier not to. So as I sit, I think about how I know that it’s nothing I haven’t heard before, it’s nothing that I don’t wholeheartedly agree with, and yet, Oh No, it might mean I have to do something that takes energy and effort and cuts into my tv-watching time.

Anything worth doing always cuts into my tv-watching time.

I said Oh no, because I knew, I just knew that this was the thing inside me burning to get out. This blog. I don’t know why. I don’t know what I need to write about or where this is going. I’m terrified, to be honest, because history has shown that I’m the world’s worst blogger. I post a couple times and then move on to other things. See, e.g., the first couple posts below. Look at the dates. That’s how it always happens when I try to commit to regularly writing things. I’ve buried my other abortive blog attempts in the mysterious bowels of the internet. No one will ever know!

Except that this time feels different. (Look at those FAMOUS LAST WORDS!) As I stewed all day about how I just really need to write something and see if other people want to read it, I read one of my favorite blogs (hi, Momastery. We haven’t met, but I think you’re great), which linked to a listing of Mom blogs, and I saw that there are 80 bazillion Mom blogs in existence. Exactly. I counted. And that’s just self-identified Mom blogs – imagine how many more blogs are out there. It’s some fantastically large number, I’m sure. And I turned to my darling husband, who knows about my blog-stewing and said, OH NO. There is no reason for me to start a blog. Look at the fantastically large number of many blogs there are!

And he said: I know there are a lot of voices, but, I don’t know, I want to hear yours.

Now admittedly, he’s biased, but it just hit me. It just did. That and this ridiculously amazing post about why we should all get our voices out there on A Practical Wedding (hi, we haven’t met either, but I think you’re great too. Apparently it’s Blog-love Shout-out Day today) and something about Poking the Box that’s been marinating inside me at least since March (see the last post I wrote) made TODAY the DAY. Today is the day I start this for real. I’m letting the fire burn.

I’m being a bit over-dramatic about it perhaps, but all I’m trying to say is, I’m going to be writing down some things that I think on this here blog on a fairly regular schedule because, apparently, I just can’t not. I don’t have any readers yet, but if I get some, someday, I think this is when it really started.

The end (beginning).