Whatever I do, it's probably wrong

  • Charles Finn

 

I try to do my best, I really do, but it seems harder than it should be.

I'm in the grocery store, where the shiny plastic packaging stretches as far as the eye can see, and parents and kids seem larger than life – in fact, some seem the size of NFL linemen. With my cloth bag I hike down avenues of MSG and boulevards of white sugar, all arranged at the eye level of a 5-year-old. I pass banks of freezers of TV dinners and pizzas, the latter looking like painted cardboard.

I wonder: Is there any food here? Everything looks so antiseptic, swathed in protective wrapping. There's the radioactive-colored potato chips, the too-perfect apples, and the bright pink meat, bloodless, almost, on its absorbent pad. Does this have anything to do with a farm or ranch?

I arrive at the dairy section where a whole herd of cartoon cows with dewy eyes and bloated udders looks at me from their cartons. On my list, which I left at home, again, I remember I need cream, half-and-half really, for coffee. Scanning the refrigerated bays I spot it, but immediately get a sinking feeling. It's that same sinking feeling I get every time I enter one of these stores, because once again I've come up against "the problem."

Do I buy the store brand cream for half the price of the organic, or do I sacrifice what I know is good for me for what I know is good for my bank account? In this case, it's the difference of a dollar, not exactly a big deal, but add that up over a year, or a month, or even one shopping trip combined with all the other similar choices I make, and it's substantial. Being "green," which for me means buying local, organic food, is always fraught with indecision. The green choice is almost always expensive, too often prohibitively so, and to my way of thinking, that's just downright wrong.

Righteous anger. Sad disgust. Helpless indignation. These feelings are all old friends and frequent visitors. This time I decide to take the high road, and with smug satisfaction I place a carton of organic half-and-half in my bag (miracle of miracles, I remembered it) tucking it in next to the recycled toilet paper and on top of the fair-trade coffee. My, my, I'm feeling good about myself today. It doesn't hurt that this is the first week of the month. If it was the last it would be a different story.

What else? Eggs, another hard choice. This year I'm supplying a friend's coffee shop with brownies for the holiday season, so I need a lot of eggs and butter, too. The problem is that if I buy the free-range eggs, I'll have to charge twice as much for the brownies to cover my costs. And it's this that drives me crazy, because it should be an easy decision. I know what chickens endure in factories; I've heard and read the horror stories, and I know about the antibiotics and hormones that get fed to cows and end up in their milk. But once again it comes down to the bottom line. Sure, I value the homemade over the factory produced, the local over the imported. But I also value paying my mortgage and electricity bill. And why does it always come down to this? Doing what is ethically right and better in terms of health competes against doing what I can afford. It makes me want to scream.

But I don't, and as usual, I compromise. I buy one package of "good" eggs and another of "bad" eggs. The twisted rationale is that I'll eat the good ones and bake with the bad ones. That logic only gets me so far, but at least it gets me out the door and driving home, where I can forget about this painful process. I can also forget that I passed on the organic broccoli and the organic garlic, but picked up the local organic honey. I can forget that there's no rhyme to my purchases and that the reasons change from week to week. Does this make me a hypocrite, or am I just another person who talks the talk but doesn't walk the walk -- or walks it only when it's convenient -- and when I have the money?

What I do know is that try as I might, I can't afford to be the person I want to be.

Charles Finn is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes in Bend, Oregon.

High Country News Classifieds
  • YELLOWSTONE TREASURES: THE TRAVELER'S COMPANION TO THE NATIONAL PARK
    Dreaming of a trip to Yellowstone Park? This book makes you the tour guide for your group! Janet Chapple shares plenty of history anecdotes and...
  • OLIVERBRANCH CONSULTING
    Non-Profit Management Professional specializing in Transitional Leadership, Strategic Collaborations, Communications and Grant Management/Writing.
  • SAGE GROUSE CCAA COORDINATOR
    The Powder Basin Watershed Council, headquartered in Baker City, Oregon, seeks a full-time Sage Grouse CCAA Coordinator. This position is part of a collaborative effort...
  • MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Marketing Communications Manager to join our...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - OKANOGAN LAND TRUST
    Executive Director, Okanogan Land Trust Position Announcement Do you enjoy rural living, wild places, family farms, challenging politics, and big conservation opportunities? Do you have...
  • GREAT VIEWS, SMALL FOOTPRINT
    Close to town but with a secluded feel, this eco-friendly home includes solar panels, a graywater reuse system, tankless hot water, solar tubes, and rainwater...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER- NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
    Organize with Northern Plains Resource Council to protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Starts $35.5k. Apply now- northernplains.org/careers
  • BEAUTIFUL, AUTHENTIC LIVE YULE LOG CENTERPIECE
    - beautiful 12" yule log made from holly wood, live fragrant firs, rich green and white holly, pinecones and red berries. $78 includes shipping. Our...
  • CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMS FOR THE INDIAN UNIVERSITY OF NORTH AMERICA
    Crazy Horse Memorial, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, is currently accepting applications and nominations for the Director of Programs for The Indian University...
  • CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL® MANAGER OF RESIDENCE LIFE FOR THE INDIAN UNIVERSITY OF NORTH AMERICA®
    Crazy Horse Memorial is currently accepting applications for the Manager of Residence Life for The Indian University of North America. This position is responsible for...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Are you an art lover who dreams of living in the mountains? Is fundraising second nature to you? Do you have experience managing creative people?...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Public Lands Foundation, a non-profit organization supporting the multiple-use management of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, seeks an experienced leader...
  • COLD WEATHER CRAFTS
    Unique handmade gifts from the Gunnison Valley. Soy lotion candles, jewelry, art, custom photo mandalas and more. Check out the website and buy Christmas locally...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    North Cascades Institute seeks their next Executive Director to lead the organization, manage $4 million operating budget, and oversee 60 staff. Send resume/cover letter to...
  • EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks an Editor-In-Chief to join our senior team...
  • LENDER OWNED FIX & FLIP
    2 houses on 37+ acres. Gated subdivision, Penrose Colorado. $400k. Possible lender financing. Bob Kunkler Brokers Welcome.
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • POLLINATOR OASIS
    Seeking an experienced, hardworking partner to help restore a desert watershed/wetland while also creating a pollinator oasis at the mouth of an upland canyon. Compensation:...
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.