Lured by the Romance of Shopping at the Ocean Beach Farmer’s Market
Buying locally grown, organic produce from the Farmer’s Market has always seemed like a romantic thing to do until I realized it was also an outrageously extravagant activity too. Whenever I try to participate, the cost of the produce quickly tarnishes the experience for me.
Recently I read my friend’s incredible book, Apples to Oysters. In it Margaret Webb writes rapturously about the taste of food raised or gathered by passionate farmers whose love of their harvest and livestock, and the respect they pay mother nature, is captured in every morsel they reverently deliver to their lucky consumers mouths. Not only did Webb’s book make me fall in love with her farmers, she made me yearn for a better, more honorable way of eating. Inspired, I trotted over to the Ocean Beach Farmer’s Market with my two reusable bags, visions of them brimming with lovely local and tasty vegetables, cost be damned!
I bought 4 small plums for $3, 6 oranges for $5 and a box of strawberries for $5 and then, I panicked. I looked at my meager supplies and felt stupid, embarrassed that I had spent so much money to get so little. I scurried home, defeated.
Thriftiness Next to Godliness
I am sinfully proud of my ability to save money. I make my own deodorant and yogurt, use powdered detergent, buy flea medicine for an 80 pound dog and split it between our 4 cats and 40 pound dog (DON’T do this without careful research on which medication can’t be used on cats!). I haven’t entered a Ralph’s, Alberstons or Vons in years. My favorite grocery store is North Park Produce on El Cajon. When I had a job, I always brought my lunch to work. I average less than one Starbuck’s fancy coffee a year. I shop at Ross, AmVets and Big Lots. I am very good at paying the lowest price possible. The truth is, I feel superior to people who spend so much money on things they could get for cheaper. When I purchase things at a good price, I feel in control and proud of myself.
Growing up, my family’s motto could have been:
“Work Hard. Waste Nothing. Save Money.”
My grandmother would scold my mother for washing dishes in anything more than 1 inch of water. She rinsed dishes with dripping boiling water from a pot, she froze lemons and boiled the lemon peels to make lemonade even though a fruit laden lemon tree grew within 5 feet of her back door. She buried compost in her garden long before composting became fashionable. My mother was similarly vigilant in her own way, saving jars, reusing Christmas paper, eating food past its expiration date, drying clothes on the line…
Frugal and Green Kissing Cousins?
Frugality was our goal but it seemed to unavoidably lead to a healthier and greener lifestyle–whether we wanted it or not. Today, I still want these two virtues to naturally coexist. I want strawberries that I buy from California to be cheaper than the ones imported from Mexico. I want things I buy direct to be less expensive than things I buy with middlemen. I want small farmers to sell things for less than corporations. I want eggs that require no fences or growth hormones to be less costly than the ones that do. Perhaps, that was true once, if so, it isn’t any longer. Importing, middlemen, corporations, fences, and hormones all exist to increase the profitability of selling food, which, in part, includes growing things faster, bigger, prettier, all that lasts longer. It makes sense to me that mega farms have spent a century figuring out how to do all this AND under-sell the small farmer.
Producing cheap food probably involves things I am ethically opposed to, like allowing fertilizers, hormones and/or chemicals to damage the environment and natural life, to take advantage of less advantaged people, and to treat livestock inhumanely.
Saving Money or the World?
I would think that any sane person would recognize that saving money is not as important as protecting our environment but, when it comes to money I am not sane.
Let’s say I buy a single locally grown organic $1 tomato, here is a sample of my ensuing anxious thoughts:
“Did I really need this tomato? I better use it well and not waste it. Should I buy locally baked organic bread to go with the organic tomato? I should go home and bake my own bread and make a BLT. But how can bacon be ethical? I should be a vegetarian. But first I should give up sugar. I haven’t been successful doing that so why do I think I could be a vegetarian? I should exercise more too. Maybe a garden will help me exercise? If I didn’t need to find a job I could bake bread, have a garden and exercise. I won’t have a place to garden if we can’t pay the mortgage because I’m spending my time baking bread and growing tomatoes. Fuck! Why am I out here spending our money on $1 tomato when I can’t even find a job!”
One of the things I can’t answer for myself is when have I done enough and get to feel good about myself? For me to have the capacity to buy organic, locally grown produce means I’d need to be the kind of disciplined, internally joyful person able to give up TV, shopping, sugar and beer too. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do enough to be free of guilt, and no matter how much guilt I feel, it doesn’t stop me from being a fat, meat eating, leather wearing, chocolate chip ice-cream eating, $1.99 Chilean wine drinking person who loves buying ecologically destructive clothes probably made by children.
I tried to explain my dilemma to a holistic healer but she was unable to offer any solace. In fact, she reminded me of my responsibility to the earth and my body, which managed to increase my guilt but not my motivation to begin a more ethical purchasing lifestyle.
Why I don’t Want to Buy Organic Produce
It comes down to this:
- Buying food at the best price alleviates (momentarily) my overabundant guilt.
- I enjoy feeling a little bit superior for knowing where to buy the best deals on coffee, cilantro and chickpea flour.
- I lump all people who buy organic food with people who drink Starbucks while driving and talking on their cell phones while reaching for their hand sanitizer
For me, buying organic produce costs me more than money.
(Brenda has just joined a CSA-Community Supported Agriculture- at Ocean Beach Farmer’s Market where she gets to pay up front for several months of boxes of pre-selected and delicious produce.)