As a single mother on a budget, I have two conflicting agendas: keep my daughter free from all harm, get food and household products as cheaply as possible.
All good consumers know that products that have the least additives, chemicals and pesticides while having the most nutrition, nature and wholeness cost the most money.
Organic, free-range eggs aren’t even sold at WalMart. Neither is coffee that is grown, processed and traded (fairly) solely by females. And I could be wrong, but I’ve never seen sparkling coconut water on those shelves, or much beverage selection at all not produced by the conglomerates.
This does include one of the most controversial conglomerates which continually makes headlines with the shady practice of buying water from streams that don’t belong to them, making back room deals with people who, while in charge for the moment of representing the counties that do own the streams, may or may not take a cut of the profit, and then this conglomerate sells it back to the people in bottles while their rivers and streams run low.
I suppose we could drink from the tap. Coffee only affects my body and my karma (this has no impact on the child I’m raising – right?). And how harmful exactly are eggs produced on industrial farms where they do the things that people do to chickens that we get upset about?
I’m not 100% certain because I haven’t had the time nor the desire to watch a documentary between the average 2.5 hours spent on public transportation per day, getting gum out of hair with peanut-free peanut butter, cleaning with a sense of guilt about how many chemicals I’m putting on our counters because we ran out of cleaning products the day I had ten bucks in my wallet, etc.
And no, I’m not going to make baking soda into a paste and scour things with old newspapers because trying new things takes time and if it doesn’t work I’ll be forced to clean up after my mess of a try and then take more time to clean the regular way.
Plus, I’ve already bought the damned chemicals because no ‘good’ mother allows 48 hours to pass without having a full supply of cleaning products in her home.
You come over to my house with your free time and clean my counters with glopy paste while showing me how to do it. Bring the baking soda. And the BPA-free containers to store it in.
Anyone who has been a single mom or been raised by a single mom knows what it’s like to eat on a budget. Hot dogs, cheesey boxed pasta, sugary watered down juice, soup, soup, soup, no name white bread, oily cheese slices, and reduced ‘real’ meat on the special days.
I’m tired enough as it is (my body might be nutrient-starved) without having to face the monumental task of being a good consumer in the cereal aisle reading the purposefully mismatched nutrition labels to make the best food decision for myself and my child.
Oh look, organic hot dogs are on sale! That sounds like a good deal. Those things are usually $7 or more a pack. But wait, says a small voice in my heart, can hot dogs even be organic?
And then I start thinking about the two transfers and my one hour bus ride home and carrying the groceries and putting them away and having to cook the food and making sure my child has enough….
Fuck it. Who cares if hot dogs can be organic. It’s on sale. The word organic makes me feel good in the same way images of sipping coffee by the lake in the mountains at sunrise wearing snugly sweaters and stretchy yoga pants and bare feet makes me feel good.
I must ask myself in one form or another at lest 10,000 times per day, “Is this best for my child? Am I being a good mom?”
See, in my personal journey, I started with a decent salary. I once had the luxury of shopping without worrying about having enough.
I spent time researching companies and products. I used to read articles in The Economist and other places about best practise.
I was that mom. The one who bought organic avocados and sweet potatoes and mushy grain cereal when my child was old enough to eat solids. I had a personal blender. I even bought fancy ice cube trays with lids.
Ya, I was that mom. And I didn’t do it because anyone else told me that it was the way to do things. I did it because I wanted the best for my child. My friends made fun of me. Other friends told me to make things easier on myself.
So I started a garden in the backyard. Makes sense, right?
And while I was waiting for the dishwasher to cycle and those zucchini to grow, and that nap to end, I used my free time to read. Not for fun. For knowledge.
Because I like to get as much information as possible to make the best informed decision (could be my journalism training), I’ve read way too many articles and research papers about everything from called-out rotten company practice to the negative impact of not enough vitamin D to feeding a family on $2 a day, to getting kids to love beans, to CEOs being forced to resign to how the oil company that just sunk a tanker in the Atlantic is connected to the company that makes the brand of organic cereal I used to eat, the one that occasionally goes on sale.
I know that cereal in the USA has an average of 20% less salt filler than cereal made by the same companies sold in Canada. Because they can. Because it’s cheaper for the companies. Because our version of the FDA refuses to regulate our salt limits.
I come at shopping with a general attitude that most companies don’t have my best interest in mind because their bottom line matters more than my nutrition and my child’s if there is any conflict.
I come at being a consumer with the attitude that packages, labels, shelf placement, marketing campaigns, etc, are all painstakingly designed using the latest psychological findings about human behaviour.
I’ve seen products labelled 88% organic sold at the same price as 100% organic products.
I’ve caught myself falling into buying habits because I’m tired.
Knowing someone somewhere has made the decision (like creating difficult to compare nutrition labels) to factor in my exhaustion as a win for their company.
My heart sees that as scummy practice.
But even worse than that, the whole industry has committed to creating an experience that manipulates a consumer into feeling warm and fuzzy based on research about our exhaustion and our motivations and our needs and which font makes us feel most like we are making good choices for ourselves and our children.
Because? You tell me. I can guess. But you tell me why.
And I haven’t even touched on the karmic repercussions of purchasing products from companies with policy and practice designed to exploit its customers. And how choice is limited in a small town, especially for a single mom on a budget using public transportation.
I don’t think purchasing daily supplies should be so complicated. So filled with the need to constantly navigate manipulation in order to make sure I am making decisions from my heart, and not from my exhaustion, which loves words like organic, even if I have no way of knowing – in the store where I make my choice – whether that claim is legit.
I can’t know unless I research. And the quality of my personal research depends on the information available.
I don’t see the manipulation of marketing as a necessary evil. Maybe that’s where I differ from most.
There’s nothing wrong with advertising. Letting people know that hey, this product is available and this is what it is and what it does.
Marketing steps beyond that line into telling us why we should like it, why we need it, why we cannot do without it, and it’s all bullshit.
Conglomerates buy large companies to reduce competition, but they don’t cut the product lines.
So on the shelves we have organic products sold by conglomerates with – in some cases – horrific policies and practices. And how does an exhausted single mom keep up with merger news?
But everyone else is doing business this way. How are we supposed to compete? Maybe this is what managers who want to one day become CEOs think about as they lie awake at night.
I don’t know the answer to that question. I’m not in the biz. I’m just a single mom on a budget fighting the crowds at the few grocery stores in this small town.
But, if I had to guess, I’d think the answer to being competitive would be to do exactly the opposite of what makes people feel gross about being a consumer. Rather than cashing in on the whole defeatist ‘we have no choice and limited resources so fuck it’ kind of feeling many consumers have.
I’m not the only one. In fact, if I had to guess without anything to back me up, I’d say I probably represent about 80% of the market. At least 97% of consumers are exhausted, 82% are single moms, and 68% are on a budget.