Beyond Paper or Plastic


| What Grocery Shopping Taught Me About Social Justice |

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything worth posting here. Apparently I’m not the only person struggling to write after the election. It’s not that I haven’t tried. It’s just that everything I start devolves into a political rant. I start out with good intentions writing about the frost on the window or my best friend from third grade or my neighbor’s noisy muffler and suddenly I’m ranting again about cabinet appointments and exaggerated news reporting.

But I’m not surprised.  One can hardly buy a cup of coffee or check the weather forecast without a reminder of the huge rift in our nation. Whose bright idea was it to put the election right before the time we’re most likely to gather with friends and family??

And so close to the biggest shopping season of the year too? It is seemingly impossible to make the smallest consumer decision without also making a political statement. Take for example an early December trip to the grocery store.

Before I even entered the grocery store, I was met with the ringing bells and red kettle of the Salvation Army. Someone posted on Facebook that the Salvation Army doesn’t support gay rights, I remembered. I meant to check that out, but I never did. Should I keep my pocket change to myself or should I donate anyway and buy some Campbell’s soup products as penance?

The middle aged blonde bundled in a faux fur coat was set up by the store exit, so I had time to ponder the question.  But there was so much else to ponder.

Avocados are on sale – but was that farmers’ strike in Mexico ever settled? Are these “scab” avocados??

Maybe I should start coughing up the extra money and buy that organic stuff. I can’t really afford it, but aren’t most Americans in debt? Am I really doing my part to support capitalism with only a measly car loan?

And Pop-tarts. Should I buy some Pop-tarts for my kids? They love them and I certainly don’t want Breitbart supporters to put them out of business, but I think there’s more nutritional value in a Resee’s cup or possibly one of the grocery store floor tiles.

Oooh wait. They make coffee-flavored Pop-tarts now??

And speaking of coffee — Guatemalean, Columbian, Ethiopian, hmmm —  what kind of deforestation or fascist regimes might I be supporting? Shouldn’t I be researching this more?

And then there’s palm oil in my powdered coffee creamer. I’ll have to switch back to real cream which at least once a week  I invariably leave sitting out on the counter when I go to work which leads to me wastefully pouring it down the sink (rinsing it out then so I can recycle it of course.)

(I can recycle it, right?)

And in the midst of all these weighty decisions my 13-year-old daughter kept asking me about hot chocolate.

Not Nestle though. It’s cheaper, but there was that whole infant formula fiasco back in the 70s and now this Michigan water controversy. And don’t we already have some at the house anyway?

“No, mom. I want to buy a hot chocolate at the café,” she said, “For the salvation army lady.”

The cocoa at the café is more expensive than I’d normally consent to and it comes in an evil Styrofoam container, but so shines a good deed on a weary shopping day.

* *

Absolutely we should all pick out a few social causes to champion, a few fights we’re willing to put on the gloves for. But if we wear the gloves all the time, we’re not going to get much else done. It’s very possible to get so tangled up in the problems of the world that we miss the good deed waiting to happen right under our noses.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t care about other causes, but it’s impossible to know and to act on everything. There have to be limits on how much we give, priorities, boundaries. Or we’re going to feel the kind of paralyzing fear and hopelessness that I think a lot of people have suffered the last few months.

But I’ve heard so many uplifting sentiments recently. Commitments to fight for this cause or that cause. I like these commitments, even if I’m not into the cause. We’ve gotten soft — at least I have. I’ve trusted in others to make the world what I want it to be. It’s time to pick a cause or two and get busy: Fact checking, letter-writing, donation mailing, information sharing, local and global action.

I’m hoping to do my part to make 2017 a year of revolutionary awesomeness by setting some priorities and commitments I can live up to, starting with the people and causes in my own back yard.


Because fact checking has become increasingly important to me…

On Cambell’s soup – Although their soup takes some doctoring to enjoy, they’ve had some tasteful ads which went head to head with conservative interest groups in 2015 and in 2009 when it was slightly more risky.

On the Salvation Army – The Snopes report is mixed. I think this is a hyped up misinterpretation of a Bible verse myself, but I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt when they’re actually helping someone in need.

On the Avocado shortage (or guacpocalypse) – The strike is indeed over.

On average household debt in the U.S. – According to Bloomberg,   I’m even further behind than I ever imagined.

On Pop-tarts – Yes, it’s a fact that Breitbart is calling for their readers to boycott all Kellog’s products because the company pulled their advertising. Concerning nutritional values, it’s a toss up. A Resee’s 2-pack will give you more protein, dietary fiber and surprisingly less sodium than strawberry pop-tarts, but the Pop-tarts have less fat, slightly less sugar, and more vitamins (but still not many). Sadly no data is available on the supermarket floor tiles, but it probably depends on which aisle you’re in and the average toddler traffic over the past several hours. Oh, and, yes, chocolate mocha pop-tarts do exist, along with maple bacon, but blech.

On Coffee – pleased to see Starbucks is doing some of this research for us. An interesting article of sustainable coffee here.

On Palm oil (Seriously, use olive oil instead.)

On Nestle – Check out their Rap Sheet on

On driving ourselves crazy – A recent Time magazine article suggests a state of constant hyper-communication with people all over the globe is a major contributing factor in the alarming spike in teenage depression. We’re spreading our compassion a little too thin.

And because a classic rock song always says it better, here’s Donovan Leitch with some words of wisdom on personal responsibility:


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