This morning, it being a Saturday, I did my usual grocery shopping at our weekly farmers’ market, located a 20-minute walk or 5-minute bicycle ride from my house. It’s great being able to get 90 percent, or more, of my groceries from small businesses and local farmers in an open-air setting. (I haven’t set foot inside a supermarket in months. Never have liked the huge, artificially-cooled environment of big stores, and the pandemic gave me an extra reason to avoid them.)
As I usually do, I visited the local veggie farmer’s booth first. He only has 3 or 4 kinds of vegetables at any given time, but he grows it all himself, the prices are reasonable, and his farm is only about 20 miles from here. Support local!
Then I visit the farmer who makes cheese and yogurt, as well as kombucha and other goodies. Their farm is a little further away but still within about 50 miles. The cheese is priced a lot higher than what you get at the supermarket, but I get to have cheese and yogurt (things I enjoy and am not willing to give up) without supporting factory farming. It’s a deal I make with myself; since I can afford to pay the extra, I do. I would not impose this on anyone else, especially a cash-strapped family of hungry teenagers. We each have to make our own deals and tradeoffs. I know lots of people who don’t eat any dairy or meat, period, so their food footprint is probably lower than mine.
There’s also the fact that I eat what some people call “junk food.” Yes, I like Doritos and Cheese Nips and snack cakes. It’s not an everyday indulgence, or even an every-week indulgence for me, but it’s more than a lot of other people I know (and less than a lot of others).
After shopping at the dairy farmer’s booth, I move on to the “discount food guy.” This large tent is a kingdom in itself, filled with odd brands, goods in dented cans, gourmet crackers, sauces, nut-butters and whatever else he happened to get this week from retailers who needed to clear out their stock. I suspect that at least some folks love shopping there as much for the surprise factor (“Look! A jar of wasabi mustard!”) as for the prices (“…And it’s only a dollar!”). But most of his customers, I suspect, really depend on the odd-lot foods he offers at bargain prices. I know there have been times in past years, very lean times, that I’ve been one of that latter group.
Today I snatched up a bottle of almond oil (never seen that before; added it to my collection of cooking oils), a jar of olive paste, and a couple boxes of Lucky Charms cereal. I always loved Lucky Charms as a kid. Our parents mostly stuck with the healthier cereals but would indulge us in a box of the sugary stuff on occasion. As a grownup, I still feel that “special treat” feeling by having the occasional box of Lucky Charms. I always get it from Food Discount Guy though, not the mega supermarket chain. My deal with myself is “You can have this as an occasional indulgence, but you need to buy it from the small Mom & Pop.”
So yeah, I’m a true omnivore. A girl whose diet emphasizes plenty of fresh produce, including weeds (from my own yard and from other good spots where I find unsung tasty edibles growing), but also includes Lucky Charms and Cheese Nips. And a full range of foods all along the “virtue spectrum.”
On many occasions I’ve had people comment that they never figured me as the type to eat “that kind of stuff” (meaning anything other than steamed weeds). They assume that because of my low-footprint lifestyle, I must have a pristine diet. A friend I ran into at the farmers’ market this morning said that when he saw the Lucky Charms.
I did something I never do. I explained, matter-of-factly, that I am a survivor of an eating disorder, and that I’ve found I eat an overall healthier diet if I allow myself to eat some foods that are not considered “healthy.” Over time, I seem to naturally want less of that so-called “unhealthy” food.
It felt good to just come out and say that in public in a matter-of-fact way. In the past (long ago in years, but never so long ago that I forget), I have been through hellish times by trying to restrict my food intake, maintain a certain very underweight body size, yadda yadda. I looked “beautiful” according to the stereotypical Anglo definition. And I was so focused on that stuff that I lived in a bubble, abandoned the people I loved most, and almost let my whole life pass me by. So now, I don’t stress out when not all of my food choices are so-called “good foods.” I just give thanks to be alive in a healthy body, enjoying food and not letting rigid attitudes monopolize my brain and run my life. (Note: Of course I’m not trying to tell you to eat foods that you know are bad for your health. Or do anything else that you know is bad for you. Each person is different, and you have to pay attention to your own needs.)
Two key points here: 1) As I say repeatedly in my book and on this blog, a low-footprint lifestyle is something you create to your own specifications. Most of us have factors that add to our footprint in some way. It’s fine! Do your best; make allowances; compensate in other areas where you can. 2) A low-footprint lifestyle is easier to achieve if it’s primarily motivated by love rather than guilt. Love for this beautiful planet, love for future generations, love for our families and friends, love for the ancestors to whom we owe our existence in this incarnation, love for ourselves and our life goals.
Take care of your health, both physical and mental. Enjoy your hobbies and treats. You can live at a tiny fraction of the default USAmerican footprint without giving up being you. Maybe when more people realize that, we’ll have more people choosing to pursue a low-footprint path.
Of Zoom Lenses and Morality Gyms. (Blog post by Vicki Robin, author of Your Money Or Your Life.)