The conflicted eco-consumer


As the eco-eating trend grows, grocery shoppers learn more about the right things to put in their bodies.  They know if feels better to shop at small local farm markets and natural food stores.  But what they don’t expect are the ethical and practical dilemmas that accompany such conscientious shopping.  Today’s eco-minded grocery consumer is faced with choices in every aisle, and often have to make decisions based on ‘what’s worse?’.

Eco-consumer Quandary #1: Where to shop

This decision must be made before Ms. Eco-shopper in an average-sized town even steps out the door. She wants her money to go to locally owned establishments, but small markets and natural food stores don’t have the selection that big stores do, and if they do carry the same products, the superstores have better prices. Also, small, natural food stores are limited in their inventory.  If Ms. Eco-shopper wants to eat organic, free-range meat products, it’s unlikely she’ll find a large variety at a local natural food store.  So, if she’s driving to the small local store for some things, the superstore for other things and then out to the free-range beef farm, she’s just burned up more non-renewable oil than if she would have gone to one store for everything on her list. So, does Ms. Eco-shopper decide where to shop based on price, selection or both and then use more gas  for transportation?

Eco-consumer Quandary #2: What to buy

Now that Ms. Eco-shopper has her cart in hand and is roaming the aisles of her local grocery store, she has even more choices to make.  First, she looks for fresh, organic produce.  She might find some, but from where is it being shipped? Even mega natural food stores don’t guarantee that their produce was purchased locally (some won’t even visit local farms).  She wonders whether it’s better to buy non-organic produce that supports local farmers or organic produce that has travelled across the country (in a truck burning oil the entire way). She also needs canned goods for her pantry and looks for organic products.  Canned organic vegetables are getting easier to find, but are still sold in cans containing BPA. Ms. Eco-shopper has another choice to make – does she want her family to ingest BPA or pesticides? Neither, of course, but she must choose one if she needs the convenience and cost of canned goods.

Eco-consumer Quandary #3: How to spend

Like most families these days, Ms. Eco-shopper doesn’t have a lot of money and is on a strict grocery budget.  Her mission is to get as much nutrition as possible from each dollar.  With more superstores carrying organic and earth-friendly products for much less money than smaller stores, it’s hard to justify paying the extra amount to shop at a locally owned store.  She needs to look at prices to get enough food on the table, and sometimes that means not buying organic, free-range, pesticide-free food. And this is the quandary that frustrates her most of all.  At least with her other decisions, she is choosing the lesser of two evils.  Here, she may not have a choice.

Every eco-shopper on a budget faces these challenges every time she ventures out to buy groceries.  So, what are we to do?  The best we can.  Every choice to support local, responsible farmers is an action that will encourage sustainable farming practices.  As shoppers become educated on the chemicals in their produce, the treatment of the animals whose meat they purchase and gas used to transport food from far-away places, they will hopefully make good choices at the grocery store.  Even if a family can only afford organic produce or free-range meat, it still makes a difference.  Every purchase of eco-friendly foods is a vote in support of them, and every vote counts.