Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Grad Life & Consumer Choices - Ethics and/or Frugality?

So. Here`s my dilemma. (I realized, by the way, that I tend to blog about my dilemmas a lot. I don`t inherently and constantly have problems, folks. I promise). On my way to Coffee & Company for a day of coffee shop marking on Saturday (because, let`s face it, 90% of the work I get done is completed in coffee shops), I stopped by Tara Natural Foods and spent almost an hour browsing the aisles. I couldn't believe how awesome it was. There was organic everything. I was thrilled to come across organic hand cream that I've been searching high and low for ages.

However, on my way home from Coffee & Company later that afternoon, I was struck with a sudden dilemma. I stopped by the trusty Metro to pick up some fruits and vegetables when, upon arrival, I remembered my trip to Tara Natural Foods earlier that day and felt a twinge of uncertainty.

Behold, my friends. Two dilemmas. What would you do in the following situations? Assuming you`re on a grad student budget (which we are), what would you do?

DILEMMA 1: Let`s say you`re at the grocery store. And you`re standing in front of an array of fresh Granny Smith apples (which, let`s face it, are the best ones!!), and you`re stuck. On your right, you have regular apples that are pretty cheap. Super cheap, in fact. Yet as you reach for those, however, your eyes trickle over the organic apples. An option produced with less exposure to synthetic chemicals and other undesirable pesticides. An option that wasn't subjected to chemical fertilizers that potentially reduced nutritional values and harmed the environment.

What do you choose? Is the choice clear-cut? Should we spend more money on food for the sake of the environment? Should we choose the organic option because it's the potentially healthier and environmentally conscious choice? On the flip side, really, what difference can a few chemicals and fertilizers make? Will it really harm us that much? So what about the cheaper option? It may only be a few cents cheaper, but we're on a budget. And so that's a few cents (that matter) cheaper. What do we do?

DILEMMA 2: Let`s say, again, that you`re at the grocery store (I guess you go there a lot?). And you`re standing in front of an array of fresh bananas. Awesome. You can bake some banana bread (with walnuts, obviously)! And regular bananas are a reasonable price, so you reach for those. Until, of course, your eyes flicker to the pile of bananas next to them. Locally grown bananas that are more expensive than imported bananas but are produced by the neighbour-next-door. Why don't we help a brother out, yea?

So what do you buy? Is the choice clear cut? Should you purchase domestic, locally grown products, even though it`s a bit more expensive? Is it the choice we always (and should?) make? Or, in the name of saving a couple of dollars (for lunch money this week, obviously), do we go the frugal route, and purchase other items instead?

How difficult a decision is this? This was my dilemma at Metro on Saturday, by the way. I always struggle with the choice of purchasing locally grown products over much cheaper (even a few cents!) options.


I know it's easy to say that we should OBVIOUSLY make the ethically, healthy, socially, and environmentally conscious decision. But that's a decision some can make more easily than others. Money is still an issue. A majority still purchase the cheaper over expensive (even in the name of a few cents!), which makes me think these dilemmas and choices aren't as clear-cut as we'd want them to be. Is money (we potentially spend) always the root of the issue?

Are the situations above really dilemmas? Are the choices ever clear-cut? On a graduate student budget, should we choose the more expensive option in the name of social conciousness, ethics? Or are more socially concious, healthy, ethical consumer decisions for those who have a bit more money to spend? And if we do choose the former, does the choice of one person actually make a difference for the causes we support? Can we ever unite the ideas of ethics and frugality?

I don`t have the answers to these questions. If anything, I have more questions to add to the list. I suppose we'll always be faced with similar choices. Pragmatic, frugal decisions versus choices in the name of a cause can be difficult to make. Can the choice of one person really make a difference? I don't know. But I suppose we won't know until we actually try, right?

“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”
- Eleanor Roosevelt

“Every human has four endowments- self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom: the power to choose, to respond, to change.”
- Stephen R. Covey


  1. Hmm.. I guess I would be influenced by the probability weighted health and social benefits of organic vs. non organic relative to other budget priorities.

    I would only really consider the local vs. non-local distinction if there was potential product quality differences. (fresher, safer, etc). Otherwise, not sure why the local farmers deserve our money more than ones further away that provide the same good. (I'm also v. pro free trade)

    (With that said I've grocery shopped less than a dozen times over the past 4 years so I'm not a huge consumer haha)


    PS I like the food for thought pun

  2. Thanks for your comments, PJ! I would weigh health and social benefits greater than budget priorities as well. I think my greater dilemma rests on the second problem re: local vs. non-local. I still hesitate to purchase non-local products, even though you make a great point re: farmers potentially not deserving our money vs. ones abroad.
    Have a great night,