Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Balancing Your Beliefs As A Consumer

Navigating through life as a consumer and a mother can often be difficult, especially while trying to make the most eco-friendly, nontoxic and conscientious choices for your family.  I find I struggle with this often, juggling my values and beliefs - trying to figure out which are the most important as I attempt to find a way for them to coexist with my status as a consumer.  It gets even trickier when frugality and determining necessity due to a lack of money come into the mix.  Compromises are inevitably made almost every step of the way. 

From packaging, contents and the potential toxins or waste production those may involve, to the manufacturers and other companies they have connections to, everything is taken into consideration to one degree or another before I make a purchase.  I won’t buy a personal care product without checking its toxicity on the Cosmetics Database first, and if something is only available in a plastic clamshell, then I ask myself if I absolutely need it or can it be avoided?  I was furious a few weeks back when I didn’t catch until after I opened it that the supposed homeopathic hypericum and calendula cream I purchased contained parabens.  When I recently viewed a flow chart of organic food companies and the mega corporations who own them (many of which have ties to Monsanto), it left me with such a feeling of helplessness.  Unless I want to take my family completely off the grid, making our own everything from clothing to soap, growing or only purchasing seasonal foods from local farms and canning what’s needed for the winter…compromises must be made.  It’s a sad commentary on our society that this is an absolute as a consumer if you are trying to lead a more natural lifestyle. 

With organic bananas packaged in plastic bags, recycled toilet paper whitened with dioxins, big box stores like Sams Club offering organic spinach in big plastic containers, Walmart selling Stonyfield Organic….what’s a mother to do?  For me personally, I decided that avoiding toxins in our food, personal care products, and even my daughter’s toys was at the top of my list of priorities.  I spent far too long trying to conceive my daughter and am battling too many hormone issues to be able to ignore that desire.  Whether it be paying the extra .50 a week to buy our milk in non-chemical leaching glass, or trying to eat almost 100% organic, for our family (and my husband agrees), there is no compromise here.  With only one income and lingering debt from fertility treatments, this is no easy task.  It is literally the only thing we spend our money on - the one, single “extravagance” so to speak that we allow ourselves.  It is far too important to us not to do so.  What price do you put on not getting cancer, or watching your child with cancer?  What price would I pay not to have gone through three years of fertility treatment hell to conceive our daughter?  What price would I pay to be able to keep my uterus beyond my 30’s when the time comes that I can no longer tolerate the pain?  Some may disagree with this line of thinking, but with infertility, childhood cancers, hormone related issues and diabetes rates all on the rise, and previously unfathomable occurrences like girls hitting puberty at age SEVEN becoming more common every day, I find it impossible not to see a correlation to the toxins saturating our daily lives.  Will avoiding exposure ensure that none of these things will ever be a problem for my daughter?  Absolutely not, and I’m under no delusions that this is the case.  Are exposures to toxins the only things responsible for all of those problems?  Certainly not, but the bottom line is that at least I can say I tried to do all I could, and that’s what’s important to me. 

Perhaps others are motivated to avoid all things corporate, or their desire to reduce their carbon footprint is their driving force to limit their purchases to local ones.  If that’s their number one passion then more power to them!  I think everyone needs to find their own balance as a consumer.  I’m also not saying I don’t try to do all of these things, and there are certainly other ways I try to eliminate my waste as a consumer, like bringing my own jars to the co-op or using my own bags for produce and even fresh bread.  I also do my best to keep costs down in other ways, like making as much as I can from scratch, or using family cloth for #1 so we don’t go through pricier toilet paper as quickly.  Despite all my efforts, it just seems to me like it is getting more and more difficult to avoid everything, to justify every purchase in every way, and it becomes even harder still when money is thrown into the mix.

One of the things that got me thinking about this topic was realizing the irony of how I purchased the shop lights and grow bulbs that I use to start my seedlings at Walmart.  Having to start over with a new garden this year, and faced with more purchases ahead to make that possible, I am in the same position I was many years ago when I bought those lights – if I want to continue to feed my family in the way I always do, then there is no money to spare and I have to find the materials I need to build the garden at the cheapest cost possible.  Does that mean I may have to make a few purchases there?  Sadly, the answer is probably yes.  Will those purchases, in addition to the grow lights, enable me to continue to grow my organic seeds into pesticide free food for my family, with the closest locality possible?  Absolutely!  It also happens to be the only place around here that carries Calgon water softener at a reasonable price, which I need to keep my cloth diapers from stinking with hard water build-up.  So yes, I purchase the Calgon there in order to not pollute the earth with disposable diapers…compromise, compromise, compromise….  But as my husband pointed out, every time I make an eco-friendly related purchase like organic food at a mainstream store, I vote with my wallet to tell those corporations that this is the direction where consumerism is heading.  This is why large corporations like Proctor and Gamble are acquiring companies like New Chapter Organics, because they can see things heading that direction already.  I suppose the double edged sword of wanting more nontoxic and organic products in the common marketplace at a lower price is that means more nefarious corporations will be involved in the dissemination of those products.

Some may condemn me for shopping at Walmart for any reason, just as I might cringe when I see a child sucking on a toy made of PVC or a TV remote full of flame retardants.  But as much as it might make me uneasy to see that, I try not to let it show, and I try not to judge.  I think every person as a parent and as a human being needs to find their own way of making it all work.  I think we all have our own concerns, and our own ways of prioritizing those concerns.  It doesn’t make us superior because something in our lives may motivate us to care about one thing more than another.  There are so many things to try to keep track of these days, and so many hidden evils to navigate around.  The best thing we can do as consumers is try to keep ourselves educated and aware, in order to make informed decisions at the stores, even if in some cases it means a compromising one.  Most of us try our best to do what we can given the means at our disposal, and that’s all we can really ask of one another. 


Anastasia said... [Reply to comment]

This is such a great article--and I agree! You win some, you lose some--it seems impossible to make ALL the right choices, unless, as I have said before too, we decide to buy a farm and live the "old fashioned" way (I do still dream of doing that from time to time!). We cloth diaper, too, and I often think about the energy washing costs. Sometimes something very earth and health friendly comes with poor packaging, etc.

It's so hard to navigate through everything, as you said. Everyone has to pick and choose what is a priority for *them.*

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Hi Amy,

Great article! We are kindred spirits who walk a similar path and I appreciate your thoughts on this topic. I have included an article from my blog and another that was published on the Safer Chemicals/Healthy Families website. I thought you might be interested in the two. Also, with your passion for reducing toxins in your life, the above-mentioned organization may be one you want to check out and be involved in. They are working to get Congress to change the laws regarding toxic chemicals. An uphill battle for sure, but one, I know you'll agree, we must fight. Thank you for putting your self out there!


Elizabeth G. Craig

Amy said... [Reply to comment]


Reading your story on the safer chemicals site, I felt like I could've written almost every word myself! It was a little creepy actually! :) I had always considered adding my story to their site but never got around to it. I see you did it for me! ;) I have been aware of and watching that site for years now (they actually shared this piece last night), and every time I can get involved to help contact congress, etc... I do! Thanks for the heads up though! And I really enjoyed your blog about grocery shopping. Thanks for reading mine!

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