21 November 2008

When I was in the Lake District in England, I learned the term, "ethical consumer," and learned that we need to care enough to know from where we get our food, clothes, electronics.

Are we supporting local shops or major corporations? What is the business itself supporting, which we end up supporting with our patronage? Fair trade? Abortion? Certain political figures? Becoming a responsible consumer will seem overwhelming in no time, as you must pick at, ease, and tug information out from the tidy-looking product on the store shelf--but it's our duty to unravel its secrets as we shed our complacent materialism and store-bought ignorance. With this in mind, try tackling one shopping-category at a time and develop responsible habits in that area before moving on to the next.

I started with the category of food. Hey--why don't you come along with me while I shop?

Okay, for most of us, comestibles are only available at big supermarkets, but I choose my store based upon proximity--Harris Teeter is only 1.5 miles away, and those who work there make sure they always display a friendly, helpful face to those who shop there (and in transitory Hampton Roads, friendly service is not always a given). The big green cardboard monster offering free sugar cookies to "kids of all ages" is a great business strategy, for they've gotten more of my business that way than any other. I lock my bicycle up outside and head inside--tonight's menu? chicken risotto and bacon-wrapped green beans.

I already have the onion and garlic, but I need the green beans. I look at the fresh ones, and there are a few options, including some organic beans, which I must check out. I don't like their plastic packaging, but let's see where they were grown--hmm, all I see is that they were packaged in Ohio. What about the French beans next to them? Similar packaging, but again, a vague reference to where these were grown with nothing but a "product of the USA." Well, that's a start, but I hope we can do better, especially for those prices (about twice the price of the regular fresh green beans). I think I'll check out the frozen green beans, and if they were grown in the US and are cheaper, settle for those because what's fresh isn't looking much better.

The meat department is nearby, and there I'll get the chicken breast. Humane living conditions is my utmost priority when it comes to animal products, so I only scan the organic, cage free choices. The breasts are at least twice as much as the regular--$10 for four little breasts! That's out of the question; after toying with the idea of using other cuts which appeared to be cheaper, I decide to forgo the meat; afterall, I'll still get flavor with the chicken broth. As for the bacon, there is nothing organic, but one company made my choice easy, for it was "certified humane," marked with a label I'd never seen before. Hey--I'll use the bacon in the risotto, too! I do love the stuff, so adding it to everything on the dinner table appeals to me.

Chicken broth is my next item. Again, I only want the cage-free, possibly organic, variety, so I'm left with three choices--oh, a low sodium version? Kristen, immersed up to her eyebrows in nursing school, delivers a diatribe against sodium every time she visits. 70 mg per serving instead of 570 for the regular organic? Fabulous. And the price is only a tiny bit more than non-organic.

The Arborio rice is another easy decision, for there is only one bag--and it has "eco--" in the title. Check.

And that's it. I purchase it all at self check out and pile it into my reusable bag, which I stuff into my bike basket before heading home.

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