Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Making the most of hypocrisy

<lass="page layoutArea column" title="Page 1">

It’s always the same dilemma…

“I care about the environment.”

“I’ve read up on the problems in our food system.”

“I know things have to change.”

But, “I don’t feel comfortable spending that much on yogurt. I can’t afford to spend that much on produce.”

“I’m a college student.”

I am in the midst of this paradox as an off-board senior grocery shopping for the first time. I’ve spent the past three years at Carleton studying food systems reform and advocating that the masses change their shopping habits, and now I shop 30% at the Co-Op 70% at Cub. I’m trying to practice what I preach, but it’s hard.

I’m a college student.

A lot of times the conversation stops there. Carls are great at calling out our own hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance, but sometimes we act as if being self-aware solves the problem. Just because we’ve identified an inconsistency between our beliefs and actions does not mean we are better people for it. Recognition is not a solution.

But rather than feel guilty or powerless in the face of these imperfections, I think we should see them as opportunities. As we begin to try and implement our ideals in their real world complexity, we will inevitably reach hang-ups. Compromises, quick decisions, systemic obstacles. These can be the perfect points to delve deeper into the cause of our conflict and think, “how could this be different?”

In the case of grocery shopping and cooking, I’ve realized convenience is a huge hindrance to true sustainable shopping. There are ways to buy local or organic while staying within a certain budget, but that demands incredibly strategic, frequent shopping and many compromises on what we eat. I could make use of the co-ops bulk section, jump on ultra-seasonal deals, and utilize Eat the Lawn or Northfield’s Free Food Help Yourself for produce. I could can and pickle to last through winter, make my own yogurt and hummus and salad dressings. With some combination of deal hunting and physical scavenging there are ways to sustainably sustain myself while saving money, but I certainly wouldn’t save any time. It is not purely the price that’s at issue; it’s also the planning.

We forget that the conventional food system was largely built on a demand for convenience that has not gone away. The scrappy, DIY nature of shrewd sustainable eating assumes the luxury of time and forethought. On one hand, I could (and probably should) put more effort into making the most of every shopping cart and searching for local sources, but it’s presumptions to assume most people would reorient their lives around grocery shopping. Some may be capable and culturally unwilling, while others may be economically unable. I’ve thus run into a larger barrier to sustainable food systems: people live differently, and need or expect convenience. We need to think of innovative ways to make the “right” decisions easier and affordable.

Macalester students have also identified this issue and responded with their own start up, called Nüdl. This meal share app connections students who want to cook large meals with students who are short on time. By joining in on a meal you’re obliged to host a later meal, and the cycle goes on to make thoughtful home cooking more convenient.

Now, a start up isn’t going to revolutionize the system and over turn policies, economies, and cultural differences that make sustainable food expensive and at times inaccessible. But, I think Nüdl stands to show that we can do something (other than identify the larger systemic problem, feel powerless, and walk away having acknowledged our hypocrisy).

Whether it’s community organizing, social entrepreneurship, or more systemic policy prescriptions, there are ways to rethink the situation and break down personal paradoxes into more manageable problems. Rather than become paralyzed in the face of contradictions, recognize that if this is happening to you its probably happening to a lot of people. You’ve identified the snag that needs to change. You can label it and walk away, or you can dig to the root of the issue and think, is there anything new we could do to make this better?

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *