Looking back on day 1

The “unchained” process is not a revolution. It’s a gradual adjustment, and an exploration. Trial and error. Incremental change.

What all of these platitudes mean is that we might make some mistakes along the way, and that’s OK. We’re not working with a set of rigid rules, but a handful of ideas, some of which may not totally mesh. There may be some conflicts, both between us and within each of us, as we figure out just what the heck we’re trying to do, and as we learn why.

The shopping trip was an interesting experience. We went in without a grand plan, and without even really consulting each other in great detail about what we wanted to buy and what we wanted to get out of it. Overall I think it was a good start. We had some choices to make: Do we go organic or do we spend half as much? How do we decide which brand of tortillas to buy when there aren’t any local options? (And, while we’re on the topic, why aren’t there local options? Minneapolis has some great tortillerias, including at least one that delivers fresh tortillas daily to several local grocery stores.)

I ended up going back to Oxendale’s later in the afternoon to pick up some milk and bread. I really wanted to buy organic milk, but of the two options available, one was Horizon (of which I’ve learned to be skeptical), and both were far more expensive than the other (merely “natural”) option, Land O’ Lakes — $5.99 per gallon for Horizon, $4.79 per half gallon for the other organic brand (whose name eludes my memory at the moment), vs. $3.99 for a gallon of Land O’ Lakes. And I’m used to paying around $2.19 per gallon for Market Pantry milk at Super Target. I shudder to think what the difference could possibly be between these brands of milk to justify such a price difference, but it’s a safe bet that either the cows or consumers (or both) are being abused by the system. In the end, frugality won, and I bought the Land O’ Lakes milk.

I want to believe in organic foods, but it’s easy to be a skeptic. Few of us really take the time to research the products we buy, and it may be a mistake to trust the “organic” label, especially at places like Super Target and Walmart. And if the organic label doesn’t really mean healthier, more sustainably-produced food, then all it means is you’re a chump who’s willing to pay a lot more and get nothing in return.

Which leads to the options that are available for verifying the organic, fair trade, sustainable sourcing of the items you buy. Here’s a start: shop at a co-op. It’s a no-brainer that if you’re not going to do your homework, you should at least find the right person to cheat off of. Don’t trust the school bully to give you the right answers — listen to the nerd who’s always in the library. Co-ops care about where their products come from, and about making responsible choices. Big box stores just care about getting you in and out quickly, with a full cart and an empty wallet.

So: co-ops. Buy from someone you can trust. I’d like us to work on that one. The other thing to keep in mind is that there are resources out there to help us educate ourselves without a ton of effort. A colleague just tipped me off to one such option today: GoodGuide. It’s not just about food, and it’s not all organic (and it’s not always 100% trustworthy, as the information is submitted by the manufacturers themselves), but it’s better than ignorance. And with a free iPhone app, it’s a great way to have information at your fingertips when you’re actually in the store.

All in all, not a bad day. I feel like I learned a lot… we learned a lot. And it’s just the beginning.

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