Two ways to consume

The debate goes on back here. It’s been a thoughtful – and helpful I think – discussion on the environment, hippies, and sustainability.  Join in. If you like.

One of my objections to paying a premium to be green is that it seems like such a waste of money. For example, I don’t like that chickens live in terrible conditions in battery farms. But I like eggs. So I must buy eggs. Do I, when faced with this conundrum (and being unable to have my own chickens because we live in a townhouse):

a) Buy free range in the hope that this will stimulate the market for free range eggs and eventually remove the premium price we pay to soothe our conscience.


b) Save that money, buy the battery eggs and use the difference to pay for things I think matter more. Like giving money to support the work of my church.

I lean towards b. I think there are much better causes to resource. I like that the free market lets me make that decision, and doesn’t dictate the terms of my charity to me through levies and stupid taxes.

Which is why I don’t like emissions trading. Or the Green movement. They have no sympathy for that idea. They want their special interest to be everyone’s special interest. I have blogged about this before. In ranty fashion. Here. And Here. This little quote from  sums up what the dissonance I feel when it comes to the central green argument:

“Apparently our biggest problems are land clearing, extinct bird species, salinity and greenhouse gas emissions… and that my friends is why I hate hippies.”

That’s a quote that has stood the test of time.

Anyway, I didn’t start this post to quote myself – but rather to quote this guy, from a really interesting blog I subscribed to today:

“My grocery bill from Safeway, where I buy Nestle products and pesticide infused produce is 50% cheaper than my bill from a socially conscious store like Whole Foods, Mother’s Market or PCC.  While being committed to shopping in socially conscious ways, I am also committed to spending less. Savings on a grocery bill can be given to the Aid and Assistance Fund at church, go to help purchase backpacks for less fortunate students at my kids’ school, or be sent to my favorite non-profit organization in South Africa, Ithemba Lethu.


Leah says:

I think people should be free to choose their own causes, too.

Your chicken egg example, however, was missing a choice: buying barn eggs. The chickens in these barns don’t live quite as freely as free range chickens do, but they’re not abused anything like battery chickens are. And they’re not a lot more expensive than battery eggs. So I buy those. I think it’s wrong to abuse animals simply for our desires, but support the idea that we can use them.

Don’t get me wrong; this can definitely go too far. I think you once told a story about someone who tried to convince you to give up your sponsor child to sponsor a panda. That’s just absurd. When it’s a toss-up between the well being of people and the well-being of the environmentl, the well being of humans comes first. But if you can sustain the well being of people AND the well being of the environment (even if it’s just a little more expensive), then I think it is worth while. Is our environment not worth just a little bit more expense? Not the expense of people, for sure, not the expense of people’s jobs, but just a few dollars here and there?

queenstuss says:

It’s a fair point. I don’t buy free range eggs or organic fruit and veg because they are too expensive.

However, sustainable living is about more than just the food you buy. I save money buy turning off lights in rooms I’m not in, by using vinegar and bicarb rather than proprietry cleaners, by driving less, by using cloth nappies and not delaying toilet training, by composting my vegie scraps and not buying compost, and by planting a garden that doesn’t need watering three times a day.

Amy says:

So maybe you buy free range eggs and don’t buy icecream to save money.
Both your conscience and your waistline are better off.

Also, I note in the last few years it has become easier to find free range eggs and they are cheaper in ratio to normal eggs (not discounting that eggs in general have gone up in price over the last few years). So maybe the choice to purchase and support an industry has worked.

My conscience tells me that spending a few dollars extra on a product that does not cause animal cruelty is necessary, same as not buying a generic because usually they are made in another country with foreign ingredients, or not buying a supermarket brand because they undercut other producers. Grocery shopping is a minefield quite frankly, but something small you can do that makes a real difference.

We are dictated to constantly through taxes and levies – I may not agree with the baby bonus but I pay for it, or the air force buying really dodgy planes, but that is how our system works. You are supporting hundreds of special interests every pay. That’s just the way it is.

Nathan says:

I agree that we have to pay for things we don’t want through taxes and levies. That was kind of my point.

Personally I’d rather save the $5 on eggs and spend it on a sponsor child. I just don’t care as much about animal rights as I do about children living in poverty.

Chickens don’t send me letters.

Amy says:

See, I’ll pay the $5 on eggs and sponsor a child – even though it might not feel like it we are a wealthy country and a lot of what we see as necessity isn’t really so (high speed internet connections anyone?).

I also wanted to say while there are ethical reasons to buy organic or pesticide free produce – they are also better for us.

Nathan says:

But why not sponsor two children? I’m all for giving. I’m all for generosity. I’d rather spend my wealth on a cause I care about and am passionate about than on a cause other people force me to support.

Green =/= Sustainable, and a chicken =/= a child.

queenstuss says:

Free range eggs etc are as much an ethical issue as an environmental issue.

‘Environmentally-friendly’ grocery shopping also includes buying things with less packaging, buying local and seasonal produce, and maybe buying less meat and eating more chickpeas. All of which will save you money.

You can’t just say that you don’t want to pay more for your eggs, therefore it is too expensive to be environmentally/socially concious at the supermarket. It just doesn’t make sense.

Nathan says:

Of course I can. Why would I want to be environmentally friendly rather than people friendly? Eggs are just an example. I also don’t buy organic vegetables. I would rather keep my supermarket costs low and spend the money I save on causes I care about.

Growing my own vegetables and hunting my own food would be other ways to achieve this – and the quality is no doubt better too. That’s part of the reason I roast my own coffee.

Quality, cost, enjoyment, and the fact that I can control who I’m supporting with my money (ie the farmer directly rather than through some terrible proprietary system) are all reasons I choose to home roast.

queenstuss says:

Are the costs involved in producing free range eggs higher than battery eggs?

My point is that you can still afford to buy free range and organic by cutting costs elsewhere.

I think animal welfare is a valid cause for people to want to put their money into.

Nathan says:

Well, feel free to buy free range eggs if you want. But I won’t feel ethically compelled to do so.
Having your own chooks is the most sustainable way to go.

queenstuss says:

Absolutely. If only I can convince my husband we need chooks in our backyard…

Amy says:

I’m trying to convince my husband to get chickens too!

I think humans once they take responsibility for animals – such as in a domesticated/food production situation – are absolutely responsible and ethically required to take great interest in animal welfare. Cruelty to any creature without a voice that relies on humans to supply its needs is just plain wrong.

Nathan says:

Here’s the thing, battery farmed chickens have food, shelter (and unless they’re plucked) and clothing. That’s more than a lot of impoverished people.

Why would I care about chickens when I can care about children?

Amy says:

Yes, they have food, if you count highly processed food filled with antibiotics and hormones so that they grow unnaturally large breast meat and legs, they have shelter if you count being so cramped that they are deformed, they have ‘clothing’ but they get their beaks burnt off so they don’t fight with each other.

You could care about chickens because God gave them to you to look after so they would provide for you, not so you could abuse them.

Nathan says:

There are plenty of things I could be worried about and choose to devote resources to.

Battery chickens aren’t high on my list. I like cheap eggs.

Amy says:

I am going to give up trying to convince you, but we have both made our opinions known.

Anyway – on another note, you have managed to totally spoil my attempt to have every single recent post in your listing there. I was doing so well!