Sunday, July 8, 2012

Green Hypocrisy

After today's trip to the grocery store I'm left wondering if I am just a big, giant hypocrite? The short answer is yes, of course I am. Most of us are hypocrites to some extent. Religious zealots who preach love and kindness, yet kill in the name of religion or treat homosexuals like murderers. Wannabe greenies like myself who claim to care for the environment yet drive and use central air con. You get the idea.

I thought I was on-board with small, green changes at least, but now now I'm not so sure. When we walked into Kroger for our quick weekly shopping trip, I was dismayed that half the lights were out. It was also almost as warm inside the store as it was outside. Great, I thought, they must be running on a generator. I jumped to this conclusion because following a freak storm a week ago Friday, more than one million Ohioans were without power and our neighborhood was hit pretty hard. Some still lack the magic juice. But everyone seemed to be shopping normally, and I wanted food, dammit. So onward we went. 

I was a bit apprehensive about the perishable foods, like dairy items. The coolers seemed to be running normally, however, and I was pretty sure they wouldn't be if the store was on generator power. But that's when we noticed another strange event; the shelves were mighty bare. There was a giant hole on the shelf where the Chobani yogurt usually sat. The boy wanted Gatorade, but there was nary a bottle to be found. Same thing with our usual brand of lunch meat, my beloved feta cheese, and hummus. The fruit that was on the shelf was past its prime. I began to wonder if the stock crew was on strike.

By this point we were in produce and I was getting irritated. I asked an employee what the deal was, and he said the store was trying to conserve power because of the recent outages. He had no idea why they were out of so much stock, however.

Now, there was at least one day last week where our local electric provider, AEP, asked customers to conserve energy to prevent rolling blackouts as they brought more storm victims back online while some equipment was still out. If we didn't conserve, they warned, they would have to shut off some customers to keep the equipment from being overwhelmed. So I thought maybe there had been another call for conservation, but I hadn't heard a thing about it despite being online most of the day. After searching the issue online when I got home, I found absolutely no mention from our power company of further immediate needs to conserve power. So was this really a move to conserve energy, or was it a move to cut the company's costs?

Some of Kroger's conservation methods seemed better than others. Unplugging the extra displays of cold items that were set up in secondary locations to promote sales made perfect sense. These were no big loss since you could still find the items in their primary location.

At this point the boyfriend asked if I wanted to abandon cart and head to another Kroger, but I hate grocery shopping and we'd already invested time in that store. So I voted for pressing on.

By the time we checked out I was grumpy enough to think about shopping at a competitor in the future if the conservation program was going to stay in effect. Maybe it was the bare shelves that pushed me over the edge, but I didn't enjoy shopping in a hot, dark store either. Which made me wonder, am I being unreasonably grumpy about a change in the status quo? Is it really that big of a deal to be a little warm for our 45 minute weekly shop if it saves energy? And what about the employees who had to work all day in a warmer than normal store? Our cashier had a red face and looked even more grumpy than I felt.

We left with less than half of our normal groceries and I was in a bit of a huff, with a head full of questions. What do you think, do we need to start giving up some of our comforts today so we don't lose all of them in the future? In other words, am I being a giant baby who just needs to suck it up, or are there other ways my local Kroger could implement to conserve energy? I'm really interested in your thoughts.


  1. Hmmmm... well, that's an interesting question. I'm not quite sure how having partially stocked shelves is helping to save power unless they're shutting off some of the refrigerated sections, but it's certainly true that grocery stores are great creators of waste because of the need to have plenty of everything that anyone might want on hand.

    Have you ever seen the film "Dive?" I think it's on Netflix. It's a fascinating study of food waste in American super markets told through the eyes of a freegan (someone who gets their food from the dumpsters.) A very thought provoking film!

    I sometimes shop at what my Dad calls "the used grocery store." It's a little salvage shop run by a friend of his. It's in a little hole in the wall place up in the industrial section of town - they're only open 2 days a week, and you never know what you're gonna find there. My dad loves the place, but they tend to stock mostly canned goods, dry goods and other non-perishables that are at or near their expiration date - and I just don't use much of that sort of thing. But my point... there WAS a point... one day Dad & I went to the salvage shop, and then on the way home I needed some fruit and other perishables so I stopped in at Whole Foods. The contrast was breathtaking!

    I dunno... part of me (the cynical part) thinks that the question of giving up comforts now to retain some for the future is almost moot - because it only works if everybody does it, and as the failures of the international community to come to any agreement on efforts to stem the production of greenhouse gasses clearly show, that's not gonna happen any time soon.

    I think the much more likely scenario is that "doing without" will slowly become more of the norm as the climate continues to deteriorate - and it won't be because people are voluntarily cutting back. I mean, think of this summer as the new normal - heat waves, power outages, massive fires, crop failures - not to mention the deteriorating global economy. Perhaps I'm overly pessimistic, but if this really is only the tip of the iceberg (yuk, yuk) then I can see a day in the not to distant future when we'll only be able to dream about the kind of luxuries that we currently enjoy.

  2. I could get used to natural lighting in stores but seeing empty shelving or unplugged cabinets would make me feel depressed. Lack of a/c in stores is not a burning issue here (in Seattle--where we haven't hit 90* yet this year) but the way modern buildings are designed to be electricity/cooling systems dependent, I can imagine that it would be very uncomfortable to shop without a/c in most parts of the country right now.

  3. Sorry my post is inadvertently confusing, the lack of items on the shelves was just a coincidence, not part of the conservation effort (or so I assume). It was just remarkably bad timing and together both things added up to a crappy experience.

  4. haha - your post made me laugh today! This is a replica of an ongoing conversation I have been having with my boys lately. I would be THRILLED if my grocery store turned out half their lights and let me shop in a bit more darkness. But, I can't stand it when the shelves are empty! I don't actually buy a lot off of the shelves, but when I want something and it isn't there, I get annoyed. I have been learning to take a step back and take a breath. Not getting my favourite brand of toilet paper is not going to kill me. "First world problem mom" is my oldest son's most used expression at the moment.

    1. "first world problem" that's wonderful!

    2. Agreed. It's totes a first world problem. Great perspective your son has!

  5. You know, people get used to things. When things change, especially without warning, it's disconcerting at best. Also, people are complex. We want light, refrigeration, AND a planet. Of course!

    Frankly, it's no fun to be grumpy, so any way you can find to reduce that will be good for all concerned.

    On the question of giving up comforts, my favorite answer to this is the book "No Impact Man" about a guy who tried to reduce his impact on the environment to NOTHING AT ALL, even though he lived in NEW YORK CITY, and had to drag his wife and kid down with him. Totally crazy and impossible!

    Except he got shockingly close! And some of the things he changed turned out to make his life better. And lots of things he changed made very little impact on his life once he got used to them. And it all started when he was having thoughts a lot like yours.

    (There's also a movie based on the book; I haven't seen the movie, so I can't comment on that. And before he wrote a book, he was documenting this on a blog, which is also interesting to read from the very beginning, but the book is a much quicker read and still gives you lots of the good parts.)

  6. I start to feel grumpy whenever being green cuts into my comfort zone, too. (Hence my biggest 'green' lifestyle choices were actually not motivated by sustainability -- didn't want kids, so I didn't have any, liked animals, so I stopped eating meat well before I really started to care about the planet.) I think it's pretty normal. The half-stocked shelves are annoying; if you have to make a second trip to a different grocery store, I wonder if the net energy reduction is still positive. I dunno, I'd give it another couple trips to see if the half-lights still bother you (I would LOVE not to deal with so much fluorescent glare at the supermarket) and the stock situation improves. If not, I wouldn't feel bad about going to another market.

  7. I would be happy if grocery stores/other stores did more to conserve energy; and since it is a not a pleasant experience, maybe it would encourage me to buy just what I need and not look around and make impulse buys. Just think of the energy wasted in a building that big, especially when it is running continuously.

  8. A new grocery store opened near me lately with some eco-friendlier features. All of the cooling cases (for meat, cheese, yogurt, etc) and all the freezer cases have doors so no chilled air is lost. They are also all dark and the lights are motion-activated, so they come on as you walk in front of them.

    I wish grocery stores didn't have water sprayers in the produce section - I think they're intended to make the produce look "dewey fresh," but stuff like lettuce gets water-logged and it spoils quickly.


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