The Liberal’s Dilemma

I suspect that the high level of apathy among voters in America stems from the fact that analyzing most issues give them a headache. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized there are no easy answers. If you follow the effects of trying to do something good, eventually you find yourself doing something bad.

Take electric cars. I love the uproar about how wonderful electric cars are, because they don’t use fossil fuels. Hey, folks, how do you think we get electricity? Frequently, it’s from burning coal. It’s a dirty fossil fuel, but at least it comes from America, rather than the Middle East.

The whole concept of dilemmas hit home for me this week when I went to visit a new store in town called Sprouts. It’s best described as a competitor to Whole Foods — very organic, very healthy. I was frankly hoping I wouldn’t like it, because I don’t like finding new places to spend money. But it had a terrific meat counter (which means I don’t have to schlep 10 miles at Thanksgiving for free-range turkey), a nice selection of locally grown produce, and a dazzling array of bulk foods.

I especially like the latter. If there’s one thing that gets me cranky, it’s overpackaging in the consumer packaged goods industry. (Last week I received some DVDs from Amazon. Can you please tell me why, if a DVD is not going to be on a shelf in a retail store, it has to be wrapped in cellophane to keep the DVD from being stolen?) The idea of being able to buy snacks and cooking ingredients sans boxes and waxed paper innards just makes me go all gooey inside.

Then I remembered that my local produce stand, called Sunnymount, also had bulk bins that I hadn’t gotten diving into. As wonderfully spacious and bright as Sprouts was, I realized its layout was enticing me, not necessarily the product. Sunnymount is small and quaint and compact — and local. Sprouts has 51 stores in 4 states and, according to its Web site, is one of the fastest-growing retailers in the U.S.

As the non-profit Institute for Local Self-Reliance points out, when you spend $100 at a local business, $45 says within the community. If you spend $100 at a chain, $14 stays within the community. Case closed, in the local retailer’s favor?

Not in the least. Life just isn’t that simple. In addition to its locally grown produce, Sunnymount also has tropical fruits (you can have my papayas when you pry them from my cold dead fingers). In the winter, it sells produce flown up from South America (I think; I’m afraid to ask how far it’s travelled). Sunnymount may be small and quaint, but its carbon footprint is pure 21st century.

So now I’m really flummoxed. If I add Sprouts to my shopping list, then I’m using more gas to become more environmentally friendly. If I continue to shop at Sunnymount, I’m supporting a local retailer … and several freight airlines.

I feel another headache coming on. I wonder how far the ibuprofen traveled to get here.

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About middleagecranky

The Middle-Age Cranky blog is written by baby boomer Howard Baldwin, who finds the world, while occasionally wondrous, increasingly aggravating.
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5 Responses to The Liberal’s Dilemma

  1. Virginia says:

    I was at Sprouts the other night and noticed that they were selling out-of-season apples from Chile and New Zealand. That suggests Sprouts’ locavore quotient is roughly equal to Sunnymount’s. So Sunnymount wins on local-small-business points.

    However, unlike Sunnymount, Sprouts sells (nitrate-free) lunch meats and Rosie the Range Chickens. So I’m not going to give up shopping there!

  2. I feel better already!

  3. Mike Casey says:

    A couple of items to make you feel *a little* better about electric cars:

    Only about 1% of the electricity generated in California comes from coal. Over half comes from natural gas, with nuke, hydroelectric and “other” renewables each accounting for between 13% and 15%.

    The “marginal” electric efficiency in California (i.e. the next added kilowatt hour) is around 60%, because it would come from a combined cycle natural gas turbine power plant. This is about twice the efficiency of a conventional automobile internal combustion engine.

    Most people would charge their electric cars at night, during “off peak” hours. This means that, though it does produce pollution, it is not happening in the middle of the afternoon when other emissions, including automotive, are high.

    This isn’t to say that we don’t need to conserver electricity in California, but electric cars do represent a big improvement over the status quo.

  4. Doc says:

    Why wax bag and box foods and not bulk them all? Contaminants, storage, shelf life, ants, cockroaches, rats, mice, bacteria…at the warehouse, in the store and at home. Great innovation, packaging.

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