On Sunday night, Brandon and I returned from a very long weekend of amazing but exhausting wedding shenanigans to an empty refrigerator. Usually in our house this means time to go to Sprouts, a smallish natural food store chain a few blocks from our house, or occasionally to Whole Foods, but I have been hearing a lot lately (like, a LOT a lot) about Costco and their organic selection, so I thought it was time for us to check it out.
Let me start off by saying that I pretty much never go to Costco, because it terrifies me. But after waiting in line to even get into the parking lot, we managed to wrangle a giant cart and shoved our way into the enormous cave of STUFF. I put my blinders on and wheeled past the wholesale cabinetry, 5-gallon blenders, and build-your-own storage shed kits. After hearing from so many people about what a great organic selection Costco now has, I was sure there was going to be an organic section… I just needed to spot it.
But I pretty quickly realized that there was no organic section. We did find one cooler full of organic chicken breasts, but I am not really a fan of chicken breasts (even when they come in packs of 20), so we kept looking. Finally, we spotted some organic ground beef for $4/pound, but when I turned the package over it said, “Product of United States, Mexico, and Uruguay.” Three countries in two continents contributed to this one packet of meat? Well ok then, never mind.
And that was it. Those were the only two organic meat choices we came across at Costco. We found a few bags of organic frozen fruit, but ultimately decided that it wasn’t worth it to stand in line just to buy a few bags of blueberries that we really did not need in the first place.
Empty-handed, we made our way towards the door, and I finally took a minute to look around at the cases of frozen dino-shaped chicken nuggets, jugs of soda, bricks of cheese, and pallets of goldfish crackers that filled the carts around me. In the past year I have learned so much about food, and I live in this little microcosm full of educated, healthy people who are slowly realizing the importance of closely monitoring the quality of what they eat. But all it takes is about 10 minutes in Costco to remind me that I am still very much in the minority of people who realize that–even disregarding paleo, grain-free, dairy-free, whatever–you will never be healthy if you don’t eat real food.
But below that feeling was something else. As I walked out the door, I actually started to feel pretty guilty.
In the past year I have struggled a lot with the mental shift towards advocating for my food choices, for learning to be ok with being the girl who asks whether there are bread crumbs in the burger patties or milk in the scrambled eggs. But one aspect that I haven’t really addressed is the financial component. I make about $40k a year after taxes, and Brandon, who is a full-time student, is actually actively accruing debt at any given moment by way of student loans. We don’t live in the cheapest part of Denver, we spend $225 a month on CrossFit, and, ohyeah, we are in the middle of planning a wedding, which traditionally are not exactly the cheapest.
So waltzing into Whole Foods and spending $200 a week on food just does not seem like a “responsible” choice, even if that expense is carefully carved into our budget. But these Costco people? In my mind, were being “responsible.” They were feeding their families on bricks of cheese and cases of chicken, enormous bags of chips and incredible amounts of granola bars, all purchased at cents on the dollar. Sure, that cheese might have 30 ingredients and that chicken may come from Mexico and/or Uruguay. But, as I walked out of Costco, I couldn’t help but envy their “responsible” choices.
I carried that feeling around with me through Whole Foods, but as we drove home with bags full of organic, free-range chicken, grass-fed short ribs, wild-caught salmon, and even a few organic tomato starts that we will plant in our own garden, I started to think about the word “responsible.” Why was I feeling like the less responsible option was to rearrange my budget so that I could seek out high quality food? Why was I basically telling myself that being healthy shouldn’t be a financial priority?
This one little realization might be the root of the reason that so many people are at home eating ground turkey full of feces, ordering from the Dollar Menu, and complaining about the price of bananas. It’s because we are not taught to value quality–we are taught to value quantity. If I can get 10 chicken breasts for $5, why would I spend twice that much if I could help it? Even if that extra money meant getting a chemical-free product from a farm down the road?
I went home and unpacked my groceries, admiring my fridge stacked with little brown paper packages full of meat, cartons of fresh berries, and bundles of kale, asparagus, radishes, and green onions. I watered my new plants and rubbed a leaf between my fingers, taking in the earthy tomato plant smell that I love so much. You just don’t get that smell at Costco.