The ethics of grocery shopping; or, why I went to the Occupy Los Angeles General Assembly

TL; DR: I got so frustrated over trying to decide whether I should go to Ralphs or my local coop that I went to the Occupy LA General Assembly instead.

I spent half an hour debating with myself over whether I should buy groceries at Ralphs or the Santa Monica Coop. It’s much more complicated than it sounds; each one has moral and tangible implications, and if you want to “be the change you wish to see in the world,” these implications are important.

I literally wrote out the pros and cons. I know, I sound like a ludicrous tree-hugging, bleeding-heart liberal Rush Limbaugh and his ilk make fun of. But if compassion and long-term thinking makes you a ludicrous, tree-hugging, bleeding-heart liberal, then SIGN ME UP.

What it came down to was that what I wanted—decent labor conditions and no insane executive salaries—was the longest drive away and the most expensive. I don’t begrudge paying more for good labor conditions and organic and fair-trade products: if all I did was cater to my bottom line with absolutely no consideration of other factors, I’d be no better than CEOs and shareholders who do the same. But the more I spend on my own groceries, the less I have to spend on charity (my god, I’m starting to sound like a parody of myself), and the idea of spending more than I have to on groceries just smacks of over-privilege to me.

Ralphs employees are in a union, but that apparently hasn’t helped them get pay and treatment comparable to those at, say, Trader Joe’s. (I know these websites aren’t exactly scientific surveys, and you might say, hey, Ralph’s’s average rating is labeled “OK”, so to get a basis of comparison, I checked out Starbucks’ average since I worked there for about a year. Starbucks’s rating is 3.5 out of 5, while Ralph’s is 2.6. I thought, my god, if working at Starbucks was hell on earth, what is it like working at Ralphs??

I was unable to find corresponding labor info on the Coop online, but it’s at least a consumer-owned cooperative rather than a mega-corporation whose CEO is raking in over $10 million a year, like Ralph’s.

I could have driven the extra miles to the coop, but that would have meant burning fossil fuels, which causes multiple problems we’re already very familiar with. I could have taken the bus, but that would have meant like an hour-long slog—each way—just to go to the grocery store.

A capitalist would argue that my desire to simply walk to Ralphs is a perfect example of the triumph of the free market: as relatively inexpensive and the most convenient choice, of course I  want to shop there. But the fact that its CEO is making millions off the beleaguered backs of his minions—regardless of how much that may benefit his customers—is not a triumph. It’s a travesty. In a dirty fight, of course the biggest cheater wins.

As I debated and debated the wisest course in this conundrum, it finally occurred to me that I shouldn’t have this problem in the first place. Good labor conditions should be ubiquitous; I shouldn’t have to debate over whether I should encourage the subjugation of my fellow human beings to low pay and cruel management or contribute to the destruction of our planet.

I realized that I really had no choice. Each choice was bad. The only logical course of action was to fight for a world where one of my alternatives was actually good.

So I didn’t go shopping. I went to the GA.


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