The Common Good

Supermarket Moments in the Environmental Conversation

Last week I was at the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon. I was sans children, and when that happens a trip to the grocery store can feel like spring break. No one nagging me or ripping cans off the shelves. A glorious hour indeed. As I waltzed down the aisles and took my time to actually think about what we wanted to eat, I had the chance to eavesdrop on a few side conversations.

As I perused the salmon selections there were two oldish men standing off to the side of the big icy fish cooler. One was lamenting how ridiculously cold it has been in Chicago this past month. The other nodded and said "yeah, and all those environmentalists keep babbling about global warming, they should move to Chicago." I bristled and grabbed my fish.

Another aisle over a mom who was not on Grocery Spring Break like me was staring blankly at a child who pulled every bag of chips and candy from the "snack" aisle that looked good. The cart was filled with piles of Doritos and sodas, not a fresh piece of produce in the cart.

And of course in the check-out aisle, I glanced at a magazine cover of Paris Hilton and reclaimed my disgust (and also jealousy of her waist line) as I watched plastic bag after plastic bag float out the automatic doors.

I sighed. Do any of the conversations about our planet-saving ploys really matter?

I could have turned around to my Salmon buddies and said "Yes, it is colder here now -- it's called Climate Change, not Global Warming, you morons! As in, the climate will change and some of us will be shivering more than we used to. Duh!"

I wanted to say to the kid with the snacks, "Hey buddy, ease off the carbs, hello diabetes! Go fetch an organic apple."

I could have yelled to the baggers "tell them to haul it all home without bags if they cannot bring a reusable tote!"

And then I would have had to stare at myself in the mirror and yell "HYPOCRITE!"

You see, I buy the Curious George fruit snacks. And while I haul my totes everywhere these days, there was a time that I did not. And those climate guys, well, yes, it is cold in Chicago and I really don't want to be on the chilling end of climate change (thank you Jake Gyllenhaal). But how were they to know? At least they were talking about it!

Somewhere in the grocery store, in the stressed out mom's day, in the conversations of the old fish guys and in my own cart is a place where the reality of our world intersects with the reality of our daily lives. We are busy and tired, we are ill-informed, we are opinionated and stubborn. And I could lead a club on any of these glorious virtues.

But I hope that along the way, we are also open to the conversation. I hope that the fish guys begin to understand that we call it climate change for a reason, that all those people with the plastic bags just forgot canvas versions at home. I hope that we can stop placing the "save the planet" campaigns in any particular political, religious, or social camp. That someday they will not be known as the bastions of liberal, hippie white folks who love animals. That someday the uber-conservative and the uber-liberal, the rich and poor, and every color along the way will care because the air we breathe, the water, the trees, they belong to every affiliation on this planet. And preserving them impacts all of humanity. All of it.

And so with that little rant I come to this point. I wrote a book about all of this. Mostly about my grocery store moments gone wrong. My loser tendencies to yell at people for the things I do wrong every day. And I would love for you to read it. I think it furthers the conversation. And some of you will like it and some of you will hate it, but either way, I hope it gets us all talking.

portrait-tracey-bianchiTracey Bianchi blogs about finding a saner, greener life from the heart of the Chicago suburbs. She wrote Green Mama: The Guilt-Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet (Zondervan 2009) and blogs at traceybianchi.com.

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