Convenience and its Consequences

By Tracey Bianchi 6-30-2010

I love the clerks in my local grocery store. The same women scan and weigh and slide my yogurt and tortilla chips every week. At first they appear pretty gruff and I confess to wondering if they love or hate me and my type, us food-eating, grocery store shopping types. I am fairly certain we are cool with one another, though.

My two favorites are 60-ish with frizzy, permed hair (almost beehive-esque), and long, colorful acrylic nails. They always smile even though you can tell they try not to. And they dig my daughter, she melts them every time with her banter. They are a constant in my life and I like these smock-wearing ladies, I really do. But this week one threw me for a little loop.

Like the good, green girl that I am, I handed her my reusable bags and she slipped them down to the bagger. When it came time to ring up six little energy bars that fuel me through the morning, she grabbed a tiny little plastic bag and started to slide them in. Of course I proceeded to tell her not to worry about bagging the bars and put them into yet another bag. She smiled and said, "well honey, whatever you want, I was just trying to make it easy on you." I must have looked confused. She went on to tell me about how easy it would be once I got home to get those bars out of the big bag if they were tucked neatly into this little white baggie. Afraid to offend her I smiled and politely said, "well, I'm okay just getting them out one by one, no need to worry about me."

I do wonder what sort of culture we live in where we feel the urge to make a bag more convenient? My diaper bag came with a bag to go inside the diaper bag. I have to ask what sort of waste and chaos we generate when we start to feel like we need to make bags more convenient.

Now here's the thing, I love my grocery lady, and she looked at me with three kids dripping off my arms, with a cart filled with chaos and the sweat of a 90 degree day across my face. Clearly I needed all the help and convenience I could get. So I cannot fault her, really. But what I do fault is the culture we live in that tells us life should be as simple and streamlined as possible. That we need drive-thru food, drink carriers, double bags, 10 minute oil changes, and brownies that bake in the microwave in under 4 minutes. All of this convenience comes with an added stress to our waste stream. It means we have baggies and Styrofoam, extra straws and single use microwaveable dishes. But we are accustomed to this.

I thought about her extra bag all the way home. Did I want my bars mixing with the string cheese? How much better would my life be with a few extra bags? I wanted to know. Yes, I am making light of a really great woman who was trying to help me. I mean no offense to her, but am simply tying to point out all the chaos we add to this planet because we want it easy.

I had a seminary professor who carried with him to class the same dented, dusty water bottle every week. It was not one of the snazzy stainless steel bottles we tote around today but rather a bottle that was intended for single use. The label had long since peeled off. Just a grimy cap and the bottle itself remained. As a thank you gift for this professor, for imparting his wisdom upon our class for a semester, we all chipped in a few cents and bought him what we thought was a "real" water bottle. A tight fitting cap with a band to keep it from rolling away, heavy plastic that car tire could not squash. We expected him to gush with thanksgiving. Instead he shrugged and mumbled a quiet thank you. Then he noted that he did not think there was much wrong with his current bottle. That he grew up a missionary and in many parts of the world his original bottle still had a long life of use. He did not need our fancy bottle. Our "convenient" and hip bottle. This stayed with me.

What is truly convenient? And who is it convenient for? And let's remember that for all our conveniences there is someone or some place on the other end that may not find it convenient at all.

So what is your take on conveniences?

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

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