Going Broke Saving the Planet

In the age of Pricey Hybrids and Organic Cotton designer wear, is being eco-friendly just the uber-rich? The original earth lovin’ mamas and papas are starting to feel the squeeze, as a new breed of wealthy eco-warriors takes center stage.

Looking at the heart of it, environmental issues are not really moral issues, they are economic issues wearing a disguise. Have you shopped for Organic Food lately? That’s right – you’ll get a nosebleed calculating the cost for one pound of organic broccoli.

Thumbing through a catalog touting all organic clothing, brightly dressed models smile as they are, of course, happy to be saving the earth. I couldn’t help wonder what type of families can actually afford to dress like this. How many people will shell out $139 for a cute USA-made hemp hoodie? I know I want to, but $139 for something I’ll spill coffee on after yoga? Sure, a true eco-gal can make do with a smaller wardrobe, that is quality and or vintage. However, I do like to shop, and even in window shopping mode, I start to worry. I park the catalog to the side, as I’ll shred it later for ‘shipping stuffing’ and the request to be off the paper catalog list. It will feel good to grind up the smiling eco-models into reusable paper bits later. $139 hoodie (SMH)

Surfing the neverland cable channels, I finally settle on a show about Earth Friendly Design. Chic green designers have hit the scene, and have no shortage of business. Flaunting their huge commercial stores in New York and Los Angeles, any eco-conscious person can waltz in and fab up their home with green wares. What they forgot to mention on the show, is that you must be a direct heir of the Vanderbilt fortune to afford any of it. Organic hemp slipcovered armchairs, start at $3,090. Organic, vegetable and plant dyed bath towels starting at $95. Vegan dog shampoo, only $25 for 8 ounces – on my 90 pound Golden Retriever, this may be good for what…two washes?

As I stroll my mini-cart through the grocery store, I push the question of ‘Can I afford to be eco-friendly!?!’ to the back recesses of my mind. Sure, I can recycle, bring my own bags to grocery stores, buy local, buy LED, buy vintage, but I feel downright hostile when I pay through the nose for my organic Californian grown avocados. I can buy avocados from Chile, heck they are much cheaper, and probably have no pesticide on them anyway. However, picturing the little green fruits ‘put-putting’ across the ocean on a smoke billowing tanker to the United States, undercutting hardworking American farmers, these avocados are sullied and have lost their cheap appeal. I feel guilty, and pay the .90 more per Organic California avocado. This same scenario plays itself out up and down every aisle.

I start to feel a wee bit dizzy when Eco Mom then whizzes down the aisle with her tot in tow. She is a dedicated Mom like myself, however, she drives a brand new shiny Hybrid SUV (vans are so passe’) and money is no object. The child asks if Eco Mom can buy ice cream. Eco Mom changes the subject, and asks the child to count to twenty in French. She loads up on organic pre-made salads, organic tempeh, organic soups, organic spreads, organic paprika and organic 49-grain-bread without so much as looking at prices. She checks out with her stash of perfectly clean and ironed cotton grocery bags in hand. I stare with fear and feel inadequate.

I then realize Eco Mom clearly shares the same values I do, but I agonize over half of my purchases due to price, and my canvas bags are looking rough and probably smell rougher. Leaving with two bags of NON-GMO, Organic groceries for $95, I sigh deeply. I watch a truck drive by and flick a cigarette butt out the window. Ok, it WAS worth it the financial pain, but I wish it were easier.

I watch Eco Mom zip off in her impossibly clean car with a KPBS license plate frame — she’s indubitably off to save the world at a faster and hipper pace than I. I walk over and pick up the cigarette butt out of the street and throw it in the trash. I may not be able to be eco-perfect, but I am doing my part at my pace – and that works for me!