Confessions and Coffee

“I saw you at a coffee shop. Wait. You’re not supposed to be buying coffee. Cheater!”

Yes, I confess. I like my lattes and my yummy baked-goods. I like the experience of sitting in a place that isn’t home, of watching people come and go, their foreign lives intersecting with mine over the smell of roasted beans. I like the experience of momentary reprieve–of knowing that the puddle on the floor and the dirty dish tower are not mine to clean.

And, no, I have not given this up. But, in all fairness, I never said I would.

In The Challenge, rule #4, bullet-point 3, I state that “the occasional dining-out treat and entertainment experience” are permitted.

What?! Why?!

Some have interpreted my consumer fast to mean an absolute ban on all luxuries. In other words, “buy groceries to stay alive, but beyond that, spend nothing.”

There are certainly fasting consumers (whether fasting by choice or by necessity) for whom this is accurate.

These guys don’t even buy food! As much as I find them inspiring, I’m not really prepared to live and raise my kids on a diet of winter chard and dumpster fries. (But all the power to them!)

Granted, there’s a huge difference between groceries for proper nutrition and a $4 latte. And if, dear reader, the unnecessary indulging of The Fasting Consumer has let you down (or left you confused), I apologise.

So, why have I permitted myself “the occasional dining-out treat and entertainment experience”?

For starters, this challenge was never meant to be a spending freeze. While saving money is fantastic, it is a side-effect, not a goal.

My goal is more to do with stuff. I want to stop desiring, accumulating, consuming, and disposing things in damaging patterns that threaten the earth. For more about my intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, see my first post.

In an effort to take the “make it do” motto to a new personal level, I’m being strict about the ban on stuff–no scotch tape, no tinfoil, no batteries, no hand-creams, lip-balms, perhaps even no lightbulbs (except what we have in the house).

But, a latte?!

Well, if it is occasional, is within our small coffee-shop budget, and is mindful of my environmental and social values, I think it’s okay …

In his book, Deep Economy, Bill McKibben talks about the need for an economy that survives not on the production and consumption of commodities, but rather on the provision of services–local and enriching to the community.

When I sip an organic, fair-trade latte (in a ceramic mug, of course), from an independent, local café, I’d like to believe that I’m contributing to the type of economy that could sustain us in the long-run. Because, if coffee can’t sustain us, what will?! Just kidding.

Small-scale, local, and sustainable are qualities I also look for when buying groceries–another area I’m “unwilling” to change.

I’m fortunate to get produce from Fresh City Farms and The Good Food Box, and bulk and dairy from my friend at Loving Nature Natural Foods. We’re on a first-name basis. She phones me at home to confirm my goat milk order, feeds my kids whenever we “visit,” and is not fussed when I bring my plethora of randomly shaped jars to be weighed before filling them with nuts, grains, and 30 cents worth of cinnamon. I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

Still, this fast is about refraining from purchasing stuff I don’t need. I could purchase many things and argue that my purchase supported my values. It’s a great way to live–no doubt–but this year, I truly want to step back and see what happens when I don’t fulfil a perceived “need” by buying something.

Do my beloved lattes fit into this category? Is it possible that I’m simply transferring my desire for one thing and fulfilling it with another? Is all this talk of organic, fair-trade, and service-based economies really just a cover for my unwillingness to let go?

In fairness to myself and at the inspiration of my readers who have challenged me and held me accountable–thank you!–I should explore this possibility.

I’m not yet prepared to remove rule #4, bullet-point 3 from The Challenge, but further conditions are in order.

“The occasional dining-out treat and entertainment experience” used to mean “have at ‘er” (within our albeit small budget, and keeping the rule that we never buy sweets on weekdays).

It will now mean:

Coffee shop visits are permitted only:

  • on post-cello lesson mother/daughter date night (these are special and refraining at other times will make them all the more so)
  • at book club (once a month)
  • at sporadic and truly rare “treat” opportunities that will be written about in this blog

Entertainment experiences will be reserved for supporting local talent, for education and/or child-development (Science Centre, etc.), and, in an effort to make them that much more appreciated, will be even more rare than before.

This isn’t a huge change. It’s actually quite similar to life-as-usual, but to truly experience the effects of a consumer fast, I require the extra restrictions and accountability.

When I feel the need to account for my decisions, I am given the opportunity to reflect on my accounting. Perhaps I will be satisfied. Perhaps I will realise I’m full of it (and addicted to coffee shops).

Thanks for providing me that opportunity and feel free to let me know whenever The Fasting Consumer appears to be cheating.

P.S. This post was written at a coffee shop. Ehem. Changes effective at time of publication.

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6 thoughts on “Confessions and Coffee

  1. I understand your point of view and I agree that we all crave and enjoy the occasional luxury of a coffee out, or a movie or a meal. But your $4 lattes and expensive organic groceries make it very hard for me, as someone who lives as a “fasting consumer” out of necessity, to be sympathetic to your
    “experiment.” No offense, but I will choose to stop reading your blog. It is endlessly frustrating.

    • Hi Colby,

      Thanks for your thoughts. I respect your honesty and your decision.

      Please remember, though, that this is a journey. Three weeks ago I didn’t even see the need to discuss my occasional coffee shop visits. This blog, after all, was about not buying material stuff. But now, as I explore my consuming habits (pun intended), I’m discovering new areas to be mindful about–areas that will eventually change.

      Perhaps ten months from now I will be a more serious “Fasting Consumer” than I am today. Perhaps I will have discovered that the once a week dates with my daughter and the every two to three month dates with my hubby are too much. Perhaps the additional (once a month or so) $4 latte will also disappear? I’m on a mission to change. I’m not perfect and I have a long way to go.

    • About my “expensive groceries,” two things: (1) While we attempt to buy organic whenever possible, we do so not for our own health but for the health of the environment and to help create a sustainable future with food security for all. We make a lot of financial sacrifices in order to make this choice and have sought out the most economic and socially and environmentally responsible way to do this. (i.e. we don’t buy 8$ salad greens shipped from California, pre-washed, packaged in clam-shells and available exclusively at Whole Foods.) (2) Having said this, I realize this is totally out of reach for a lot of people. I know many can’t afford an apple let alone an organic one, and I know that no amount of me making “organic” choices is going to create better food options for all. Things also need to change at the governmental level and I also need to invest in projects that are helping to provide food for the growing number of North Americans who can’t afford it. And, I do. I wish I did more, but for starters, did you know that The Good Food Box is a division of Food Share – a non-profit community organization whose number one mission is to provide healthy food to the hungry communities of Toronto? In doing so, they bring lunch to schools, provide education, get people involved in community projects, and employ many who wouldn’t otherwise have jobs (or food). So, I buy my produce from them.

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