“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.
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.