the ethics of austerity

This is not a post providing intelligent macro-level critique of neoliberal economics and capitalism. This is just some good ol’ micro-level whining. I am quite fine living on a serious budget. I’m okay making do with the clothes and shoes that are already in my closet. Although it would be nice to have a computer that wasn’t eight years old or a pay-as-you-go flip phone, they are both doing what I need them to do. And books? Movies? More than happy to be getting those from the library.

My problems are food and beauty products. I need to eat, obviously. Maybe some would disagree, but I think being clean and presentable is also a necessity. These are the two areas of my budget where there is some room for savings. And these are the two areas where, in order to spend as little cash as possible, I make choices that I hate.

Food… I’m vegetarian. I chose not to eat meat for a variety of reasons, and one of those reasons is the way animals are treated in industrial agriculture. I do chose to eat eggs and dairy, fully aware that both of those industries also have some pretty questionable and, okay, downright shitty, practices. I try to limit my dairy purchases but omg, I love cheese. And eggs are just a super easy and convenient source of protein. My dilemma now is that as an unemployed student, I can’t really afford to buy free-run, organic eggs from a local producer. We’re talking the difference between $3.59 and $6.99 per carton. Or, yes, I can afford the $3.40 price difference, but where do I stop? With eggs? Cheese? My organic apple habit? At some point it isn’t a few bucks anymore but an extra $15 or $20 per shopping trip.

Beauty…. Besides the fact that I don’t want to drench myself in a bunch of chemicals, I also have had problems with eczema since I was a teenager. I have a very simple beauty routine and I stick to very basic products. Like the $24 bottle of argan oil. Or that $16 tub of coconut oil. And just like that, I’ve spent $150. The only up side is that the products last for ages so I spend that amount a couple of times a year.

With the beauty products, I suck it up. After years of experimenting, I’ve found a handful of products that don’t make my eczema flair up and I’m sticking to them. With food…. I stand in front of the dairy case wrestling with my conscience and wishing that we lived in a kinder world. Sometimes my desire for yogurt wins out. Sometimes I spend the extra on the organic option. Sometimes I just skip buying it altogether. And none of those choices feel good. The last one seems easiest, but I still have to eat something and every choice opens up a whole new round of questions. How much fuel was used to ship this? Were the workers paid fairly? Was rainforest cleared to grow this crop? And on and on. While all of these issues are so much bigger than my monthly food budget, having money at least provides me with the option of making more ethical choices. Or at least the illusion of making ethical choices….. I’ll get on my greenwashing soap box another time!

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