Today I was driving past a corner store advertising bananas for 49 cents/lb. I’m not sure if this is a good price, but it seemed it must have been, given the size of the sign (and all the exclamation marks after it).
It seems almost universal in our culture to feel good about getting something for less. We love sales. We feel good when we bargain down the cost of a car, or when we score a great jacket at half price. I have this cute pair of shoes I bought, and when I get complimented on them, I add with a smile “yeah, and they only cost me $6!”. For some reason, the fact that I paid so little adds to the pleasure of owning them.
As I was driving past the banana sale, I started to question why we feel this way. Why do we feel so good when something is on sale, or when we score something at a less-than-expected price? Why is it seen as a Moral Good to save money, and why are we so self-congratulatory when we do? Because really, what does it mean when we get something for less? Those bananas – where did they come from, how were they grown, were the people who grew them or picked them compensated well, or taken advantage of?
Now that I do most of my shopping at our local community market, I am aware that the extra money I pay there for things like Dole apple juice (exact same item is almost a dollar cheaper at the store down the street) pays for the store’s ability to shop around, buy conscientiously, screen products, support community and local growers, etc. It has become an important issue to me. Shopping at this store is how I “do my bit” for my little part of the world. “Think globally, act locally” and all that jazz.
So I wondered how many pesticides were sprayed on that banana crop, and how much fuel was burned to get them here, and how well the people who were involved in bringing them here were treated. If they were mass-produced in some land-gobbling agri-complex where bananas are genetically manipulated to grow faster and ripen in transport, and where mega-litres of chemicals were sprayed and leached into the groundwater, and where illegal immigrants were paid peanuts to work grueling hours to pick these bananas…..well, suddenly 49 cents/lb doesn’t sound so great a deal.
For the same reason, I avoid WalMart as much as possible. You get what you pay for, and if Cheap is all that matters, I think that leaves the door wide open for exploitation, whether it’s the land or people that are being exploited. Someone, somewhere, is getting the shaft so I can save a couple bucks on something I probably could live without anyways. I hear people argue “I just HAVE to shop at WalMart. I can’t afford this stuff otherwise.” Well, my feeling is that if WalMart were to up and disappear then people would just learn to live with the higher prices and deal accordingly. You can’t tell me that everything in the cart of an avid WalMart shopper is absolutely necessary and would cause undue hardship if its “Low Price Guarantee” were to go up in smoke.
So that’s my story of how a sale on bananas got me thinking about the psychology of The Sale Price, and what the ramifications of such a bargain might be in the context of working towards a better planet.