IWF alum Charlotte Allen socks it to the out-to-lunch food snob crowd in her Sunday editorial in the Los Angeles Times with her hilarious observations of the nutty eco-foodie world which (as if they weren’t annoying enough) seems to have blended with a new category of social bellyachers intent of making us feel guilty for (are you ready for this?) spending too little on food, clothing, furniture, and gas.
Dire economic circumstances don’t seem to faze these spendinenthusiasts, who scold us for shopping at supermarkets instead of at farmer’s markets, where a loaf of “artisanal” (and also “sustainable”) rye bread sells for $8, ice cream for $6 a cup and organic tomatoes go for $4 a pound.
The latest cheerleader for higher prices is Ellen Ruppel Shell, a professor of science journalism at Boston University who has just published a book titled “Cheap.” It’s not a guide to bargain-hunting. The theme of Shell’s book, subtitled “The High Cost of Discount Culture,” is “America’s dangerous liaison with Cheap.”
Shell’s argument goes like this: Shopping at discount stores, factory outlets and, of course, Wal-Mart (no work of social criticism is complete without a drive-by shooting aimed at that chain) exploits Chinese factory workers (who would much rather be back on the collective farm wearing their Mao suits) and degrades the environment because much of the low-price junk wears out and ends up in landfills.
Demanding that other people impoverish themselves, especially these days, in the name of your pet cause — fostering craftsmanship, feeling “connected” to the land, “living more lightly on the planet” or whatever — goes way beyond Marie Antoinette saying “let them eat cake.” It’s more like Marie Antoinette dressing up in her shepherdess costume and holding court in a fake rustic cottage at the Petit Trianon.
Those who think that there is something wrong with owning more than two pairs of sneakers or that exquisite fastidiousness about what you put into your mouth equals virtue need to be tele-transported back to, say, the Depression itself, when privation was in earnest and few people had telephones, much less cellphones. Read some 1930s memoirs: Back then, people who couldn’t afford “quality” furniture slept on mattresses on the floor and hammered together makeshift tables out of orange crates. They went barefoot during the summer and sewed their children’s clothes out of (non-organic) flour sacks. That was what “cheap” meant then — not today’s plethora of affordable goods that the social critics would like to take away from us.