The Inconvenience Store
Convenience is to social welfare as junk food is to health.
When you eat junk food you get calories, something to keep you on your feet and going, for now. But, nothing to help keep up your health in the long-run. And, nothing that feeds your heart/soul.
When you opt for what is convenient it helps you get through your hectic today. But it will also (usually) contributes nothing to the well being of your community. Instead it will contribute to a world that sucks just a bit more next year and will contribute to leaving a crappy mess for the next generation.
Most convenient things share certain characteristics. Part of being convenient is being ubiquitous and easy to get. That means convenient things are produced and controlled on a very large scale – and thus are owned by some already very well-to-do people who are also making it convenient for you to help them become yet more well-to-do. In other words, some really fat cats are tilting the floor in their direction so that when you put down your money (or other resources) on the most convenient option it will roll right into their pockets. This is true from banking to bagels. Consider, for example, how very much easier it is to invest money is a Fortune 500 company that makes millions of bland bagels using low-grade flour (and no love) than in your local family-owned bakery.
Convenient things are mass replicated and preserved so that they can easily be gotten, along with masses of other generic products in large convenient locations. That tends to mean more attention is put into logistics – how to cheaply mass produce, preserve, box for transport, etc. – than is placed on the quality of the product itself.
Convenient things seem to be priced so that you do not have to worry so much about your budget or about making choices. (At that price why not get both flavors of ice cream?!) But, that price is obtained by applying a constant downward pressure on labor rates (your job or your grandchild’s), environmental standards, quality of inputs and everything else.
Another key part of convenience is that it does not tie up your mental resources by requiring you to think much about what you are doing. To be successfully convenient products or services must be ambiguous and stripped of any information or story about how they are created. Convenience let’s you get on with whatever you need to be doing without stopping to think about how the thing you just put in your cart affects your society. That anonymity allows lots of bad things to happen behind the scenes, from strip mines to CAFOs to sweatshops and a world awash in mindless, dead-end jobs.
The gap between what is convenient and what is good can be substantial.
Now let’s consider the inconvenient. Inconvenience can be choosing the small local credit union or bank – despite the fact that they don’t have branches everywhere – because they loan more money locally and do lots more to keep your dollars close to home.
Getting to the farmers’ market can be inconvenient because it may only happens for a few hours a week in your location. But your money stays to build your community, the quality of the food tends to be much better and it is handed to you by the people who lovingly produced it and who maintain beautiful open space in your community.
Inconvenience is cooking for yourself (and others), maybe something new, from scratch. Inconvenience involves slowing down to get in touch with what you are eating, where it came from and knowing who you are making it for or with. Inconvenience involves taking the time to learn where things come from and how they are made and seeking out products and services that you believe are making a positive contribution to society. Inconvenient involves making decisions to do with a bit less in order to choose better stuff that actually provides a living wage for one of your neighbors.
So, at the Westside Renaissance Market we are deliberately a bit inconvenient.
For example, our produce section is always seasonal and local. You will only find those awesome triple crown blackberries for a few weeks each year, and you will never find that banana you might be craving.
Mind you, we are not nearly as inconvenient as joining a real small farm CSA, which is an even better shopping decision, if you can do it. You may not find exactly what you had in mind and you may have to adjust you meal plan … but you may find something better if you are open to working with what’s available around here, at the moment. If your “heart is set” on a banana, or maybe even spinach, but what your local farmers has just now is kale, you may just need to tell your heart to grow up. It is an opportunity to learn something about seasonings or tahini sauce and do something yummy with kale.
Allowing yourself to be inconvenienced is a virtue that allows us to build real culture and real connection. So, let’s all pledge to go out of our way to do one, community-building, gloriously inconvenient thing today.