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  • Of Automobiles and Shopping Discipline

    I have recently moved, and now find myself dealing with the logistics of finding new grocery stores to which I can visit on a regular basis. This is a task more difficult than it sounds, as I am somewhat particular when it comes to markets that I will frequent. There are some grocery stores I avoid outright (I’m looking at you, Safeway) and others I’d prefer to avoid (Kroger’s/QFC). This has left me with two options, one in walking distance, and another in biking distance. It’s this latter option that I wish to address.

    For the past 10 years, I’ve lived within walking distance of grocery stores, and I could go shopping when the mood fit, or when I desperately needed an item at the last possible minute. Then there were the times when I would hop in the car, and head out to the grocery store or market of my preference, and bring home as many groceries as we felt necessary.

    This move has changed that approach, as one of the purposes of us moving to our new apartment was to live in an area where we could lower our gas consumption by a marked level. Biking and walking are to be our primary means of transportation, with the car to be used only minimally. This change in our behavior has had an effect upon my shopping habits, and has led me to wondering about the role the automobile has played in our consumption patterns.

    Yesterday morning, after biking to Whole Foods (yes, I am one of those people), I quickly came to realize that the items I wished to purchase were to be regulated by my mode of transportation. Even with our saddlebags, space was at a minimum, and our shopping choices were dictated by what we could carry. Suddenly, items that were once a staple in our household, became a luxury that we simply could not afford to carry. Our choices became more streamlined, and more space effective (although not necessarily cost effective. This is Whole Foods, after all).

    From a pure, anecdotal evidence perspective, it seems that it is not a coincidence that supermarkets grew in popularity at the same time as automobiles and our highway infrastructure. Here were two (somewhat) new tools, one that provided an entire range of consumables that allowed for one stop shopping, and another that allowed us to buy more than we could possibly carry on our own. Suddenly, after our fruits, vegetables, breads, and meats had been purchased, we found that we had the money, and space, to buy cases of soda, bags of potato chips, and boxes of cereal. For anyone who has ever shopped at a grocery store with an eye to walking or biking their purchases back home, these last three items are nearly unthinkable. The car allowed us to buy more than we needed. Anyone who has watched an episode of Extreme Couponing knows exactly of what I write.

    I’m not here to advocate NOT using a car or truck when shopping. Rather, I think it’s incumbent upon us to recognize the luxury of space given to shoppers by an automobile can also be a curse. When space is no longer an issue, the discipline of shopping is easily (and some might say quickly) set aside to allow us to purchase things we may not need.