The Ethics of Shopping

Sometimes living in community makes me have to take sides on topics that I never truly considered before. As a Capuchin, my actions speak not only for myself but for the community and the Order I belong to. Therefore there are times when some actions come into conflict with other members of the Capuchin Franciscans.

One of my chores for the friary is being "the buyer." As the buyer, It's my job to make sure that we have all the necessities, toiletries, and food needed. When a list is compiled I run to the store to purchase what is needed. Because I live in a house with 13-14 other men, buying small things at the local grocer aren't as affordable. It's far easier and economical to buy in bulk.

Unfortunately, others don't share the same point of view.

One particular friar in the house is feels a special need to support the local grocer. The store name is Lena's, and it's an African-American owned grocery store that's been in Milwaukee for 35 years. Before the postulants arrived into the house, he was the buyer and spent most of the money buying things at that store. Since we've moved in and the eating habits of the house are changed, he still thinks we should be shopping at the local grocer for our food needs.

Now I have an understanding of "Buyer Responsibility." I support free-trade/equal-exchange coffee, I don't buy anything from Wal-Mart or Sam's Club, and I will happily buy from a local grocer than a large location when the situation fits. As a Capuchin, I have to figure in factors such as cost to the house, are we living within our means, are all the nutritional needs of the people in the friary being met, and most importantly are we buying efficiently like a home chef would.

But now and again I will get into discussions with this one friar as he tries to make this issue of Lena's his primary focus. While I entertained his argument from the first few months, we got into a heated discussion over it today. He's spent a lot of time doing help in the African American community, both here and in Detroit, Gary, IN, and other places in the U.S. And that is where he's coming from. For me, I've lived in a single-parent household where my mom found it hard to find a place to insure her and me when I was a child. Our experiences are very different, and while I felt it unnecessary, we had to discuss the ethics of buying food for the friary.

If I've learned one thing, it's that we cannot be altruistic in our shopping habits. Some places are "greener" than others, some have better treatment of their employees, some have better prices from better sources, and some have loyalties to specific people in the local community. To try and appease all those aspects is futile; the best I can do is focus on what I feel is important and try and be respectful of other's interests.

So now that friar buys fruits, vegetables, and meat from the local Lena's while I buy the staples for meals, and all the extra things needed in a household. It's a good arrangement...until the next argument arises.

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2 Response to The Ethics of Shopping

November 13, 2008 at 3:42 AM

WalMart is a brand for the poor and that people only shop there because they have to.

November 13, 2008 at 1:03 PM

Not everyone shops at Hollister or Banana Republic. To assume that Wal-Mart is for the poor is a gross generalization, since the largest groups of poverty are in big cities and Wal-Mart traditionally has stuck to suburbs and small towns - places where they can receive tax subsidies for increasing revenue and employment.

All people have a choice in where they shop, it is up to those individuals to find where their ethics lie and do what they feel is best.