The high cost of low opinions

Confession time – I used to look down on people who shopped at WalMart.

My own family shops there and I have friends who love it, but I was bothered by reports of the crap they pull on their employees and their hand in the decline of small businesses (which turns out isn’t actually true), and I was loathe to deal with the “type of people” who shopped there. The usual reasons. I also took it upon myself to share my views with anyone who asked or even broached the subject of the store itself, in person and online. I watched clips of The High Cost of Low Prices and was sufficiently indignant for years.

Getting married and moving your entire life across three states can do strange things to a person. Drain all resources and savings, for one, and (spoiler alert) the bills don’t stop coming just because you changed your address. When my husband first approached me about shopping at WalMart, I was adamantly against it. I probably gave him my usual spiel, accused him of being a Republican, and he gracefully let the topic drop. He’s sneaky like that.

A few weeks later, he brought it up again, and again I shot him down. As our finances crumbled, so did my defenses. We had so much we wanted to do in our new life, with so little to spare. When he asked if we could hit the Supercenter for some home improvement and gardening things, I reluctantly agreed. I complained my way through 12,000 sq ft of budget-balancing opportunities, grudgingly admitted we’d gotten a hell of a deal, and swore I’d never step foot in one again. Well, that mostly stuck. I still hate those massive warehouse stores.

But lucky us! We’ve got a Neighborhood Market just down the street, my husband helpfully pointed out several times until fate found me standing in the doorway, gripping our shopping list in one hand and his shirt in the other

I expected to have to find another place to buy fresh vegetables, but their selection and quality was fine. Rice is cheaper than anywhere else, the bagged apples are actually crunchy, beans are constantly on sale, and on and on I could go. It was an evening of thrills and surprises, and we’ve shopped there ever since. We’re able to afford more fresh produce than if we went somewhere else, so we’re eating more healthfully than we were before. The meat can be dodgy sometimes, but that’s about it.

No, this is not an advert for WalMart. Here is my point: a few weeks ago, while pretending to mind my own business, I overheard a conversation between my husband and someone else, and they were talking about WalMart. This person made a remark mildly chastising us for our decision to shop there. He lectured a bit like I used to do, then recommended the documentary I posted above. ‘Educate yourself,’ he was saying, in so many words, ‘because no half-thinking person would ever want to spend their money there.’

I couldn’t be annoyed, because I understand. After all, that used to be me. But what he, and I, and a whole lot of society doesn’t understand, is this: taking a stand is important, but sometimes circumstances get in the way. Now that I have been forced to get over myself and my own petty judgements, I can understand that sometimes food is food, and every life decision need not be political.

My little family needs to eat. The woman ahead of us in line with six kids under age 10 and a SNAP card – they’ve got to eat, too. As for the man parking his BMW as we wheel out our buggy, maybe he just knows a good deal when he sees it. There are other things to spend your money on. WalMart is not full of welfare queens, snotty children and cross-dressing old men. The employees are not all disenfranchised immigrants and senior citizens robbed of their life savings. Yes, there are still major issues with the way the company is run, but these and other problems exist in other, ‘better’ companies as well. Target is anti-gay. Whole Foods is anti-fat. Pedophilia is rampant in the Catholic Church. The world is full of assholes, and a lot of them are CEOs.

It’s called picking your battles, and knowing when to call a truce. If you stop to fight everything that crosses your path, you’ll end up exhausted without moving an inch. Withholding one’s money in silent protest accomplishes nothing but to stoke one’s ego; our monthly grocery budget won’t really affect anything at all, anywhere, except how much we have to eat and how many other bills we’re able to pay. Our pickles are no more evil than anyone else’s. We are still good people who love equality and puppies, and donate to NPR.

We all have to keep our heads above water, by any means possible. Whether that’s a food bank, the cheap brand of toilet paper for just one more month, or yes, even shopping there, so be it. Some may disagree; that opinion doesn’t make our shopping shameful, and pointedly avoiding darkening that doorway certainly doesn’t make you better than the rest of us just trying to get by.


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