Have Your Cake and Eat Your Veggies Too

“These vegetables turned yellow,” the customer said, holding up a bag of unidentifiable produce.

I could hear her discussing the situation with a clerk as I strolled the aisles of Ubud’s premier organic vegetarian establishment, Down to Earth, peering over offerings of kombucha and cacao as I tried to choose between three varieties of hummus.

“Can I get a refund?”

“No.”

“But they turned yellow,” the customer replied, her face clouded with confusion. I have no idea what the original color of the vegetables was, but I’m guessing something other than yellow.

The clerk remained unmoved. It was a standoff, the tension only broken by the arrival of a shipment of almond butter.

Vegetables and their brethren, fruits, turn colors. They go bad. They are what our grandparents might call “perishable”. You know what doesn’t go bad so quickly? Fruits and vegetables that have been sprayed with pesticides. Genetically modified produce that has been designed to last longer. Del Monte fruit cocktail in a can. Those modern innovations had at least two effects. First, customers could buy more food in advance because it would last longer, reducing the amount of time shoppers needed to spend in the market. Second (and related to the first), they gave customers more flexibility in preparing meals at home because people could keep a greater variety of food in their kitchen.

Many people do not want to eat produce that has been sprayed with pesticides, genetically modified, or laced with preservatives. There are a variety of reasons, but the primary one is health. Unsure of the long-term effects of these types of foods on the human body, many want to err on the side of fresh. That’s a great thing. There are consequences, however. One of them is time. Organic food doesn’t last as long, so we have to eat it as close to the time as it was harvested as possible. That’s just how it goes.

But the customer could not understand that she had to prioritize. Did she want something that lasted longer but may not be as healthy? Or did she want something that was organic but that would have to be eaten quickly? Given two options, she chose both.

Given two options, she chose both.

Anyone who deals with clients understands the conundrum well. Nearly every project manager asks prospective clients to prioritize between three criteria: low cost, high quality and short timeframe. You can definitely get one, you can swing two, but you can’t have all three. Yet the inevitable reply from clients is, “Well, of course, it needs to be high quality, but we need it by the end of the month. Oh, and we don’t have any money budgeted so it has to be cheap.” With that, the client believes it has effectively pushed the problem onto the business’s plate. But businesses can’t solve clients’ inability to prioritize. They can only work within the limitations they have been given.

I am just as guilty of this mentality as anyone. I enjoyed living in Uganda because everything was so laid-back. But I hated that it took so long to get anything done. I could not accept that these were two sides of the same coin. I demanded both casualness and efficiency.

Life is filled with conundrums that we choose not to see as mutually exclusive. We want to lose weight without being more active. We want a well-paying job but don’t want to work more than 40 hours a week. We want that beer to be less filling and still taste great. In short, we have trouble making sacrifices.

The problem is particularly acute with my generation because we were raised to believe we could have it all. (That’s right, parents, I blame you.1) We didn’t have to prioritize or make sacrifices because life would unfold for us neatly, as though we were predestined for success. Sacrifice was something our parents and grandparents had to do when raising us. It was not a theme of the modern age.

We were special. We merely had to dream it to achieve it. Our ideal jobs would come floating down to us after we graduated from college. Sure, we might struggle a bit, but we knew what to expect after watching all those television shows about young people in New York and LA. Struggling meant drinking draft PBRs instead of microbrews, getting tall Starbucks cappuccinos instead of ventis, renting a studio apartment in Brooklyn, and working as a paid intern at a hip magazine. But eventually, someone would see our awesomeness and we’d be rewarded for the time we spent slumming it. We’d be promoted to editor, move into that two bedroom in Manhattan and begin hosting cocktail parties in our parlor. The time of sacrifice would be over!

But the system doesn’t work that way. It never has. We work that way. Millions of us struggle to “make ends meet” but never consider downgrading our satellite TV subscription or taking public transport instead of buying a car. Refusing to make tough choices, we instead close our eyes and swipe our credit cards. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross famously theorized that people faced with an extreme event like death go through “five stages of grief”: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, finally, acceptance. As a species, we have trouble getting to the acceptance stage—not just with extreme events, but with any event. When confronted with an obstacle, we deny it, then lash out against it, and try to bargain our way out before having a sulk. This is not to imply that we can’t have happiness, only that choosing one path precludes the possibility of going down another. Happiness lies in accepting that fact of life.

Refusing to make tough choices, we instead close our eyes and swipe our credit cards.

We think we can have it all—that the universe will bend to our individual whims. We apply this principle to every facet of our lives, including our grocery shopping. The fact is, if we want to buy organic, we have to shop much more regularly (no monthly trips to Costco), and plan our menus better.

This may sound like an inconsequential point blown out of proportion. It’s not. If we can’t even figure out the most important features of our produce, how can we expect to make the truly big decisions? How will we decide between security from terrorism and the civil liberties that keep us free of unwanted government intrusions? How will we choose between higher taxes and more government programs? How will we know when to watch Police Academy 6 and when to watch Robocop?

Regardless of what we choose, there is a downside, a sacrifice. Whether it be shopping at the supermarket, budgeting for the year, or choosing a job, we can’t have our cake and eat it too. We need to remember to eat our vegetables.

  1. And that Vulcan, Dr. Spock. []

11 Comments Have Your Cake and Eat Your Veggies Too

  1. Sue Luppert

    I did not know that GMO produce changes color more quickly than NO GMO. Thanks for that information.

    Loved the analogy of making choices – and sacrifices.

    I’m so glad your mom shared some of your writings on FB. (I miss her, please tell her hi for me)

    Sue

    Reply
    1. Jeff

      I think it’s more of the opposite, actually. I’m definitely no expert on organic or GMO food, but certified organic produce isn’t supposed to have any artificial dyes or preservatives added. Generally speaking, that means that organic tomatoes are going to be more orangish in color, while non-organic tomatoes will usually be red and stay red (although, they could technically be modified to be purple with polka dots, I suppose).

      Reply
  2. Bernardette Kasum

    I’m guessing that the vegetable was broccoli or celery, they both start turning yellow if you wait too long. I loved your article. It made me realize that I need to plan more ahead of time when it comes to not wasting organic foods. Or become more creative and make more interesting dishes using up my organics. At this point I don’t ever want to give up buying organics. I am much healthier now than ever, and have more energy to exercise. If we want something to change, than we have to change, it’s so true. I’m glad that grocery clerk said no, it wasn’t her fault that the consumer didn’t use it quickly enough. Even though I am a person that has trouble saying the word no, I am learning that sometimes we all need to hear no, so we can change something and move on.

    Reply
  3. Bernardette Kasum

    Then by reading you essay once again, I see more. I see that yes, deciding to eat healthy helps build a more sound, strong body and mind so we can go out and be of good use in the world. If we are healthy, we can help make good decisions.

    Reply
    1. Trisha Olsson

      Ha…this is the danger in trying to reference something in American culture when you’ve been living outside of it for 5 years. It’s good to know that Costco has organic food…I never would have guessed. Is it sold in bulk like everything else? I can’t imagine how quickly I could eat 5lbs of spinach…I guess that’s what the juicer is for. 🙂

      Reply
  4. Mary Benson

    Dr. Spock or Mr. Spock? Maybe Benjamin Spock was a Vulcan and we never knew? Or Mr. Spock has gotten a doctorate degree while the show has been on hiatus?

    Reply

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