Gripping an empty shopping basket, I stand befuddled inside the entrance of my favorite local grocery store. With 20 minutes to scavenge dinner before a meeting at church, surrounded by an obscene plethora of food, I am completely paralyzed.
While it would have been wise to have packed dinner at home, I'm not that smart. So I wander the store like a lion on the hunt.
I've purposed to spend no more than five dollars. Frankly, what would be a sizable amount to many around the globe feels sacrificial to me. Today I'll be hard pressed to stay on budget and consume the tasty flesh of a farm animal, potato-based carbohydrate, vegetable or fruit serving, and delicious beverage to which I feel entitled between the hours of 5:30 and 7 p. m.
If cost were my only concern, I'd grab a 10-serving bag of store-brand Cheetos, and a 79-cent two-liter of generic orange soda. But, of course, there's that pesky "nutrition" business. In seventh grade science at Hadley Junior High, I learned all about the dangers of calories (#firstworldproblem). I was warned that "fat" was the enemy—until "transfat" was exposed as the real evil, arch-villain of nutrition. Exclusive of cost, the nutrition calculations are dizzying in themselves.
Wandering through the dairy section, a serving of strawberry yogurt catches my eye. Convenient. Affordable. Nutritious. Tasty.
I glance at the eight-serving tub. Though it uses fewer packaging materials than eight individual servings, I'd have to walk all the way to the church kitchen to refrigerate it during my meeting.
So I nix the yogurt.
Every second I'm becoming more ravenous.
I circled back to the produce section and noticed bananas in a fellow shopper's cart. I quickly calculate: convenient, affordable, nutritious, tasty and—the real clincher—packaged by God!
As I begin to reach for a banana, I notice a sticker that says Costa Rica. Frankly, I'm concerned. In addition to a worry about the emissions produced getting that banana from Central America to North Carolina, I wonder if the workers who planted and harvested my banana were paid a fair wage? Were they eight-year-olds? Can eight-year-olds even reach tree-bananas?
By this time, it's 6:53 p. m. The fact that I haven't eaten in six hours feels, honestly, life-threatening.
And I realized my formula for convenient/affordable/nutritious/tasty/just/resource-friendly shopping was entirely unwieldy. I realized I needed a fresh lens in order to identify the best—though not perfect—dinner options at the grocery store.
When Jesus was pressed for the best way to live, he boiled it down for people like me who are so easily overwhelmed: love God, and love people like we love ourselves. Jesus assumes we're already loving and showing concern for ourselves. (And, of course, he's right.) If that weren't rudimentary enough, in his closing instructions to his disciples, he boiled the whole business down to a new command: "Love each other" (John 13:34).
And though I do recognize that lifting three words as a guiding life ethic is wildly reductionistic, it's the most Christian one I know.
But what does it mean to love one another at a grocery store?
To love others at the grocery store, while maintaining a healthy love for myself, suddenly reorders my priorities. Convenience and tastiness drop down toward the bottom of my ranking system. Because I have the financial privilege of choosing whatever food pleases me, if buying on the cheap compromises love for another woman I've not met—an underpaid laborer struggling to feed her family or a farmer whose livelihood has been disturbed by the environmental damage caused by my overconsumption—I won't do it.
Here are three baby steps I've adopted to better love—and live—well as you shop for food:
1. Plan Ahead
With a little forethought, you can purchase food produced by workers earning a fair wage. Visit www.TradeAsOne.org to learn more.
2. Sacrifice Immediate Gratification
Limiting impulse purchases to delight the palette—such as a $1.69 diet soda from the gas station near my home—honors others with responsible stewardship.
3. Share Food
Early Christians shared what they had with one another. Find creative ways to bless others by sharing the food you buy.
This lens of love now sets me free in a new way at the grocery store. And though I'm far from perfect—did I mention my bag-nesia? I'm that woman who never remembers to bring a reusable one. Ever—I've begun to take baby steps to live well. To love well.
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