Thursday, September 6, 2007

Going to the Lifestyle Center vs. Having a Life

A while back I read a book called Crunchy Cons by Rod Dreher that got me thinking about how we Americans eat. We buy food from far-off places, where the safety standards are not as high as they are here, and use tremendous amounts of fuel to ship those foods here. Wouldn't it be much simpler to learn to eat what's available in your own country?

There are a lot of answers to that question; definitely a post for another time. But I recently read something by Bill Bonner, an American living in France, that got me thinking about eating locally:

One striking difference between Europe…especially France…and America," said a perceptive visitor recently, "is the lack of retail space. At home, everywhere you go…there are malls, strip malls, shops…and more shops. Here, there are just these little stores…and occasionally a small mall. Nothing like in the United States. And these places are often closed. God forbid you want to buy something between noon and 2 PM…or after 6 PM.

"I saw a statistic. The United States has about 10 times as much retail space per person. I don't know why. It's just part of the culture. We shop for things. We don't stock anything. We don't grow our food. I'm amazed at the gardens around here…everyone seems to have a garden behind his house here in Normandy. I guess they just ride their bicycles into town to get their bread and go to the butchers. They don't need much else. That's probably why they don't use much fuel either. They don't have to drive around looking for things everyday."

In the Chicago suburbs, where I lived nearly all my life (we just moved to a small harbor town in Wisconsin two weeks ago), there are enormous shopping centers where people in Hummers circle the parking lots looking for the closest spot to park so they can go in the stores and buy, buy, buy. In Algonquin, the suburb we just left, there's actually a "lifestyle center," an upscale shopping center whose site was chosen because of its proximity to families with incomes of more than $100,000 a year. I'm no big fan of France, but the lifestyle Bonner describes above makes a lot more sense to me than the lifestyle of the people who hang out at the "lifestyle center."

1 comment:

Dana said...

I heard the French also tend to buy what is good when it is in season. (On the food channel)

But they also do not have the distances that we do. Most Europeans can walk or ride a bike into town without much effort. My host father in Germany walked down to the bakery every morning to get the rolls for our breakfast. Refrigerators are smaller and there is almost no freezer space in them. You HAVE to shop every couple of days!