Summer Musings: Draw the line

With globalization and big business as the status quo, being a conscientious consumer can seem somewhat daunting and impossible. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

By Zelda Mayer

My family can be best described by the story of how my parents met. According to my mom, my father had just finished writing his dissertation and had decided to throw a party. My mom crashed it with a friend. Somewhat standard meets cute. Here’s the Mayer family twist: All my father served at this party was beer and carrot sticks. And not those baby carrots you get on prepackaged vegetable plates. Like, whole carrot sticks, including the carrot tops. Beer and carrots. That’s it. My mom saw this, quickly realized this man was a freak, and decided she needed to meet him.

Each week, my mom picks up trash from a local taco stand to compost in her yard. For most of my childhood, I thought my dad was 60 because he used to lie about his age to strangers, just to receive the confidence booster, “You look so good for your age!” My mom’s favorite movie is Being John Malkovich. For years my father would sit me down (against my will) every summer for the TNT James Bond movie marathon.

We’re #quirky.

Included in these quirks is our undying devotion to cuttlefish. Three years ago, my father went through a Nova documentary phase and insisted on a family viewing of a documentary on these incredible cephalopods. And you know what? Cuttlefish are amazing. They are able to change both the color and texture of their skin, and not only that, but they can choose to make different parts of their body different colors. To capture their prey, they mesmerize the smaller, dumber fish with a light show, using a “hypnosis attack” to snatch their prey with their two tentacles. When competing for potential mates, male cuttlefish sometimes “cross-dress” as a female on one side of their bodies to slip by opposing males unnoticed while maintaining their male features on the other side to continue wooing the female. And they have three hearts. How freaking cool is that?

The summer after my first year of college, I spent all day traveling to see my loving family. When I finally landed, I was starving, and we decided to go out to dinner to celebrate being together. But when we sat down at the restaurant and viewed the menu, we noticed that they served fried cuttlefish. We got up and left the restaurant. We could not, after all, support any establishment that cooked these incredibly smart and complex creatures.

The next restaurant served octopus, but no cuttlefish. We decided to stay.

I’ve been told that this is a strange (and oddly specific) line to draw. Strange is what my family does best. But I admire my parents’ tenacity in this issue. And although some may find it extreme that my father recently wrote a strongly worded letter to the owners of yet another restaurant, explaining why we were no longer able to eat there and kindly asking them to remove cuttlefish from their menu, this sort of conviction has taught me the importance of being a mindful consumer.

With globalization and big business as the status quo, being a conscientious consumer can seem somewhat daunting and impossible. The health food brand Kashi is owned by Kellogg’s, the makers of such sugary delights as Frosted Flakes. Coca Cola owns Odwalla. When you buy one brand, you are inadvertently supporting many other products, brands, and companies. And this includes their labor practices, business ethics, environmental consequences, sourcing of raw materials, and all the other decisions made by the companies you give your money to. If we aren’t aware of the implications of our breakfast choice or laundry detergent brand, we could be supporting practices that conflict with our value system—without even noticing.

And this extends beyond physical goods. For example, when you watch porn, you are supporting an industry that, more often than not, produces content that perpetuates gender roles and fetishizes rape without providing the context of consensual BDSM. The websites we visit, the entertainment we consume, the activities we participate in, all these decisions matter. We are not merely passive recipients of goods and services without consequences. Our collective actions help determine what sort of world we live in.

This doesn’t mean you have to freak out, refuse to step foot in Target, and start making all your own clothes. It would be great if we all had time to do that, but there’s rent to pay, jobs and internships to tend to, and, you know, TV to watch. But being aware of what it actually means to buy what you buy is a start.

And even if I haven’t persuaded you of the merits of cuttlefish, or you aren’t yet willing to operate with the intense loyalty of the Mayers, that’s okay. You don’t have to follow our lines. But it’s good to know what yours are, and to draw them.

Zelda Mayer is a third-year in the College majoring in sociology. Summer Musings is a Viewpoints blog that publishes on Tuesdays and Fridays through September 26.