It’s a great deal of fun when I come across one of our culture’s foibles. They are moments where, regardless of what I’m up to, I realize more than where I am or what I’m doing, and consider how interesting we are as people.
I had one of these little moments this weekend, as my wife and I shopped for groceries. Safeway has this routine of pricing any weight of Safeway-brand cheese over $9 at $8.99. Therefore, the bigger the cheese, the better the deal.
Is it safe to say that probably everyone digs through the pile to find the biggest block? I sure do, and I really enjoy it – it’s a childish pleasure. I rummage as indiscreetly as possible, rifling through the bricks, often not making it through every single block, but typically one will stand out that is 10 or 15 cents bigger than any of the others. I wonder how many people actually engage in this ritual. I assume it’s quite a few, because the cheese is always in disarray when I get there to begin my pilferage.
I mean, really, is this amongst our better uses of time? What are we saving, 3 cents, perhaps 8? And then we go down the next aisle and refuse the grocery-store-brand cereal, thus rendering our savings null. But there’s a sense of victory, at least in me, where I think I’ve beaten other shoppers to the biggest cheese. More likely, this is the game that the suits at Safeway want to engage, thus rendering us simple pawns in another, more profitable way.
It’s funny how we as a culture, or perhaps as a species, engage in such activities. Many people (myself not included) will purposefully drive out of their way to fill up their gas tanks at a station selling gas for a mere 2 cents per litre less than a more convenient and usual station. The savings on 50 litres at 2 cents is 1 dollar. The extra drive to that station, or perhaps the subsequent wastage of gas resulting from the sense of accomplishment cancels out or even negates any realized savings.
Or when buying a slurpee, many people will fill their cup as far past the rim as possible before spilling. What are we actually gaining here? 2 ounces of a sugar/color/ice concoction that costs nothing to produce, but this extra sense of value perhaps provides us incentive to continue purchasing it, as we feel we’re getting a leg up.
On the other hand, there’s certainly a sense of defeat when, for example, we go to a hamburger restaurant (I’ll choose McDonald’s), and get an order of fries that is certainly not nearly as full as it can be. But what do we do in our despair? I can’t think of anyone that will go up to the counter and ask for more, but I’m sure it’s happened.
The idea of minimalism and the phrase “less is more” is certainly applicable to the defeat of whatever general attitude I’m detailing here, but what defines what I am talking about? Maximalism?
My values, and those shared by my wife (though I’d rather not speak for her), tend towards more of a “less but better” philosophy. Except for certain occasions, including the cheese.