When I was a teenager, I had a part time job in a local supermarket as a Produce Assistant (that’s the fruit and vegetable counter to you and me). Two evenings a week and all day Saturday in an unflattering uniform, on my feet the whole time, with only a few short breaks, it was tiring and often boring but my adolescent heart loved the increased independence it brought.
Back then, most shops closed on Sundays so all the fresh stock was discounted to get rid of as much as possible at a particular time on Saturday afternoon. That was my favourite part of the job.
It was up to my manager to decide what would be marked down and by how much and mine to weigh and tag the purchases. But about half an hour before the reductions were announced, the Twirlies would arrive: a group of gregarious older ladies, keen for a bargain, who would always greet me with a smile and:
“Hello darlin’. Am I too early?”
The discounted stock tended to be a little substandard, bruised, overripe. So the Twirlies loved to bag up their chosen, perfect purchases in advance and then bring them back later for the lower pricing. It irritated my boss immensely.
But I enjoyed turning a blind eye and letting them have the bargains they craved. I guess I also liked getting one over on my boss and the company. I figured a few bargain apples and carrots would make little difference to the organisation’s budget but could make a significant one to the Twirlies, who relied on only a basic pension to get by and had learned their budgeting skill during the War.
There’s an Oscar Wilde quote that defines a cynic as someone who ‘knows the price of everything but the value of none’. And that reminds me too of the Bible story of the widow who gave the tiniest amount of money in the Temple (she may have been a Twirly in her day) but was honoured by Jesus because He saw what a significant proportion it was for her. He saw the cost and the value rather than the price.
We get our ideas of cost and value in this world terribly mixed up and upside down compared to God’s. It broke my heart in that job when I was seconded to the bakery counter where every evening we threw out mounds of bread, cakes, and patisserie – because the company refused to sell it discounted to staff or customers, let alone donate it to homeless charities who would have made such good use of it, unworried by Best Before dates. I hope that supermarket chain has a different policy now.
I’m glad some things are changing, that we are starting to reject the throwaway culture we’ve been living in too long of plastic bags, cheap clothes, food waste, and ignorance. But we’ve a long way to go. The planet is already paying for our greed and laziness and we are all losers for that.
Let’s go back to some of the values of that Twirly generation. Let’s learn to value what we have. Let’s learn to ‘make do and mend’, and to plan our meals and shopping lists, turning leftovers into something delicious. Let’s embrace reducing, reusing, and recycling. Let’s choose ethical over cheap.
Let’s consider the cost of our choices for us and others. And let’s remember value more than price.
This is my contribution to the Five Minute Friday community, who write weekly on a prompt word (COST this week) and then share the results. You find other responses to the word here: https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/11/21/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-cost/