The Irony of O'Naturals

We have two O'Naturals in our neck of the woods: Portland and Falmouth. The Falmouth O'Naturals is much bigger with a separate section for a table extolling non-profit organizations. Considering that I paid over $10 for a croissant, sandwich and drink, this is not Goodwill non-profit we're talking about. Or maybe we are. Perhaps the people who go to O'Naturals support non-profits like Goodwill, they just don't actually shop there.

I do, but I'm a soul-destroying capitalist so I don't count. I also don't mind the irony of O'Naturals since it amuses me when hippiness goes corporate. (If I minded, I would call it "hypocrisy.") P.J. O'Rourke once commented wryly on the so-called small business persona of places like Ben & Jerry's. Oh, yeah, he said, you think it's managed out of a house somewhere? Or words to that effect.

The odd thing about O'Naturals is how much it is, in a chain-like way, aimed at selling itself (note: selling itself) as a hippy-friendly, environmental do-gooder. Which isn't to say that it's all a front. The food is good, however pricy. I'm not particularly concerned about whether the chickens and cows were free ranging, happy chickens and cows before they were slaughtered but the quality is markedly better than your average grocery store purchase. I simply refuse to cavil at the use of animal products when, the last time I checked, tomatoes, lettuce and parsley are also living things. I can understand refusing to eat, say, lamb (but it sure is good, isn't it?). But once one starts angsting out over shrimp, one might as well wear a filter to prevent the inadvertent swallowing of bugs. And I've never understood why the people who think animals are on the same level as humans, nevertheless refuse to hold animals to the same standards. I mean, if humans shouldn't be eating animals, why should tigers be eating antelope? And if it's a circle of life thing for the tigers, why can't it be a circle of life thing for humans?

Of course, the same people who get freaked out over the eating of meat (there are many vegetarians who don't eat meat for other reasons than self-righteous posturing; I want to make it clear I'm not talking about them), get on board with animism and buy into the image of the Native American saying a prayer over the dead deer. Except the deer is still very dead. I can see thanking God for creating a world where I'm not going to starve, but feeling goopy doesn't do a thing for the deer. And tigers don't give prayers.

Of course, soulless capitalist that I am, I think humans are better than tigers--just because they discuss their own angst and build cities and write bad poetry and worry about killing animals. But it's an argument that gets one nowhere since in order to believe that humans are better than animals, you ultimately have to believe that cities, planes, cellphones and TV are worth giving up a hunter/gatherer existence for. Which I do, but a lot of people aren't willing to say so.

Leaving the animal question to one side, the irony of O'Naturals "look at how environmentally safe and wonderful we are" self-advertisement shows up in other ways. My dinner partner and I sat next to a window that extolled it's tint: the tint keeps the utility costs down. Well, hooray. My dad, who plays the stock market, does the same thing. Except that O'Naturals was air-conditioned. And my parents' house isn't. This is Maine, where non-air conditioning is uncomfortable but won't kill you and a surprising number of restaurants don't have air conditioning because we use it, what, four weeks out of the year?

I like air-conditioning. But then, again, I'm a soulless greedy capitalist pig, and I don't exactly believe that the world is disintegrating around me.

In any case, presumably the people who worry about the (thankless) eating of animals and the over use of energy, are the market for O'Naturals. But such people don't go to air-conditioned locations and pay money for food prepared by workers who, probably, don't earn much more than $9/hr. Which means that O'Naturals' real market are soulless capitalists and people who like to feel warm fuzzies about their political views while they eat . . . but not so much so that it jeopardizes their life style (closet soulless capitalists).

Which makes the whole experience ironic and avant garde bizarre in the extreme. Maybe the owners and sellers of O'Naturals are trying to create an environment which forces consideration of the ambiguous political and social environments in which Americans live.

But I doubt it.




Henry said...

Lamb? What's wrong with lamb? Little lambs gambol about the heather for a few months, then get eaten. A short happy life.

Then consider that the average beef cow has a pretty short life itself, mostly spent in a crowded feed lot, bloating on corn and antibiotics. Lambs have it lucky. I also like lamb.

I don't worry about it outside of our own home, but I'm pretty dedicated to free-range meat and eggs. I don't care if the animals are shot full of hormones, just so long as they are treated humanely. We're a wealthy enough society that we can afford to do that. One nice outcome of the organic grocery store movement is that cage-free eggs and some kinds of free range meats are becoming pretty affordable and available in normal grocery stores.

Try getting an organic holiday ham, though. That'll set you back a few.

Anonymous said...

Joe said:

>>free-range meat and eggs

I just had a vision of slabs of meat and eggs cavorting through the countryside. Do they herd?