Money talks. And every time you spend your money, you influence the conversation. At the end of the day, each dollar we inject into the marketplace is a vote for the kind of world we want to live in. So what does it mean to be a “Paleo-minded consumer”? By now, most people know that the Paleo lifestyle involves far more than just food and exercise. It’s an entire way of life that is intentional: intentional about healing our bodies, our communities, and our planet, and intentional about understanding our personal power within the socioeconomic system.1 As more of us embrace this way of being, I hope we can have more open conversations about how to exist in our modern marketplace while keeping our values intact. This is important, because there is still a lot of misinformation out there.
Say you’re shopping for food at your local grocery store. You want to buy some chicken thighs for your dinner this evening, and you’re met with a handful of choices. Now, any and all plain chicken thighs would be considered “Paleo” by nearly every nutritional authority out there; after all, they’re just meat—no sketchy seasonings, canola oil, or gluten in sight. You could pick any option and technically be eating Paleo, but this is too myopic a decision-making strategy. Consider the sourcing of the chicken, how the animals were treated, and whether the product is certified organic/gluten-free/etc . . . and in the end, the best choice stands out. You go with the chicken thighs that hail from a local, family-run farm, where the animals roam free and never receive heavy medications or industrial feed. Any of the chicken thighs you see would taste great in tonight’s recipe, but only this one product is a cut above the rest when it comes to the variety of factors that any savvy Paleo shopper should consider.
Always selecting the cleanest food possible may sound like a daunting task, and sometimes it is. Yet, as you begin to consider the economics of living Paleo, you’ll realize that food shopping is only one piece of the grain-free pie. It’s important to not get overly focused on one area and forget about the rest. Instead, take a wide-angle view on your entire life, watching where your money goes in all areas. When you think back to the ways our ancestors lived, you see that their communities thrived when they invested in each other.2 They weren’t giving their resources to huge multinational corporations that polluted their lands, poisoned their children, and put their neighbors out of business. They had a network of people they could count on for their food, medicine, clothing, and household goods. They knew where their money went, and that it was used to support the livelihoods of their friends and family members. And this type of economic structure existed until relatively recently.
It’s not realistic to yearn for the old days of the tribe-based marketplace, and understandably so. Our world has become a giant web of goods and services, with currencies flowing across borders in milliseconds, and with an abundance of retailers popping up on every corner. We can buy just about anything we want with the click of a button, without ever leaving our couches.3 Large, industrial operations greatly outnumber the small, family-owned outfits. But all is not lost. We, the consumers, still have power to influence our economy. So how can we make it more Paleo-friendly? What does it mean to shop with a Paleo perspective?
When I think of the ideal Paleo consumer, a few key traits stand out:
1. They’re Honest About Their Needs
Out of all the Rs of conservation, reduce is one of the most important. A true Paleo consumer recognizes life’s actual necessities and avoids consumerism for its own sake.4 Because even the most conscious purchase still involves energy and resources, avoiding overbuying is a foundational habit for any ethically-minded human.5 There are plenty of things that we can do without, or find through non-traditional routes.
2. They Reuse, Salvage, and DIY
While the era of convenience has its upsides, the abundance of cheap, easily accessible goods has made us less resourceful, less creative, and less patient overall. Instead of tossing something out and replacing it with an imported, factory-made version, a Paleo-minded consumer would look for ways to repair or repurpose the item. This not only engages your brain and body, it also prevents unnecessary waste from going into our landfills.6,7
3. They Choose Locally-Made Offerings
The Paleo lifestyle aims to minimize environmental impacts while maximizing economic vitality, and small local businesses give us the best of both worlds. When you buy locally-made goods, you skip the carbon footprint of extensive shipping and manufacturing, while also financially supporting independent artisans, farmers, and practitioners.8 Choosing a small business in your area over a large foreign corporation contributes to a positive economic shift every time you buy.
4. They Give Back
Our world is suffering right now, and living Paleo is one small way we can help address the modern diseases of greed, destruction, and inequality. Purchases made in line with Paleo values are those that support the empowerment of others and the revitalization of our natural landscape.9 Living Paleo also means getting involved in your community, donating your time, talents, or dollars to making the world a better place for everyone.
5. They Get Personal
Most people are drastically disconnected from the sources of their goods, and this results in less satisfaction and engagement with their belongings. When we take the time to learn about how our stuff (food or otherwise) ended up in our hands, we feel more attuned to our place in our economic system. A true Paleo consumer makes an effort to meet their suppliers, whether that’s at a farmer’s market, a craft fair, or even connecting with them online. Knowing the names and faces of the people you support makes a huge difference in how you spend your money.10
6. They Think Big-Picture
Every dollar you spend is broken up and allocated to about a dozen different people. A few cents go to raw materials, a few more to the growing, some to the harvesting, some to the shipping or transportation, a few to advertising or marketing, etc. There is a chain of supply that brings us everything we use, from food to clothing, and Paleo-minded consumers understand the far-reaching implications of their purchases. When you buy something, take a moment to think about how it will affect everyone along the supply chain.11,12
Switching to a grain-free, veggie-heavy diet and dumping the chronic cardio is only part of the Paleo solution. When we acknowledge our power as individuals to shift our economy, we see the importance of putting our Paleo values into action. If you believe in community, in vibrant health, and in reconnecting with what truly matters, it’s time to start spending your money with these things in mind. One dollar at a time, we can change the world.
Tips for Being a Paleo Consumer:
- To find local, ethically produced foods, shop your seasonal farmers’ markets.
- Instead of throwing away a used item, think of how you could repurpose or recycle it.
- For handmade gift ideas, search for small, local artisans on Etsy.
- Look for an apothecary near you for bulk herbs and natural remedies.
- Honor your food and the resources it took to make it; reduce your food waste, buy in bulk, and cook larger meals at a time.
- Ask local ranchers and growers if they offer “open farm days” so you can personally connect with their land and animals.
- Learn the meanings of certain designations like Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance-Certified, Animal Welfare-Approved, pastured, organic, cruelty-free, and more.
1. Irving S, Harrison R, Rayner M. “Ethical Consumerism–Democracy Through the Wallet.” Journal of Research for Consumers 3.3 (2002): 63-83.
2. Bhalla J. “Paleo-Economics Shaped Our Moralities.” Big Think. 10 March 2018. http://bigthink.com/errors-we-live-by/did-paleo-economics-shape-our-moralities
3. Pitt LF, Berthon PR, Watson RT, Zinkhan GM. “The Internet and the Birth of Real Consumer Power.” Business Horizons 45.4 (2002): 7-14.
4. Nelson ES. Review of Mindfulness In The Marketplace: A Compassionate Response To Consumerism. Journal of Buddhist Ethics 10 (2003): 66-70.
5. Carrington MJ, Neville BA, Whitwell GJ. “Lost In Translation: Exploring The Ethical Consumer Intention–Behavior Gap.” Journal of Business Research 67.1 (2014): 2759-2767.
6. Harbo S, De Young R, Guckian M. Beyond Green Consumerism: Uncovering The Motivations of Green Citizenship. Michigan Journal of Sustainability 5.1 (2017): 73-94. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/mjs.12333712.0005.105
7. Runco MA. “Creativity And Health.” Creativity Research Journal 3.2 (1990): 81-84. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/10400419009534338
8. Kilkenny M, Nalbarte L, Besser T. “Reciprocated Community Support and Small Town-Small Business Success.” Entrepreneurship & Regional Development 11.3 (1999): 231-246.
9. Giddings B, Hopwood B, O’Brien G. “Environment, Economy And Society: Fitting Them Together Into Sustainable Development.” Sustainable Development 10.4 (2002): 187-196.
10. Porter ME, Kramer MR. “The Big Idea: Creating Shared Value.” Harvard Business Review 89 (January-February 2011): 2-17.
11. Christopherson S, Michie J, Tyler P. “Regional Resilience: Theoretical And Empirical Perspectives.” Cambridge Journal Of Regions, Economy And Society, 3.1 (2010): 3-10.
12. Barratt M. “Understanding The Meaning Of Collaboration In The Supply Chain.” Supply Chain Management: An International Journal 9.1 (2004): 30-42.
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