The Cost of a Candy Bar

June 18, 2007

I’m standing in the grocery store today and I catch myself doing something I’ve caught myself doing before — trying to talk myself into buying a candy bar, even though I’m not hungry and I don’t actually crave one. It’s amazing how often I give in, too. As if I’ll regret not having bought it when I leave without it (which has, I’ll admit, happened). But I long ago learned that five minutes worth of discipline in the grocery store saves hours of discipline later on, so I try to ignore the self-destructive voices urging me toward chocolate, with spotty success.

Historically this has largely been for health/diet reasons. I lost 50 lbs during 2000, and have kept most of it off (although lately I’ve been fighting some creepage-back). And I think that’s how most people typically evaluate many food choices – in terms of health. Recently, though, I’ve started to think of candy bars in larger terms.

So what does a candy bar really cost, anyway?

Well, obviously, it costs all the ingredients that make it up. (Hmmm — is the milk in my milk chocolate RBGH-free?) I wonder if the chocolate is fair-trade, or if I’m contributing to subsistence-level living for some poor guy on a chocolate plantation who can’t get a decent price for his goods.

It costs the energy required to make the candy bar, and the likelihood is that it’s not entirely clean energy either — so we have pollution and/or CO2 emissions adding to problems in both those areas that are already out of control.

It costs the petroleum that went to make the plastic wrapper, and it cost the petroleum that went into shipping it to my store, and the CO2 emissions that transportation created.

(To me, this is a biggie — petroleum is going to progressively become scarcer, and I’d rather voluntarily choose what to give up than have someone else’s choices foisted upon me. So I’ll buy fewer candy bars, and use cloth bags at the grocery store, and purchase fewer plastic products, and encourage my merchants to switch to non-plastic packaging etc. [Again, a topic for another post.])

It costs the effort to move that wrapper from my trash to a landfill, and the time it takes the plastic to disintegrate and the chemicals it releases when it does, and the petroleum involved in hauling that garbage, and the CO2 emssions from THAT transportation as well.

It costs me opportunity — what I could have spent that money on otherwise. More than once I’ve broken a dollar on a candy bar and come outside the store to see the little blind guy that plays accordion here sitting there trying to earn a living, and wished I had the dollar still to give him.

It probably costs me in what I view as responsible government, because confectioners have a lobby that is vocal on everything from sugar subsidies to food labeling and nutrition — and I sincerely doubt their thinking on these subjects mirrors mine. And every candy bar I buy helps fund people who persuade policy-makers to do things I might well disagree with — not my idea of voting with my dollar effectively! And, unlike other areas where my hands are somewhat tied, I can live quite happily WITHOUT candy bars. I can choose to vote with my dollar in this area at comparatively little cost to myself.

It costs me in thoughtlessness — I buy it mindlessly (or did, but I’ll try to do better) — and I buy it because it’s been marketed to me successfully (and I think it’s important to resist commercial influences, although that’s a topic for other posts).

The point is, buying (and subsequently eating, because who are we kidding?) a candy bar isn’t good for me physically, it isn’t good for me economically, it isn’t good for me politically, and it isn’t particularly good for us globally.

I need to work on my thoughtful consumerism — preferably while I’m in the checkout line!


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