…on good food, questionable judgment, and making life work
I was raised generic. There was a grocery store that my mom frequented when I was growing up in Rochester, NY called Bells. And this store carried the real generic stuff, not the ritzy, snazzily packaged, high-rent store brand stuff our namby-pamby children have been raised on. These items just had a white or a yellow label with nothing more than black block lettering telling you what was inside the can or box–BUTTER. SUGAR. BEER. I’m serious. Generic, yellow can, BEER. Anybody remember other 1980’s off-brand beers? I can recall Golden Anniversary Beer and Goebel (which, when pronounced with a French affect, became “zho-BEL, zee fine Franch brew”).
As such, I have very little brand loyalty. If you were to look through my pantry or my fridge, you would find scores of store brand items and lots of homemade stuff. It’s my hausfrau way of bucking the system–of living off of the grid, if you will. If there is a generic version of a product, I’ll try it because really, what’s the worst that could happen? The peanut butter might have a different level of saltiness? The toasted oat cereal might have a slightly larger diameter? (Seriously though, the generic Cheerios thing has been problematic for my vacuuming in the past.)
Disclaimer–I actually like store-brand mustard. I got a deal on Grey Poupon at Costco this week. I’m actually preparing to make my own mustards in the near future.
Thusly, my kids have learned not to be picky eaters. (My penchant for all things generic is not the only reason for this, but I digress…) Sure, they’ll eye the unfamiliar label on the jar of applesauce suspiciously with brows furled, but they relent and try the stuff because, well–it’s APPLESAUCE and they’re KIDS. (I also don’t keep a lot of processed stuff in the house, so applesauce counts as a treat for them. Yeah, I’m THAT mom.)
I also don’t want them to have brand loyalty. In a way, I like to think of it as teaching them critical thinking–“Sure, this box of macaroni and cheese has loud, colorful packaging, and I have seen it advertised on TV…but what exactly am I paying for if I buy it? Advertising budgets? Corporate jets? Will this mac & cheese make me cooler than the similarly packaged store brand? Screw it–I’ll just buy the pound box of store brand pasta and the brick of Cabot cheddar (we are not barbarians) and make it my damn self…” Education via the grocery store–I’m forever looking for the teachable moment.
I’m an avid label reader. I do go out of my way to avoid high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated stuff. I don’t want to turn this into a “does corn sugar affect the body differently than cane sugar?” referendum. However, if I see those ingredients on the label, I consider it junk food, and I won’t buy it. It is a strategy that has served us well. There was a name brand granola bar that I used to buy, and then one week the ingredient list changed to include high fructose corn syrup. Back on the shelf it went. Then I checked the store brand–no HFCS. Huh. Same thing with fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt. Weird. (I don’t know if this is still the case, as I don’t buy those items anymore–check your labels, folks.) Yet another reason to avoid blind brand loyalty. I sent a letter to the store’s headquarters commending them on this, and they sent me a shit ton of freebies. (I’m a master of the stern letter, but strangely enough, writing nice stuff nets you better results…)
Cautionary tale–I once had a container of store brand plain yogurt in my cart, when upon checking the label, saw that it contained PORK GELATIN. Gross. Be careful out there people, grocery shopping is a veritable mine field.
My generic philosophy informs our clothing choices. I go out of my way to avoid licensed character ANYTHING. My kids are not a medium for advertising your brainless product, thankyouverymuch. (That said, yes–I did get my kid a Minecraft T-shirt for his birthday. I’m a hypocrite, so sue me.)
You’ll see it in my family’s technology choices. HTC is generic Samsung, Samsung is generic Apple (we’re an HTC family here.) Sprint is generic Verizon,Verizon is generic AT&T. Additionally, if you can’t find a suitable off-brand option, you can always make it yourself:
I do have some brand loyalty, however. For example, when researching our last vehicle purchase, we settled on Toyota (generic Honda, IMO.) Toyotas are known for their longevity (we drive ’em till the wheels fall off) and their reliability. Today I’m feeling pretty “meh” about this vehicle. We had to replace the starter a couple of years ago (the thing was only like three years old), and for the past month it has been having intermittent starting problems (IHATEYOUSOMUCH MOMVAN). So yeah, next go around, I’ll be investigating generic Toyotas (Hyundai?)
So, I guess I’m fairly anti-consumerism. There are worse things to be.