Last weekend, while cozied up in a cabin in the mountains, the four of us dug into a game of Monopoly that ended in tears and frustration. My boyfriend, a Latin American and “non-profit guy” was disheartened by the premise of the game and the way I played to win. The kids were devastated to the point of tantrum when they each lost all their money and property. I was just trying to get the damn thing over with and happily accumulated monopolies, houses, and hotels toward that end, feeling a familiar sense of relief the further I got from the possibility of financial ruin. There was a familiar sense of relief that came with the more resources I hoarded.
The experience led to a lot of conversations about the way the game is structured and the way our culture is structured. We also discussed the fear and sense of lack we have about our finances and the denial and willful ignorance we have about other people’s finances. We even learned that the game was invented by an artist, Lizzie Magie, who called it the Landlord’s Game and intended it as commentary on income inequality in 1904.
A day after the game and our discussions, I read the March New Yorker article about Amazon vs. the local bookstore. The piece centered around one bookstore in particular, the Raven in Lawrence, Kansas. I happened to spend seven happy years in that college town, and many times enjoyed readings, events, or just pleasurable browsing at the Raven. The point of the article was to bring attention to the ever intensifying challenges of independent bookstores, and also the invisible costs of our increasingly Amazon-fed lifestyles.
A few hours after reading the article, I found myself needing to buy some used books for an online course. I tried to use bookshop.org to order them without using Amazon but was only able to do it for two of the seven books I needed. I paused but made peace with it as a necessary evil.
Later that night, I found myself in need of groceries. I’ve been getting my groceries from Amazon Whole Foods since last summer, when I had to look at the stark facts of my COVID career bomb (I had specialized in conference design) and my COVID divorce and cut costs wherever possible. Before that, I had been getting my groceries from Good Eggs, a local startup built to support the local Bay Area food system of farmers and makers, or a local co-op. When I switched to getting my groceries from Amazon, my kids said “But mom! We learned from our camp counselor that shopping with Amazon destroys small businesses! You can’t do that!” And I told them, sometimes you have to do what you have to do.
And that’s still true. I try not to pass judgment on other people for the choices they make in their lives, period. And I certainly wouldn’t judge another single mom for getting cheaper healthy food for her kids from Amazon or anyone doing what they needed to do to get by in these times. But after reading about the bookstores, even my college bookstore, on the edge of survival, and then making the parallel to the food industry, I saw something really alarming. Small farms with sustainable farming practices are a climate change lifeline. Industrial farms, even the ones that are technically organic, regularly engage in concerning and unsustainable practices like planting monocrops and depleting soil. So what happens if we all get lured into grocery shopping with Amazon, whose prices are just so good? What happens if the quality drops are gradual enough that some don’t notice the tasteless overgrown broccoli or the fact that every single item is wrapped in an extra plastic bag? What happens if we don’t notice that we used to eat with the seasons?
Nothing against my local bookstores, but I think the stakes are higher here. If Amazon succeeds at monopolizing consumer demand for groceries, we could be looking at extinction for many strains of fruits and vegetables, many types of meats and cheeses, and many local food products. But we would likely even be looking at an environmental disaster, or famine, if monocrop collapse or massively depleted soils limit our ability to thrive. The invisible costs of “cheap food” will be significant and could be drastic.
So what to do now? For me, I cannot continue buying food from Amazon. I’ve decided to rework my budget and focus on shopping at my local farmer’s market, food co-op, and Good Eggs, with an eye towards shopping smart and maximizing value in my spending. My hope is that the power of anti-trust legislation and consumer demand can protect Amazon from accumulating market share to the point of GAME OVER.