The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday June 25th

There is value in simple living

Drinks, snacks and sex toys: I couldn’t help but laugh at the combination of products I saw on display in that vending machine on the street. The bright yellow paint and bold black lettering screamed for attention in the quaint historic district of Valencia, Spain.

A large part of why this snack/sex vending machine caught me so off guard — aside from the hilarity of finding a receptacle that sold burgers and condoms together — was because I’ve found Spain is not a country that places a high value on convenience. For a girl who grew up in the convenience-based United States, adjusting to this priority shift was far from quick and easy.

The idea of a convenience store doesn’t even exist in Spain: Gas stations sell gas and pharmacies sell pharmaceuticals. In Spain, grocery stores are called supermercados, but that does not mean supermarket. It carries just one version of most of its products — the range of which an American like me might consider minimal.

I’m not in a third world country, and I realize my privileged perspective here. But as a UNC student who has regularly availed myself of the 24-hour Harris Teeter, I can subjectively say that buying groceries in Spain is definitely inconvenient.

Not only do I have to adjust to the limited selection of products available to me (“What do you mean, there’s no peanut butter?!”) but I also have to adjust to the hassle of returning to the store every few days to load up on yet another armful of three-servings items. (Why can’t I buy my jars of tomato sauce in bulk?)

Why not make things more convenient, right? What’s wrong with an actual supermarket with aisles that display dozens of variations on every food and domestic product we can think?

I used to ask myself those questions every day. But the longer I’ve been here, the less I miss the convenience.

I’ve found that something as simple as the inconvenience of grocery shopping in Spain has forced me to slow down. It makes me prioritize the items I purchase — because when I have fewer options, I choose more carefully.

I also find myself buying and using less. I’m the type to get carried away in a grocery store; it’s hard for me to resist buying all eight varieties of premade soup and leaving with twice as much as I need. But here that hasn’t been an option — and I’ve started to see the value in that.

The United States — which comprises less than 5 percent of the world’s population — uses approximately 25 percent of the world’s fossil fuel. It’s no wonder — every day America is confronted by the seemingly limitless products on sale in our supermarkets.

I appreciate a food-and-sex vending machine just as much as the next wide-eyed tourist in Valencia. But I think America could take a page out of Spain’s book when it comes to how we make daily decisions about buying daily goods like groceries.

Perhaps we’d find that the inconvenience of slowing down — of buying less in a more deliberate way — might not be such a sacrifice after all.

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