It used to be a typical weekend activity for me for a large portion of my life, the foraging trip to Costco. Everything you need under one large roof and in such mass quantities that the cost of good purchased is perceptively lower than obtaining products elsewhere. We would roll into an oversized parking space grab an oversized cart and meander the typical route through the store starting past the electronics and finishing at the register just before passing by the indoor version of a food truck. Along the way sampling everything at the little sample counters, discovering all sorts of new products and revelling in the glory of the amazing deals filling the cart. It was often a trip shared by various family members and the social aspect truly solidified the good feelings associated with the trips.
This is modern hunting and gathering. This is how Costco has become the behemoth that it is today, through leveraging our very genetically crafted patterns evolved to sustain the lives of ourselves and of our tribal groups. Such a masterful culmination of decades of consumer research combined with deeper understandings of evolutionary biology and modern psychology has resulted in the ultimate marketing machine.
And it is insane.
Costco is a representation of almost everything plaguing our ‘modern’ western society.
We gave up our membership three years ago and I haven’t set foot in there since. I intend to never pass through those always-open doors ever again. I don’t miss it and surprisingly my life has not degraded into total chaos lacking the essentials of life. I don’t miss it.
Yesterday I was picking someone up from our local branch and sat in my vehicle pondering this modern mecca and observing the comings and goings of the patrons. This article began to form in my head and with an upcoming holiday weekend based on the mass consumerism endemic to our culture (because yes, Easter has become just another mass-market selling opportunity. Sorry to my religious readers, of you still embody the spirit of the celebration I hold you no grievance, however, you are the minority) and I needed to get it all out.
The same pattern was repeated over, and over, and over again during my thankfully brief observational study. The majority of the people I saw were overfat, those that weren’t almost all had readily observable movement and mobility issues, gait patterns were slow, plodding, and poor, and dour expressions were the norm. I felt like I was just a few degrees away from observing an episode of The Walking Dead.
Yes. Some GROSS generalizations in the preceding paragraph but they were accurate for the majority of the subjects I observed. ‘The majority’ intrinsically implies that a large percentage of the people I saw did not fit the aforementioned description. So do not comment or write to me stating that this isn’t true of everyone. I get it.
The zombie like adherence to this modern cultural phenomenon is indicative of how so many live their lives today.
Now let’s get to the meat of this article and go through just what exactly it is about Costco that is so representative of the issues plaguing this ‘modern’ western culture.
[Side note: I keep putting ‘modern’ in quotes for a reason. We use the term modern with the implication that it is somehow better than cultural practices that existed before. I do not hold this viewpoint. While there are many amazing aspects to society today there are also many aspects that I truly believe are horrific and that we are losing some of the very essence that makes us human. An article for another day.]
For most of the people on the planet, homes are quite small and are often shared by immediate and extended family. That is if there is even the ability to HAVE a home and not be forced to rent or lease space to live and/or the land most people reside on. In Canada and the US almost everyone lives in, what would be considered throughout the rest of the world, massive and luxurious dwellings that are essentially empty. If you are reading this and think I am wrong you need to do a little learning into the rest of the world.
What has always blown my mind is the amount of STUFF that we have. We have so much stuff that these huge dwellings we have are absolutely packed with it. Rooms are filled, closets are filled, garages are filled, everywhere, stuff. And it gets crazier.
Like this fucking really blows my mind. We have so much stuff that we can’t even fit it all into our homes. Storage businesses are a huge and growing market. We have so much stuff that we have to go rent even MORE space and then pack that full of stuff to. What. The. Literal. Fuck. It’s actually insane.
And Costco is right there to help us fill it all up. More is better. More is cheaper. Value. Why buy one when you can have three. Last years version is done, you need this years version. It’s better. People will like you more. You wouldn’t want anyone to see last years Christmas wreath on your door would you. Horrific.
We buy and we buy and we buy. Then we store it. Or throw it out. Spring-cleaning is common here. A way to unload all the stuff you have collected so you can fill it up with newer, better stuff. Costco’s business is reliant on this. If you aren’t buying in bulk then they will go out of business.
But, Coach Taylor, I go there for food, which you have to buy on a regular basis. True. This is true. And Costco obliges. A dozen eggs? Nah, a tray of 36 eggs. Franks hot sauce? Here is the oversize bottle in a two-pack. Why buy a measly little ice cream when you can get 4 litres of it for the same cost! There are some very interesting analysis of the actual cost of Costco food that show the actual cost of the food when accounting for waste and loss (like when you don’t eat all 4lbs of strawberrys and trash (sorry, you compost, right?)) is not any cheaper at Costco than at any other grocery store.
Costco feeds mass quantities and the mantra of buy more. It is the corporeal representation of mass consumerism.
Animal Meat and Agriculture
This is going to hurt some of you. I am not sorry. You shouldn’t be sticking your head in the sand. Open your eyes my friends.
People always say to me: ‘oh, but I get my meat from Costco, it’s so much cheaper.’ Yeah, it is. Do you know why it is so much cheaper? Do you know how they get it cheaper? ‘Well they buy it in bulk and pass the savings on to us.’ True! Do you know how they get that much meat to keep all of their locations fully stocked all the time?
Have you seen a commercial beef farm? Have you seen the chicken farms? Have you looked at the photos of pigs who live in a steel cage on their side their entire short life? Oh, is that too hard to hear? Too fucking bad.
If you buy your meat at Costco you are a primary contributor to the horrific and abusive treatment of millions of animals. You just are. And you can pretend it doesn’t exist all you want if it makes you feel better at night on a stomach full of steak but that doesn’t change the fact that Costco is right up there with the fast food industry and horrific treatment of animals.
Yes, I used to buy meat there all the time. It was cheaper! And yes, I am getting quite preachy now. Because I have learned and am making every effort to change my habits. To be a better human. I love meat and I think it is good for us. But where it comes from and how we raise it are vitally important.
I won’t dive too much into agriculture here but it is reminiscent of the same types of things I am talking about with raising animals. The environmental damage that modern agriculture creates is completely ignored by most of us.
Please read Michael Pollens book, The Omnivores Dilemma, before lashing out at me over these topics. Learn first, then we can discuss.
I don’t think I am going to spend much time on this one. The plastic. Plastic on plastic on plastic. And I get it; it’s not ONLY Costco here. But just take a walk down the enormous aisle and see the sea of bulk packaging.
Remember, this article is about Costco being representative of everything wrong with our ’modern’ culture, it is not about how Costco is so bad and everyone else is better. Amazon, grocery chains, and most retail is just as guilty, sometimes more so, Costco just represents it all so well!
Oh, I am sorry. I don’t mean to offend, I really don’t. But when you mass consume products at Costco do you somehow think you are unique? That you are displaying your own individual style? You and the 100,000 other people who bought the same Christmas wreath this season.
What ever happened to making our own decorations? Going to local artisans and contractors for furniture, tableware, decorations, and the like? Costco. Costco is what happened. We get spoonfed what to watch, how to dress, how to decorate, what season it is, how to setup our yards, and what is ‘in style.’ Then you have to buy it to display how on trend you are. Otherwise people might judge you!
The same goes for food. The pre-made party snacks, dips, crackers, displays, and other fare that that is purchased and then re-heated at home so you can be the consummate social entertainer. But you didn’t make any of it. You didn’t create it. You don’t know who did make it, prepared it, grew it…there is no connection to it.
It has made us a culture of the same. Drop yourself into almost any city in the US and Canada and you would be hard pressed to know where you are if you landed in the shopping districts. It’s all the same restaurants, the same stores, the same layout. It is all the same. Our houses are decorated with the same things, the food we eat is the same, the media we consume is the same. And then every year you have to repurchase everything to keep up with the trend, which was given to you by those awesome designers and buyers at Costco.
Gluttony and Mindless Eating
You wander through the store. You eat a sample of this. You try a morsel of that. An hour later you don’t remember it. And people get crazy. Butting in line trying to get their hands on the food before there isn’t any left (you think it’s an accident that those little sample tables only put out a little at a time?). And people wait. They sit and spend their valuable time standing there waiting for some stranger to heat up something our of some package that was put in there by a combination of other strangers and machines. All for what? That mouthful of hotdog with a new relish? The frozen quiche? What. I. Can’t.
Then comes the register and checkout point. The smells of the hotdogs, fries, gravy, poutine (it’s Canadian and I am not proud of that), and pizza, all accompanied but magnificent soft drinks in voluminous sizing. And cheap! Why wouldn’t you have a dog, fries, pop, and an ice crème at 3 in the afternoon after eating all the samples and before you head home to make an epic meal from all the purchases you just rang through the register.
The wanton gluttony and the mindless eating is so pervasive in our culture and Costco has capitalized this right into billion dollar profits. Food is produced to maximize calories and minimize satiety so you can eat more, consume more, buy more and get an awesome dopamine high in the process.
You Are The Cattle
I hated this at Costco. The system. You walk in and they check your card. Then you walk the way they tell you (lol, have you tried going through Costco the opposite way as everyone else? Can be quite a fun time) like a perfect little school of fish swimming down river. Then through the checkout partitions (where you wait in yet another line) reminiscent of every slaughterhouse in the world. And then the coup d’état, that fucking person making yet ANOTHER line so that they can scan over your bill on the way out. Oh man I hate that part of it all. Something viscerally enrages me being monitored and supervised like that.
You are cattle. Our entire culture treats us this way and Costco leverages it under the guise of a better shopping experience for you. Making it more efficient for your benefit! We have been lulled into a feeling of heard mentality and barely anyone is even aware of it. We have allowed this to happen and are headed to our own slaughter.
Most people go through life a mere member of the flock doing our best to stay in formation (studying bird flocks and fish schools is oddly fascinating!), fearful of what might become of us should we step outside the norm. We allow ourselves to be dictated to and give it no thought.
Why is this important? Because it makes us mere consumers that can be manipulated, controlled, and sold to.When we give up our freedom of thought and we don’t reflect on the WHY of the things that we do we end up victims of the marketing machine.
And that is exactly what our culture does and exactly what Costco leverages.
As Katy Perry succinctly serenades us, “I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything.”
What Does This All Mean
All three people who are still reading this might now be wondering what the fuck this has to do with health and fitness. Coach Taylor has gone off the deep end, or as my wife tells me, has gone full hippie.
I have always been fiercely independent and I regret the years my eyes were not open to this. I am not perfect. I am not asking anyone to be perfect. But I want everyone to take a step back and really think about things. To contemplate the why. To ask yourself what you really need.
To explore what is really important in life.
And how does this affect your health?
It is because these fixtures of our modern culture all lead to everything that is destroying our health. Eating too much, mass produced food, packaged and highly processed food-like things, stress and anxiety, and environmental degradation. These things directly impact our physical health and our mental health.
Costco perfectly highlights it all. Aisle upon isle of mass produced goods. Packaged and processed shit storms left right and centre. Gluttony. Over-consumption. Stress inducing lines and parking lots. I could continue this list all day.
It is important to ask questions of yourself and your life: what do you really need? Are there better ways to procure what you need that support your more immediate surroundings? Are you over-consuming?
Intrinsic happiness for a fulfilling life comes not from consumption but from participation. Our culture has been foregoing this for decades and Costco is the modern success story of all of it.