The Privilege That Comes With 'Being Crunchy'

Living A ‘Crunchy’ Lifestyle Is A Privilege

April 27, 2019 Updated June 26, 2020

The Privilege That Comes With “Being Crunchy”
Emily Suzanne McDonald / Getty

Ever since my third-grade teacher introduced me to Greenpeace documentaries, I knew I wanted to do my part to be good to the earth. I nagged my parents to recycle. I took short showers and shut off the faucet while brushing my teeth. I turned lights off. In general, I tried not to consume unnecessarily. I looked forward to one day being a nature-loving hippie, breastfeeding my babies, and making homemade baby food. Later, I learned about all the chemicals sprayed on our produce, so I set a goal of growing my own vegetables.

Nearly all of this has come to fruition. But honestly, it was only because I could afford it. Being “crunchy”, or even semi-crunchy, requires a certain amount of privilege, and while we can sit here and gloat about putting in the extra effort to cultivate this lifestyle, we need to acknowledge the privilege that allows us to do that. We often talk about various types of privilege—white privilege, gender privilege, heterosexual privilege, socioeconomic privilege.

Socioeconomic privilege is the main kind of privilege that allows a person to be “crunchy.” For many, when they think of what it means to live a crunchy lifestyle—eating only organic food, growing their own food, composting, cloth diapering, breastfeeding, biking, etc—the knee-jerk assumption is that these actions save money. And, in large part, that’s true. Aside from buying organic food, which is typically 50% more costly than non-organic food, most of these other things cost little or even save a person money in the long run.

But if you look a little deeper, you’ll see it’s a lot more complicated than that. Take my garden, for example. For years, I grew vegetables in my own organic garden. I was very proud of this garden because, for the price of a few packets of seeds, I could harvest a bounty of fresh, organic tomatoes, green beans, peppers, lettuce, kale, and broccoli. In my mind, I was saving money. Yay for organic gardens!

Except, not everyone has a yard in which to plant a garden, or if they do have a yard, they may not have the time to manage a garden. Time is money. And also, gardens can fail, which means the time, money, and resources that went into the garden may not yield what you hoped, leaving you in need of fruits and veggies you planned on growing yourself.  In the years my garden flourished, I worked part-time from home, so I had the available free time to weed and tend my veggies. But guess what happened when I went back to work full-time? RIP, beautiful garden.

Breastfeeding is another “crunchy” activity many take for granted—I mean, why not breastfeed? Just about anyone can do it, it’s free, and it saves loads of money on formula. That’s on top of the added health benefits to both mom and baby. Except, for many moms, it just isn’t that simple. There are plenty of reasons a mother might choose not to breastfeed (or simply not be able), but for some mamas, it just isn’t practical or even feasible. They might need to get back to their job where they work long hours and don’t have ample opportunity to pump during the day. (And that’s just one example of many.)

The Break Time for Nursing Mothers law requires employers to provide basic accommodations for breastfeeding mothers at work, but that doesn’t mean every employer follows the law to the standards they should or that it’s convenient or stress-free for mothers to take advantage of it. Nursing moms often feel shamed or guilted for taking the time to pump, or they don’t feel comfortable doing so in a workplace that doesn’t support them. Not to mention, pumping isn’t the same as breastfeeding. Most women can’t produce nearly as much via pump as with baby. For those of us who either stayed home with our little ones or were fortunate enough to have a supportive workplace, that is a privilege.

And sometimes being crunchy isn’t cheap at all. Buying organic food is great if that’s your goal, and to me the taste is even noticeably different from conventional produce, but buying organic is only an option for those fortunate enough to have the cash to afford it, and even then, if you live in a rural location, your options may be very limited for accessing fresh food, let alone organic options.

Composting is another “crunchy” activity that sounds lovely in theory, but it actually requires quite a bit of maintenance to keep it from stinking (especially if you’re trying to compost in an apartment), and then you still have to decide what to do with it. You need space and time, something many families lack.

Using cloth diapers is something many parents pride themselves on, but this is also another form of privilege. Not everyone has access to a washer that can handle poop-soiled loads (or soaking time),  or the time to deal with all the extra laundry because holy crap, it’s a lot. Especially if you have to travel to a laundry facility.

Same goes for biking or driving an electric car. Getting around via bike is obviously great for reducing your carbon footprint, but that only works if you live in an area where everything is in biking distance. And electric cars aren’t cheap.

This isn’t to say that every person who is “crunchy” is wealthy, but we need to be aware that many of these activities require the stars to align perfectly in order to make them possible. For a family with a single or even two parents busting their butts working full time, living paycheck to paycheck, they may not have the time or resources to live a crunchy lifestyle. They’re just trying to get after-dinner cleanup finished in time to read a few stories to their kid before it gets too late.

So, it’s fantastic if you consider yourself crunchy, and it’s even okay to be proud of that effort, but just be aware that doing so is, in many ways, a luxury. Have gratitude, and, more importantly, don’t expect others to adopt your crunchy ways. We’re all just doing the best we can here.