By Christine Hall
A Washington Post reporter today heaped scorn on “Extreme Couponing,” a TLC show about people who go to great extremes to clip and use coupons. (See: In ‘Couponing,’ shoppers with a strange compulsion.) “Deeply disturbing,” Hank Stuever called it, and then went on a recurring sanctimonious rant about how amassing grocery store products at a discount, from food to household cleaners, offended him. What bearing does extreme couponing by other people have on Hank Steuver’s life? None that I can see. So what’s his problem?
Repulsion may or may not be the show’s ultimate intent, but it stirs up unsettling and complex thoughts, not only about the sins of gluttony and pride, but also about the production and consumption of cheap, processed food. There’s also something to snack on for those of us fretting over an ever-widening wealth gap amid dwindling resources. “Extreme Couponing” — which has become a series after a successful special aired late last year — is a modern Cassandra’s sociological fever dream, a harbinger of how closely we teeter on the edge of economic anarchy.
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“Economic anarchy,” for petes sake?! I’ll grant you that extreme couponing isn’t for everyone. The people in question reportedly go to great lengths to collect and organize the coupons. Shoppers can spend, like, 4 hours grocery shopping. Another couple went through check out (or something) 18 times to get a total coupon discount of 99 percent. Seems that many of these people buy boatloads of stuff that I, personally, doubt they will ever consume (62 bottles of mustard?!).
Do I care whether people hoard groceries? No. It’s not my house, not my shopping and clipping time. But what offends The Washington Post scold is that people might “selfishly store” stuff, instead of giving the stuff to charity. What bothers me about this type of scolding is the notion that one person’s silly and excessive hobby is ~bad~ or wrong, whereas the reporter’s own hobbies and interests – what: travel? book collecting? online games? hanging out with friends? investments? - he will certainly deem good and morally correct. I’m offended at the notion that an item, or even a zillion items, bought by one consumer somehow deprives others who are entitled to those items.
I’m also offended by his rant against “cheap, processed food.” Show of hands for really expensive foods and no Mac-and-Cheese? I mean, what an elitist. I’m glad the WaPo pays him so well that he doesn’t have budget concerns and can easily afford the very finest. But why shouldn’t the rest of us be able to get inexpensive, processed food if it’s tasty and fits in the budget?
Charity is a choice, and a virtuous one, at that. Inexpensive food is a boon to the budget of everyone. The notion that one should, for those reasons, feel guilty over goofy, harmless pleasures in life is “deeply disturbing.”