The con in convenience: how a simple summer classic has been co-opted


By Gregory DL Morris

Earlier this summer, one of the major supermarkets was selling lemonade, for $5 a gallon. For context, milk in the same store was $4 a gallon, and gasoline at the time was a little more than $3 a gallon.

But it was not the price of the lemonade that was troubling. It was the fact it was a retail offering at all.

Lemonade is essentially free at home. Of course, we all pay water bills, and the prices of sugar, lemons, or lemon juice have risen with inflation. That said, the amounts of each for a gallon of lemonade are not worth the time to calculate. And the drink is so easy to make that the young children’s lemonade stand is the archetype of simplicity.

So why would anyone ever buy a gallon of lemonade at the grocery store? It’s not a cold bottle in the convenience store on a hot day, where the place utility has value. It’s not some complicated blend of ingredients, like the simmer sauces that have become popular.

No, clearly, it’s just an impulse purchase. See it, like it, buy it. If a parent is shopping with children, all the better. “Lemonaaaaaaaaade!! Yayyyyyy!!” Lemonade at $5 a gallon, prominent and seemingly innocent, crystallizes how the con game of convenience has made life so much worse.

In a moment’s reflection, any shopper would realize that sugar and lemons were just a few aisles away. Even a weary and harried parent could say, “Hey, we’ve got sugar at home, so let’s get lemon juice and we’ll make our own! It will be simple and fun to do together.”

Maybe some shoppers did. Most didn’t. Most just grabbed a jug or two and dropped them in the cart without a thought. Well, there’s your trouble. Effectively, they dropped $10 on the floor without a thought.

In just the past two or three generations, most Americans have gleefully sprinted from making many things themselves to making almost nothing. And most people think that is by choice. Actually, it’s by enticement.

There is more profit to be made in selling processed foods than in selling staples. If the ingredients for lemonade are only a few pennies at home, then they are even cheaper for the company that fills the jugs. The label says lemonade, but for the retailer and producer, it’s pure gravy.

In 2011 the book “Make the Bread, Buy the Butter” by Jennifer Reese, made a minor splash. Its premise was simple: most things taste far better and are far healthier made at home. But ain’t nobody got time for all that. Churning butter is a stone drag. And making soap is just nasty.

So make what is easy, fun, and inexpensive, and buy the rest. That is a big start towards living intentionally. Convenience has value in certain times and certain places. But as a way of life it will make you poorer and less healthy, and degrade the environment.

Store-bought lemonade by the gallon highlights the con in convenience.

Gregory DL Morris is a business journalist and historian who reports regularly for TLR.

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