I didn’t learn to cook until I left the country. If I’m being honest. I could do a mean twice-stuffed potato, I could fry up some bacon (of course), and I could open a can of green beans, cook the heck out of em and hope for the best. But the majority of my skill was limited to adding rice, water, chicken breasts, and the contents of a seasoning packet to a bag and popping it in the oven for however long it said on the box. And when it came to baking, I probably wouldn’t do it if more than three or four ingredients had to be added to the contents of a package.

It worked for me, and it was convenient.

One of my favorite courses in all my years at university was Economics. I know that sounds weird, but lemme e’splain. The professor who taught my economics class was very good at explaining things in a way that I understood them.


{Does this photo relate to this post or do I just like it? You decide.}

You know that lovely feeling when something’s complicated, but you get it? I love that feeling. He used a class exercise in making paper airplanes to explain the intricacies of the supply chain in a lesson on supply and demand. He was quality.

But the discussion of opportunity cost — which I also remembered from a ninth grade Civics class video where a girl decided to buy a new blouse instead of fixing her brakes and then got into a car accident and ruined the blouse — just really made a lot of sense in my brain.

When you make a choice, there’s another choice you haven’t made. Every choice has a consequence. And the opportunity cost measures the value of the choice you made in light of the best alternative that you didn’t choose.

There is always an opportunity cost.
— My University Economics Professor, Whose Name I Can’t Remember. But he had a mustache. And not just in Movember.

So the writer who makes about 50 bucks for an hour’s work can pay someone else 20 bucks to mow his yard. He’ll come out ahead. Unless, of course, he finds mowing his lawn therapeutic, in which case perhaps it’s cheaper to mow his grass than to go for therapy.

The reason I learned to cook when I left the States was because the opportunity cost for not learning — paying for expensive convenience food — was too high. I couldn’t keep turning packaged muffin mixes into beautiful creations without breaking the bank.

Fortunately, there was a gentle learning curve. During my four years in Scotland I gradually eased into learning to come up with new ideas, still convenient in terms of the amount of time it took to make them, but not expensive because I wasn’t paying for the convenience of a pre-boxed meal.

When I arrived in South Africa and began to long for more of the comforts of home (while finding less of them) I really worked at learning how to do things myself. Want some good southern buttery biscuits with Sunday lunch (not cookies, mind you)? Make em from scratch. Need some taco seasoning or salsa for Mexican night? Find out what’s in taco seasoning and mix it yourself, find a good recipe for salsa, and make it yourself.

Now back in North Carolina, I’m in the land where convenience seems really cheap. Plastic carrier bags had a cost at grocery stores in South Africa, so, like we did in Scotland, we brought our own bags. They’re free here, so I could fall back into the habit of just using the ones they have at the grocery store instead of bringing my own bags.

Especially when the cashiers sometimes seem annoyed that they have to help you pack your random bags.

On the surface it seems like there’s not too much opportunity cost — we’re not paying for the bags, so what’s the problem? But like my professor said, There’s always an opportunity cost. And part of the cost associated with using the grocery bags that might be recycled or might end up in the trash is a cost that we might not have to pay.

But will our kids?

If we continue to use up our resources at the rate that we’re going, and if we continue to create waste at the rate that we’re going — won’t it be a problem for the Bear and the Tank’s generation? Or maybe for their children?

Will they be paying a price for our dependency on convenience?

Many people say they have reusable bags (I saw some on sale for $1.99 at Food Lion today) but they don’t remember to bring them in from the car. It would be inconvenient to have to go out to the car and get them before checking out. I promise if you make yourself go to the car to get your bags once or twice, you’ll stop forgetting. If you make yourself drive home to fetch them before heading to the store, you might never forget again.

In the land of convenience to which I’ve returned, Fast Food is incredibly convenient, and the price is very convenient, too. It would often be cheaper for me to feed my family from the Dollar Menu at Wendy’s than to make some of the meals I make.

But — there’s always an opportunity cost.

What exactly am I feeding us if we’re eating at Wendy’s instead of eating a good home-cooked meal? How processed are the fries and hamburger buns? How has the meat been handled and what’s in it? And does a wilted portion of iceberg lettuce and a slice of tomato count as “vegetables” for the evening meal?


And further down the rabbit hole, how will regularly eating this type of food negatively or positively benefit our health? Will we save enough money to cover the medical bills if it gives us a heart attack or high cholesterol? {Last week a friend of mine talked about the expensive program she’d joined, trying to lose weight, and simultaneously mentioned eating out at least three or four times a week.} And, once again, how much trash will we create, at the expense of convenient fast food?

I won’t for a moment say I’ve got this thing figured out. Example 1, my family drinks a ton of juice, and I’m concerned about the tons of plastic involved in getting that juice from its source to our door. Even recyclable waste is still waste. And it takes resources to recycle.

What’s the lesson I’m trying to apply as I navigate life in a new place? The price of convenience — though it would seem cheap in this neck of the woods — is still very high.

I left the grocery store with a small handful of goodies this morning. I stuck to the list except for orange juice. At the checkout someone commented on it being a good idea that I’d stuck all of my random reusable shopping bags inside one bag. {The bags are from South Africa and Scotland so they make me happy.} I smiled as I stuffed my wallet back into my purse and all I could think of to say was,

“I’m worried about what this world is going to look like when my little boys grow up.”

What do you think?