Extreme Couponing

by Jess

Can we take a break from books and just talk about this disgusting show on TLC called Extreme Couponing? Have we seen this show? I saw an episode for the first time last night, and it made me sick.

Lots of people on the Interwebs seem to have a problem with the obsessive portrayal of couponers (which I didn’t even know was a thing) and others see early signs of hoarding. They do all seem to have a touch of the OCD, what with their insistence on stacking everything neatly in their carts and then their immaculately organized stockpiles (they all seem to be preparing for some apocalypse). Then they all freak out at the register, afraid their hundreds of coupons will overload the computer, as though the items cannot simply be put back on the shelves. Sure, it would be a stockboy’s nightmare, but these people don’t seem to have any regard for other people’s time (spending an hour and a half at the register, then going back for more stuff when their coupons leave them with an overage) or for other people at all, really, since they love to clear the shelves of an entire item, leaving none for anyone else.

But what really bothers me about these extreme couponers is their attitude toward food. Food should not be an issue of the bottom line. Food is not just fuel. Food is not just about money (I say just because due to the upside-down nature of the machine known as US agribusiness, food that’s bad for us is often cheap, while food that’s good for us is pricey). Food should be about nutrition (extreme couponers fill up their baskets with snack-sized bags of Cheetos and packets of Kool-Aid) and identity and pleasure and relationships, even. To quote Michael Pollan, these couponers don’t seem to spend much time “think[ing] very hard about where their food comes from, or what it is doing to the planet, their bodies, and their society.” In an article in The New York Review of Books, he says, “The modern marketplace would have us decide what to buy strictly on the basis of price and self-interest; the food movement implicitly proposes that we enlarge our understanding of both those terms, suggesting that not just ‘good value’ but ethical and political values should inform our buying decisions, and that we’ll get more satisfaction from our eating when they do.”

After watching the show, C., worried about money, suggested we do something similar. I flew off the handle. It’s not that I’m opposed to using coupons (I do use them when I have them, but I don’t get the newspaper or have a printer right now, so my coupon access is limited), and Lord knows I love a good deal. But I didn’t see any produce in the couponers’ carts. I didn’t see anything fresh at all, really. I don’t know when they buy fruits and vegetables and dairy products, but I don’t envision them browsing at their local farmers’ markets. I’d love to pass along to the couponers Marion Nestle’s guide to shopping at supermarkets.

Pollan recently asked New York Times readers for their personal rules for eating, and he posted a list of some of his favorites (he received more than 2,500 responses). One reader said, “Eat foods in inverse proportion to how much its lobby spends to push it,” and another quoted his Italian grandmother as saying, “It’s better to pay the grocer than the doctor.”

I wish I’d never seen the show, but the damage is done. I think I need a grapefruit.

Eat well, my friends.