In college, my roommates and I would gather in the hallowed hallways of our dormitory, sharing empty calories and offering up independent theories on why Room 206 smelled like stale sex and green olives. Two girls occupied the room in question. One believed she was a vampire, descended from cats and/or unicorns (she was hoping for both, if I recall correctly). The other hosted slumber parties with the local high school boys, who tried their hardest to look like college men. For whatever reason, they ended up looking more like the singer, P!nk, but without her namesake’s hair color. It was all about the frosted blond tips, back then. We never could figure out who had the olive fixation.
When not discussing the great olfactory mysteries of our time, we were comparing notes on where we’d like to be, in life. There was the usual grab bag mix of future lawyers, doctors, doctors’ wives and starving artists. Because when you’re 18 and living virtually rent-free, being a successful artist is both an oxymoron and insult to the craft. Other dreams weren’t quite as ambitious. A few expressed interest in sleeping their way to the middle. Or at least a free meal. For myself, I just wanted to be able to afford a cartful of groceries, at Whole Foods, one day. We were young, with goals to attempt to accomplish and bucket lists to fall into and never make it out of.
My love/hate relationship with Whole Foods began in the summer of 2001. Every weekend, a friend and I would scavenge enough coins, from between the car seats, and fill up the gas tank, to a level “just above E.” Then, we’d make our way to the original Whole Foods in Austin, and spend most of the day sampling free food and grazing from the bulk bin section. At day’s end, I’d stand in line with my dollar’s worth of bulk bin granola and pay with the remainder of my car cushion coins.
I’m 31 now, and have come to the realization that Whole Foods’ appeal is that they make sure that no one can really afford it. A while ago, I filled my cart up with an impressive array of non-essentials. Fresh pasta made by the grandma I’d imagine I’d have if I were Italian, vegan pastries made by non-vegan trophy wives in Colorado, cider with an alcohol content so low, it’s probably a great one to share with your underaged children (during BYOB playdates and such), and Seventh Generation cleaning supplies that somehow do less cleaning than a cleaning lady hired with a Groupon.
The total was enough to cover America’s national deficit. I think. I can’t remember. I tend to black out terrible memories involving cash. The cashier read my total, then asked if I’d like to donate my bag refund to some undisclosed charity. Then, if I’d like to round up to the nearest dollar for another charity involving kids, somewhere. Finally, she asked if I’d like to just give a specific dollar amount, anywhere between $5-$500, to another one. Maybe it’s the same charity. Who knows. I think you get a free calendar, keys to the store and a rescue puppy if you do.
And that’s when I realize that I can never truly afford Whole Foods. Sure, I can afford the cart of non-essential groceries, but I can never afford to adopt that family of four, in Swaziland, with a weekly check-out line donation of $500. As the college-aged cashier bags up my fair-trade/shade-grown/free-roamed olives, the look on her face reads I guess not everyone can afford to shop with us. I just don’t shop there as often anymore. Only when I feel like I don’t need money anymore, but do need that soy-free/dairy-free/gluten-free gulp of air Whole Foods has packaged in a nice recycled box and selling for $6.99. $7.19, with tax and bag refund donated. $8, rounded up for those kids you keep hearing about. $508, for that family of four.
When I began the planning process of our wedding, over a year ago, my Whole Foods’ experience came back to mind. Weddings can be cheap, but the industry doesn’t want you to ever think so. Your flowers will never be as fresh as that girl’s bouquet, the one from The Hills. Unless you hire the florist-to-the-stars. The same one who makes you put down a deposit of “first child” to secure a date. If you tell a caterer that you have a food budget of $10,000, they’ll push you toward the $15,000 package deal. The plan that includes two servers per guest. One to peel and hand-feed seedless grapes to your family and friends. The other to wipe mouths and any other orifice that needs wiping and tending to. The dress lady will put you in $9,000 dollar dresses, even when you tell her your budget is for two-thirds that amount. So, like Whole Foods, I just didn’t go there unless I was felt like I wanted to be taken advantage of. Every time a vendor pushed me towards a higher spending limit, I walked out the door and never went back.
Instead of depending on the wedding industry to give me my dream wedding, I relied heavily on myself. Sure, I hired a photographer, who I found at a wedding show (that I attended for free, thanks to a Facebook contest); but everything else was either made by me, collected by John and I, created by my family or bought at a steep discount. For instance, my Jenny Packham dress was purchased for 20% off the ticket price. The rest of the things were bought at thrift stores or foraged for. I made virtually everything: my own veil, hangers, fireplace alter and even wrote personal letters to each guest (using vintage paper from Goodwill).
We didn’t hire a wedding planner. I’m sure they work wonders for their clients, but for us, it wasn’t even an option. We used the extra cash to fly in our parents for the wedding, instead. One of the first things I made for our wedding was our cake topper. Here’s what I made.