My smoothie blender just broke. It’s a (first world) problem because my breakfast consists of a smoothie. No, it’s not an apocalypse, but it does make me think. I have an electric beater that works like new but I got it as a wedding present in 1972. I got the blender last year. I know all about “planned obsolescence” but it’s still really annoying.
I read something on Twitter yesterday that said something to the effect that if an economy depends on people going out and buying stuff they don’t need, it’s time to rethink the nature of the economy. I’ve thought that for a long time. I recently watched an old film (I hadn’t seen) called Tenure. Among other things, it made me wonder why so many films about teachers are about English teachers, but that’s not my direction here (I’d love to hear answers to that question, though). On this teacher’s desk, in one shot, very inconspicuously, was a little green and white sign that said, “Want Less.”
What if? What if we wanted less? What if our economy weren’t based on things breaking, forcing us to replace them? What if we developed an economy that wasn’t driven by consuming things? I’ve thought about that for years, but the recent semi-forced alteration in my shopping style has made me ask that question again. I’m very conscious of “consuming” in the most literal sense.
This past Sunday I went to the store to pick up my order which included 22 bananas. Even as I determined that to be the number of bananas I’d need for a month (adding some to my stash of frozen bananas), I wondered how it would be for whomever flitted around City Market in gloves selecting my stuff. I imagined them counting, “19, 20, 21, 22. 22 bananas? Why twenty-two?” I’ve already frozen 8 of that order of 22 bananas.
And the cream, all those white bottles in the door. I hedge my bets on cream by selecting several different brands then leaving the message in my “cart” that I’m cool with substitutions… BUT if I have a choice, I don’t buy this brand. I buy the one in the paper carton. THIS is absurdly packaged. It’s in a recyclable plastic bottle enshrouded by a label that’s essentially a single-use plastic bag. It bothers me and I’m not all that “green.” Same with OJ. I like to buy the OJ in the paper cartons, but sometimes I end up with a plastic bottle that my grandmother would have found a millions uses for.
The two brown paper bags in my fridge? Coffee beans ordered in bulk from Solar Roast Coffee. That coffee goes with the cream or vice-versa.
I understand that food and beverages are meant to be consumed. But small appliances?
If we were not a consumer society (what else would we be? I’m trying to figure that out) our landfills wouldn’t be overflowing. We wouldn’t have to put every single thing in a brand new, never used, only-to-be-used-once little plastic bag with a zipper thing on top. The Walmart parking lot wouldn’t be packed with cars ALL THE TIME. I remember one day hiking in the hills near San Diego. A beautiful, cool, Sunday afternoon. The chaparral park was beautiful. Perfect temps, endless walks, a couple small mountains to climb. I was — as was often the case — all alone out there except for the company of my dogs. As I crossed a bridge that spanned a canyon, I thought, suddenly, “Where is everybody?”
Later, as I drove home on the freeway (I-15) I looked over at a shopping area that filled the canyon by the highway. There were two mega-stores. Fryes, an electronics “super-store” and Walmart. Both parking lots were PACKED. People were parked on the streets. I could see them in my mind’s eye, pushing their carts, realizing their hunter-gatherer dreams by comparing items and prices and putting the BEST ONE in their cart. I imagined them doing this as desiccated skeletons. I thought of a painting, but soon after I passed the San Diego School of Baseball (which was right beside this tangle of wares) I forgot the image. It passed through my mind again this morning.
I don’t have an answer for this. I’m a consumer, too, maybe less than many but more than others.
The virus has unmasked a few ugly realities of our economy. People are carrying signs carrying words that marked the entry to Nazi concentration camps, “Arbeit macht Frei!” as they, at gunpoint, insist on going back to work even though COVID-19 is real, they could get it, give it, get very ill, not get ill, die themselves, share it with someone who could die from it. Who knows? People need money to live in this world, and Americans really do want the freedom to shop, now, literally, possibly, “’til they drop.”