Consuming, Breaking, Consuming, Breaking, Consuming, Breaking, ad infinitum

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.”

37 thoughts on “Consuming, Breaking, Consuming, Breaking, Consuming, Breaking, ad infinitum

  1. I’m still using the blender my husband owned before we met. It’s from the 70’s. Works great! Nothing is built to last or the parts cost more than buying new! I hate shopping and won’t buy just to have the newest gadget. I haven’t cut back on my grocery shopping, I’m still shopping like there is two of us here, old habits are hard to break.

    • I used a blender from the 70s until the late 90s when the jar fell on my foot, cut a deep slash behind my big toe, then hit the tile floor. I tried to replace it, but no way. It is hard to break old habits. I also think that our brain and hearts have wiring of their own and they probably don’t want to shop for just one. ❤

      • That must have been painful and of course finding one to replace it would be next to impossible! Yes, hard to rewire…I certainly don’t have trouble eating for 2 either! lol

        • It was painful. I lived in a great neighborhood, though. All I had to do was go to the front door with my bloody foot and yell, “BOB!” (my neighbor’s name) and I had a ride to the hospital and 7 stitches. And I couldn’t replace it, sadly. I’ve been through 5 or 6 inferior blenders since then.

  2. I’ve been thinking of you. This post sums up many questions I have asked in my adult life. The shop ’til you drop mentality is beyond my comprehension. Firstly, because I hate shopping. And moving back to my R.V. with my tiny fridge and small pantry (well, small EVERYTHING) has truly proven to me what I really NEED. I have friends that shop DAILY. Like you, I try to be as green as possible. Leave a tiny footprint if you will. Due to my pup’s surgery and working I’ve been behind on writing and reading. Your posts specifically (although I did read your post about the Salton Sea and your Dad to my partner. After my work meeting this morning, I walked the trails. I actually took the “Drop Edge Trail” in my area knowing good well I would need to hike back up~and knowing “good well” while our city decided to “open up” shopping and some restaurants, that the bevy of consumers will be happily filling up all the roads. Hence, I’ll keep the trail busy. P.S. After giving away my Ninja Blender, I got myself a free shaker bottle by Garden of Life at my nearest natural market and I’m having great luck just shaking my protein powder with my almond milk. I have a super cheap blender I should use to add some frozen bananas. Great idea on cutting them and freezing them. I consider myself too poor to buy cheap…..but I also realize I’m too blessed to buy most things. Thank you for always adding to my day. xoxo

    • ❤ I found a replacement jar for the little blender, and I'm buying a bigger more powerful blender (how American is that?) I put frozen fruit in my smoothies so smoothie jar by itself won't cut it. I wish it would, but… Replacing the jar costs nearly as much as replacing the blender, but I can use it when I travel if I ever do that again (ha ha). Enjoy the trails, the ups-and-downs and love on that pup for me.

  3. The whole corona virus problem has changed my way of thinking. I used to buy what I was immediately going to serve. Pure luxury that we always have everything ready to consume in the stores. The corona problem is not connected with shortages of food but what if it happened. Suddenly we might have a certain poison that would kill the crops. Messing around with our weather we might have drought or floods and people are not easy to read. Panic buying has become a new illness. It has now made me conscious that this is a case that could be reality. I now have reserves in my cellar and replace them regularly when used that it stays fresh. I have a new large freezer. It is a new way of life. I even baked this evening, and freeze food for later. What a new way of life this has become.

    • I don’t think I’ll ever return to the old way. I loved Europe because you COULD shop for just dinner that evening so easily and it was so pleasant. That’s never been the case in the US for me except for the time I was in my 20s and lived in the center of Denver and the shop was 2 blocks away. I’ve found that I LIKE this better. It’s more economical and a lot easier. You’re totally right. People are NOT easy to read.

  4. I don’t have the energy (or the intellectual capacity) to think about alternatives to our consumer economy, but I will weigh in on the English teacher movies issue. 1) Because English teachers, in my experience, tend more often to be lifelong inspirations to their students, some of whom go on to become filmmakers or writers; 2) because so many movie writers are former English teachers.

    • I think you’re onto a couple of things there, Denny. I was trying to imagine “Dead Poets Society” as “Death Mathematicians Society” and as cool as some of those guys were, I don’t see it making a film.

  5. I have always been a minimalist and never understood people who had to have the latest and greatest: Instant Pot, rice maker, Alexa….why? Since I retired, I went even more hard core, especially with clothes/shoes that I no longer need. Surely someone else can use them. Good post, Martha. I hope, I really and truly hope, that after we come through this that people will have a whole new understanding of wants and needs.

  6. Our Mr. Coffee – the simplest version – is one appliance I had to replace last year. Emergency! I only needed the glass pot (which broke), but the whole thing cost nearly the same as just a replacement pot. Is that crazy or what? I am spending more on food now – storing more “just in case” because every time I go to the store, there is less of most everything…and I can’t ignore the “what if?…” We eat bananas every day – but fresh – so that necessitates those twice weekly trips.
    Also – to want less, we probably would have to accept that we really need less too. Filtering the need from the want might take a while.
    But I agree, you can’t make a proper smoothie with a hand mixer. I have a slow cooker from 1978 that still works fine. Nothing fancy and that may be the secret to its longevity!

    • I’ll be eating smoothie parts until the new blender arrives. I’ll sit here and write my blog with a dish containing a tablespoon of yogurt and some berries. I guess I’ll mix the protein powder in my OJ. 🙂 I wish there were a low-tech way to blend frozen fruit. I guess I’ve made kind of a “game” out of shopping every 3-4 weeks.

      • Might as well make a game out of it. Hopefully your non-smoothy smoothy parts will end up tasting okay. The only low-tech possibility that occurs to me is a potato masher followed by a whisk.

  7. I have found through this experience that there is so much I buy that I really don’t need. I think there are tons of things we can all live without. Being a world of consumers though, I understand why the economy needs it this way.

  8. I am a hunter-gatherer. I admit that I have been guilty of “conspicuous consumerism” in the past. However I have matured and even though I like to shop, I hate to spend money. Things balance out. We have been eating better and clearing out the pantry and freezer. The grocery list is usually just the bare necessities. This week I bought 2 frivolous items – Jalapeno Cheetos for Sparky and Honey Bunches of Oats with Strawberries cereal for me. There has to be some reward for washing all the windows and painting the bedroom ceiling!

  9. I guess until December I would have said I’ll spend more on traveling than on buying consumables. Now I guess I’ll just put it away for the potentially enormous hospital bills. I guess that is going to be true for many of us.

  10. love your post today, MK
    especially this:
    “Want Less”
    yeah baby!

    — and the planned breakdown of items pisses me off. Washers and dryers and fridges used to last decades – now we are lucky to get ten years – lucky I tell ya

    and hope your smoothie was delish

  11. I think the Government is introducing legislation here so that products can be repaired. Probably will be a lot of exemptions though and so many caveats. I read once that the big grain harvesters were not repairable. That can’t be right, but the mind boggles if it is. I hope your new blender lasts a long time. Sounds like it gets a real work out.
    My single use plastic has increased hugely because of the virus. It is not fair to shop staff to ask them to put their fridge products in bags that I’ve handled. We don’t have a recycling industry here so that is going to add hugely to landfill.
    Shopping in a mall is not my idea of a good time.

  12. Funny how consumption is also another name for tuberculosis. You may remember how the bicentennial was sold as another reason to consume. My favorite was a two page banner ad that said “The Great American Buycentennial”, complete with red, white, and blue bunting to make sure we got the message that buying is patriotic. I’m so patriotic I still have a washer and dryer from that year.

    • Like after the Twin Towers. Christmas music started playing in stores in early October to get people “in the mood” to buy shit. I hate that.

  13. Simplicity and less (minimalism) is not the American philosophy for sure. It’s interesting to see that in other countries where they have significantly less, they are just as happy if not more. Turns out buying lots of cheap junk that breaks doesn’t increase our joy. So much to unpack in what you wrote! The right to shop…was that in the bill of rights?

    • I think about this a lot. I think it got more extreme after the Twin Towers were attacked. I think it got to be a strategy for distracting people from life. But I don’t know.

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