Wastes not, want not: Looking at the problem of waste as a sign of something deeper.

In this article E.FNicholson explores the fact that 1/3 of all food produced goes to waste and what this reveals about the kind of society we have become and the type of future we can expect.  

Guilt in my understand can be a time a useful thing to feel. As it can be that niggling, won’t go away feeling, that maybe I should have left a piece of cake for someone else, instead eating all 5 pieces, as yummy as all were. The fact is if you did eat five pieces of cake, which then prevented anyone else some having one piece, means that the guilt probably should be there. Then there useless type of guilt, guilt that appears to hold not function other than your continued self-torment. Often this can be centred around things you have no power or control over, things that happened, that you feel responsible for but in fact where not responsible for. It could be the loss of someone we loved, an accident we unintentional cause or any other number of things .Another aspect of this type of guilt is feeling bad about things you didn’t choose but are the benefactor of, say like food, shelter and clothing .In my house growing up my mother would constantly remind me how lucky I was to eat a full plate of food, when elsewhere in the world small African children lived on one grain of rice a day. Wow just one grain? Which I always picture a plate with just a one tiny grain and the mother shouting “Dinner, come and get it” Knowing poor people starved while I sauntered through my potato mash didn’t make eating my remaining boiled brussel sprouts any easier but it was something that remained firmly in my psyche, that is “waste is bad” .I know the intended purpose of this, as I have some version of this myself with my own kids ,is first and foremost make them finish the food and then to instil some basic gratitude for how lucky I was to be born in family that I didn’t have to worry about going hungry. Yet although that’s the intended purpose was gratitude , for me least, instead making feel grateful I felt guilt and internal conflict. To this day I still have trouble leaving a morsel of food on my plate, even if I don’t like the food, talk about Pavlov’s dog!! When I see someone else(my wife for one) leave half a plate of food , maybe not evening touching the chicken leg and still feel the need to lecture then or maybe some snide remark about how wasteful they are being and follow that up with eating what she has left. This attitude I have could be summed up my mother maxim growing up, “waste not want not”.

I know is something I feel purely due to parental conditioning and maybe own Piscean need to feel bad about things. So over the years I have been trying to break out a little of this mind set, on occasion I have even left some food on my plate, although it wasn’t easy. I have also stopped wanting eat all the food from my kids plate they can’t eat. So this is long winded back story is a Segway into what I wanted to focus on in this article, which is the culture of decadence and waste we currently live in. My aversion of talking about this, is it resonances with that childhood feeling of feeling guilt for eating but at the same time there was some basic truth in it as well, that I can’t throw the baby out with the bath water. As the origin of my childhood guilt fest comes from my mother own childhood and upbringing. My mum who grew up on a farm in rural Ireland, in what you would describe a poor or humble. She was one of eight children, that lived in a three roomed house, figure that one out .Much of the food they ate was off the land but and they all had to pitch in with working on the farm. From the sounds of it they never went hungry but it wasn’t the easiest of lives, things where scarce  and what they did have they appreciated. She told me once that for Christmas she got an orange and it was a really big deal .Its gives you some idea of living in different times. Like everyone her childhood experiences translated into the way she parented. We joke to  mum that she was an environmentalist ahead of her time, as when we went to school, we had to bring home the small plastic bag that our sandwich had been packed for her to use again .Other kids would laugh but there is a sense and a logic to it. Now she in may have only saved 6p a week but the principle was probably more important, don’t disregard stuff unless you really have to. As a matter of fact my kids now do the same.(my mummy will be proud) Although I still cringe from parts of that thrifty way of looking at things it hard to not to see that are current society it is sorely lacking.

As we now live in an age of collective disregard and decadence. Although the word “decadence” invokes images of hedonist debauchery or palaces laden with gold everything, the very way we live could easily be regarded as decadent. As decadence isn’t just defined as “excess” of which we have plenty but also a moral decline .If you take morality out of the Christian understanding of sin and see our true morality being that unseen compass that guides us to live and operate in accordance with what’s right, or what works both for the person and the society we can easily see our society of endless growth and consumption has created a moral decay. I don’t want to go on some puritanical or self-righteous rant on how we all need to repent, recycle and live like tribes of old, rather its hard not to see the sheer unsustainability and complete lack of fairness of the way things are. Although the evidence is all around us, there are moments when it can really hit home. My recent ponderings on thoughtless decadence came from some time way I had recently. Myself and my wife stayed a few days in hotel that was one of those all-inclusive places. All meals and drinks where provided through these buffet style dining. Now I have been to buffets before but for what reason I just couldn’t get over how much food people left on their plate. Maybe the fact it was all free or already paid for, made them feel more entitled. Yet I saw so many people just leaving half a plate full on untouched food. This then jogged my memory of a recently statistic I that one third of all food produced in lost to waste http://england.lovefoodhatewaste.com/node/5479.. If you would like to read other astounding facts on the immense waste generated every day see this fact list here http://www.feeding5k.org/food-waste-facts.php

So how did we get here? Why is this so? For what we consider an advanced and intelligent society how have we allowed for such blatant waste whilst others can live in abject scarcity?

In western democracies the baby boomers, my generation X, generation Y  hasn’t endured any serious upheaval, war or calamity that has forced the whole of society to knuckle down, tighten belts and get thrifty, such as war time in the UK from 1940 to 1945. We have no memory experience wise, of what it’s like to go without. The way it is, is in fact the way it has always been. So it make sense that being permanently exposed to this environment of abundance that we would take it for granted, become indifferent or ambivalent  that about what goes on to make this so. We are also all participating in an economic system that is driven by the interaction of competing and separate businesses and organisations .The idea of business and government working in collaboration and cooperation in order to coordinate some creative and innovative a way to ensure that waste is minimised, all people are feed and no one goes without is just not going to happen. In fact it is not allowed or goes against the “each one for themselves” mind-set that accompanies our modern economic systems.  Then add to this division and outsourcing of labour and the nature of our factory or assembly line social set ups ,it all ensures we are totally removed how items end up on our plate or stored in our garage. We are wilfully blind to the way food and goods we consumed is farmed and constructed, produced and packaged. We don’t see that our abundance does come at a cost. A cost of the animals breed to feed us, the countries who’s lands are cleared to grow crops we want or need for the grain to feed the animal we eat. We don’t see the dismal and degrading conditions that go into the production of all the other perks of modern life, be it the iPhone, on sale Nike t-shirts or any other number of things. Like the picture of cancerous lungs that now appear on cigarettes, I wonder what a picture of pig cramped into small box, squealing in distress would do for pork chop sales if that kind of image had to appear on very chop sold.

As it was this insight that hit me as munched on my breakfast bagel at the hotel. This is fucked up. (my poor wife, this is what she has to hear me rant on about whilst having breakfast on holiday) That surely this is what it must have felt like as the fiddle was played as Rome was burning or hearing someone’s suggestion to rearrange the deckchairs prior to the Titanic being sunk .That this pocket of decadence and indulgence that I was inhabiting and participating in was doomed .Not because of some frugal loving God smiting us all for being such sinners, rather just the sheer impracticability of sustaining the system that underpins it all. A system that was established, not to ensure it remained sustainable and scalable over many centuries to come, rather for people to make profit. The environment is not seen as home of humanity, rather it is a “resource” that can be mined, ploughed, extracted and populated in the name of progress and growth. Ruining the earth via pumping of toxic fumes into the sky is an “externality” that as company doing so, holds  no concern or cost. Imagine a family home that has been in your family for generations and was the only thing of value you had in your life. Now imagine over the span of just a couple of days you set about destroying and make that home barely liveable, all for inane and trivial whims. You burnt your bed for warmth one evening, ripping down a wall to get some stones to make a table, tearing out all the light sockets to make plastic forks and knifes, breaking all the windows because you like the sound it makes. This is about how crazy we have become regarding our home of earth. The fact this machine of economic growth that just keep gorging on the earth and shitting out waste back into the same earth  will at some point run out of stuff to consume, often “stuff” like oil,  that has taken millions of years to take shape and impossible to replace, seem inconsequential .Something that just sum it up absurdity of our modern times is the fact helium supplies are running out because it over-use for inflating balloons, finally we can blame clowns for something other than giving me nightmares.

The environmentalist  Derrick Jensen in an interview said a view of how we should run our society should be “to leave the land and the earth better shape than we found it” .He talk about a tribe of indigenous native American Indians that lived successfully/sustainably in a part of northern Californian for a minimum of  twelve thousand years .He stated in the interview that a mind-set this indigenous tribe had, was to think we are preparing the earth of those who live on this planet 500 years from now. So choices about what we do with and to our environment, are asked through the lens of “Will this leave a better earth or worse earth? Now it’s solely, “Is this profitable or isn’t?”  It is here we come up against a fundamental incompatibility with growth, capitalism and unquestioned consumption and ensuring the earth and all its creatures long term habitability.

So it appear the destruction of the human civilisation  will come, not from global pestilence, killer virus or war, rather the inertia created from being comfortable and having our short term needs meet.

Our comfort ensures we remain contented and absorbed in such a way that we are disengaged from the whole picture. How else can we explain the fact the current habitability of this planet is on the verge of being turned “uninhabitable” and people are more willing to participate in X-factor then they are in willing to protest that fact?  Little do we know we are heading off a cliff whilst lying on our sofa playing with our iPad.

Then what can cement that apathy is a misguided kind of confidence that those in charge, someone so how will fix this, not seeing those that are in charge are the ones ensuring the continued trajectory towards global ecocide. Also many people are unaware that the media whom they think is there to tell them what’s going on, is fact part of grand and expansive entity who purpose to pacify, rather than inform. We have a very sophisticated, far reaching media apparatus that is an echo chamber of the short term profit model that drives global business. Currently our mainstream media is doing a premium job of distracting vast sections of the population from the issue or obfuscating what is in fact a very simple issue. Yet it is in comfortable illusion, we also find safety in the herd, not knowing that our easy grazing days are soon coming to an end and the panic that will ensue once enough of us realise this, will create a senseless stampede that goes nowhere but over a cliff. As its true there is unity in conformity and a certain security in the herd but it has its price.

So I saw the plates filled with food been taken to the kitchen ready to be binned as a kind of social rash. A sign that something more malignant was beneath the surface, possibly threating the very life of society itself. There are many other social rashes, lumps, blisters, inflammations and signs that something is seriously not right with the world the way it currently is, be it the rate of antidepressants being taken, the obesity epidemic in one half other world and the malnutrition on the other, the rise and rise  substance addictions ,over crowded private prisons, global warming, ocean acidification, the disappearing of the arctic ice and many others are omens of something is off kilter. It is something deeper that can’t be tackled with quick cures and healing creams, rather the source of these symptoms, which I see as the fundamental drive behind the cogs that move post-industrial society forward. Its because these cogs are blind and ignorant to basic truths about life that make them unsustainable. The key drives behind how our current global society is set up are cut off from the connectivity of all things and the value of love and community. Any society set up where the absence compassion is seen to define its strength, rather than highlight its weakness is bound to fail. Sadly now we are in the enthral of global system , meaning its failure we will globally felt. As without compassion at society heart, coercion and violence will take pride of place in terms how things get done. Nature will be seen to be dominated and control, rather than to worked with and contribute towards .The greediest, the most sociopathic, the utmost violent and controlling with be applauded and honoured by the most sycophantic, spineless and self-serving. All entwined in an elite circle jerk of self-worship and all things petty. Maybe they do this whilst knowing but not caring or maybe without being aware, that is, what they do to others, to all the creatures on the planet, is in that do in fact to themselves .Like the snake eating’s tail , its insatiable desire of consumption will be the very thing that allows it to consume itself, as in the end, it will be all that’s left. For this system, not us that is sick and blind, it is this system that is sociopathic and fixated, it is this system that will destroy itself. Call it capitalism, globalisation, free market economic, the business of business or the accent of modern man. It is system provides decadence for those lucky enough to be born within its better part and despair and hardship for those that ensure the others abundance. It elevates those that prop it up and marginalise those who try question its legitimacy. It’s a system that prides itself on the maxim “who said life was meant to be fair” .It so colossal in its reach, so deeply imbedded within our culture, it positions itself as the incontestable “way it is.” Its right to exist and dominate is without question. That being the case, it feels almost overwhelming to try think it can be dismantled and brought to halt. Yet it will be dismantled and it will be brought to a holt. The question is, will that be by the ravishes of the earth’s climate, the dank that our oceans end up becoming or will it come from the collective will of the earth inhabits that rally, group and unite in singular force that says “No more!!”.

Sadly it looks not to be the latter, but even so at minimum I think we have to try. In little ways and big ways, by ourselves and in our community, with our kids and with those close to us. At a minimum to make a statement, to try be heard, to support those doing something, to get on board with whatever avenues are available or contribute with what skills you possess. As there is one thing that does allow some flicker of hope for a less bleak future and that is the unpredictability of life and of people. Historically when there has been mass change it wasn’t necessarily obvious and encouraged. As no social transformation has ever started at its beginning, seemly plausible and doable. That miracles can happen, not of the magical kind , rather miraculous nature of the unexpected, unpredicted and unprecedented with its ability to rise up before us and turn all our previous assumptions upside down. In the same way this can happen is way that depressing and foreboding , it also can occur in ways that uplifting, inspiring and creative. I have no doubt if you travel back in time five hundred years ago and try explained airplanes, iphones, vaccines ect.. it would sound like absurd fantasies, some part of it would be even difficult to explain, as they are built on the assumed knowledge of so many other yet to discovered things. So there is the possibility that many parts of  future that are just as unknowable for us  where we are now was for those living 500 years ago.

Yet for the how, when, who ,where and if at all , I have no idea. All I know it’s that I can share these feeling on my blog in the hope it awaken something in someone somewhere. That in reading this blog it ignites a flicking light in that readers mind and is a tiny part what compels them to do something affirming that they may have not done otherwise. As we can all can contribute these a tiny ripples affirming a more loving and peaceful world ,that its impact or effect automatically become part of that  incomprehensible synchronicity that lays the foundation for massive social and personal change. Will it be enough , will come to be that the planet is saved and humanity survives? I don’t know and it’s not a question I think you can afford to focus on, not out of deni,al rather the awareness that there is bleakness that can suck you in and take away the power we have left. You know what are the arguments that bleakness is what awaits but you decide your mind can used in more productive things. So I just get from the buffet what I’m able to eat, I get on my blog and share how I feel and after that we can only wait and see.

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