Bulimia; Science of the Holiday Season and Food

copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

The holiday season is the best and worst of times.  It always was.  The food is phenomenal.  The feelings that fill a heart, mind, or is it my stomach can cause enormous misery.  For a person immersed in the rituals of bulimia the latter weeks of the year are better than all others.  Opportunities to indulge are ample during the holy days.  The selection of food fare is far superior.  Scientific research on food reaps ample rewards.  The secretive practice of self-imposed solitary confinement causes much angst, or could, if one were not able to find an escape in food.

Fortunately, a bulimic can and does take flight.  She or he can sprint to the stores.  There selves are filled with cashew nougat cookies.  Boxes of these white wonders melted in her mouth.  Delicate doughy dinner rolls lined every end display.  These delicious buns were strategically placed in case a customer forgot to grab them when in the bread aisle.  Buns sold for pennies.  Christians, Jews, Gentiles, those who worship Jehovah, Muslims, Agnostics, Atheists, and more must love these doughy delights.  While stuffing was a staple, in the winter, the cost was nominal, and the supply was grand.  She could fill her shopping cart with boxes a plenty.

In the dairy section, sweet and savory eggnog was available.  This liquid ambrosia did not appear before or after the national celebrations.  She could hardly wait for the New Year.  Grocers would reduce the price on this stock and she would buy all she could.  She would place the excess in the freezer and save these for another day.  As America celebrated, so too did she.  However, her festivity was a bit less conventional.

She needed no lights, no tinsel, or tree.  A menorah, or a Kinara were not necessary.  An image of the crescent moon, or the five-pointed star, was not important parts of her ceremonial gala.  All she needed was food.  She no longer required family to enjoy.  Food was her kin, her kind of company.

When Bethany was a child, Thanksgiving Day brought songs of the good cheer.  Merriment filled the house.  Mommy and the little lass would sing all the traditional carols.  Dradle, dradle, dradle, I made it out of clay.  O Tannenbaum, oh Christmas tree, Sleigh bells ring on a silent night.  As December 25th approached, the family dashed through the snow, roasted chestnuts, and pa rum pum pum pumed with the Little Drummer Boy.  Her Daddy said the gaiety made no sense to him.  Yet, he laughed aloud and reveled in the expressions of glee.  Daddy tried not to croon and carol; however, at times he joined in the caroling.

Times were good.  The late November dinner was usually turkey.  Mashed potatoes and gravy made from scratch graced the table.  Home-baked breads also adorned the setting.  Daddy carved the meat with studied finesse.  Mom dished out the stuffing.  Homemade pies and cookies sat in wait.  There were many choices.  Mommy baked for days on end.  Lemon meringue was for Lisa.  Bethany preferred pecan pie.  Dad did not decide until he was ready for desert.  Would he dive into a traditional pumpkin pie or save that slice for another occasion?

In her family, food was considered the means to celebrate life.  Mom, Lisa, and Bethany ate when they were happy, dined when they were sad.  Each of the ladies filled lonely days and nights with chow.  Fodder brought thought; it stimulated reflection.  Realizations occurred over a bowl of soup, cereal, salad, or stew.  Daddy was not as dependent on victuals.  However, Bethany’s first father was a glutton, for punishment and pleasure over a plate of steak, veal, lamb, or lobster.  That man customarily consumed as though there was no tomorrow.

Bethany recalled every New Years Day, Michael sat on the bathroom floor slumped over the toilet bowl.  He puked and purged until he could do no more.  When his stomach was empty, then he would stop, only to await the time when he would fill up again.

For Michael, bingeing and ridding himself of all he ingested was not habitual.  However, it occurred often enough.  The activity was a vivid memory for Bethany.  Perhaps she learned to adopt bulimic behaviors.  After all, aspects of the conduct were part of her experience.

For her natural father Michael, life was an adventure.  He thought it fun to be spontaneous.  Bethany was more of a scientist just as her Grandfather had been and as her Dad trained her to be.  The little bit of a girl questioned everything.  Studious as she was she researched the minutia.  There was nothing in her life that did not involve great thought.

When she first chose to relieve herself of food, it was a calculated decision.  Early one evening, during dinner Bethany ate so much.  After the meal she could barely move.  Consumed with a sense of discomfort she sought relief.  It occurred to her, if she simply flushed out the food, all would be well.  However, she discovered as all scientists do, it is never possible to truly control the environment, or the outcome of any experiment.  Indeed, in an investigation, what seemed a solution to a problem, could, and did control the researcher.

Physiology and psychological components are more powerful than mere mortals might wish themselves to be.  Addictions may begin with a conscious decision as all actions do.  Nonetheless, there are forces that preclude logic and rational thinking.  The body is more than a reasonable brain.

Quickly, what was meant to be a moment became a lifestyle.  Hence, Bethany concluded she must learn to cope.  To survive this young being would have to learn the science of intake and surrender.  She measured her moves.  What edibles went down smoothly, and which released themselves from the stomach walls smoothly.

While cottage cheese is often considered the finest pabulum for those who wish to lose weight, for a bulimic, this provision is a nightmare.  The tiny curds stick to the innards.  The amount of acidic bile needed to breakdown this dairy product is ample.  It seems a single soul cannot produce enough enzymes to eliminate this compound within a reasonable amount of time.  Most cheeses clump once in the digestive system.  

All through the holidays, cups of cheese spreads fill the grocers delicatessen cases.  Spreads are smooth to the taste, and smoother on the tongue as they slide in and out of the most central orifice.

Milk will cuddle if it sits on the kitchen counter for too long.  It does the same if left for any length of time in the stomach.  Eggnog, however, glides through the system.  She knows not if the egg, sugar, or other additives make the difference.  Bethany only understands that this is a delight.

Summer potato salads may be flavorful.  However, a boiled and particularly pulverized tuber does not travel as well as the mashed perennial plant does.  The moist breadcrumbs that we call stuffing are an interesting delicacy.  The ingredients within the mixture matter more than the actual entrée.

Hard cookies can crumble into bits in the outside world.  They do the same once digested.  Miniscule particles spilled on the floor can be difficult to clean up.  When in the body cavity these small pieces scatter.  The fragments of food do not gather in as a group, and exit as one.  Flat crisp baked goods do not easily escape; yet, the holiday goodies cashew nuggets, goes down and comes up as a silk scarf might.

Indeed, the holidays are wondrous.  The food is more fun than time with family might be, or so Bethany hoped as another year approached.  Sadly, in truth, during the winter solstice she felt more alone than she ever did.  No matter the trials and tribulations, the gift of a shared experience means more than any other event might.

Science and food could not, did not, and would never suffice for what she sacrificed.  Those the little bit of a being was closest to were a greater source of solace than what she, a bulimic labeled nourishment.  Nature, in the form of ingested plant or animal products, does not nurture a starved soul.  A satiated stomach could not compare to a heart filled with joy.

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, a Joyous Kwanzaa, a regal Ramadan, none would be as long as Bethany remained bulimic.  If only emotions, epidemiology, and the effects of these could be as easily understood as the study of food.

Mother Earth; Story of Stuff or The Seventh Generation



Movie Documentary – The Story of Stuff – Consumption, money, nature, environment

copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

Mother Nature is replete with resources.  Americans, with infinite ingenuity, wish to reap the rewards the planet offers.  We, in this country, claim the riches the land affords us; we do this well and often.  For us, every moment is an opportunity to give and receive stuff.

In America, what was once thought a “bundle of joy” is not enough.  In March 2007, Jena Slosberg of Bedford, New Hampshire became a new Mom after a seventeen-hour labor.  Her skin was aglow as the young mother held the manna from heaven.  Her husband Paul, stood by her side and smiled.  The proud Papa bestowed not the baby of their dreams, but something a bit more valuable, monetarily.  In the recovery room,  Paul presented his wife with a pair of sparkling diamond earrings.  The two beamed with pride.  

The little one was set aside as the couple contemplated the more substantial treasures.  Just as Jena and Paul, Americans love material possessions, perhaps more than they appreciate people.  In this nation, we do not honor the notion that we must live for the Seventh Generation. The time is now.  In the “present,” Jena spoke of her gemstones with great glee as she reflected upon the future.

“I was on cloud nine,” Ms. Slosberg said.  “It was the perfect present to make a frazzled, sleep-deprived, first-time mommy feel absolutely glamorous.”

She added, “I wonder what 17 hours of labor will get me next time?”

In a more innocent age, new mothers generally considered their babies to be the greatest gift imaginable.  Today, they are likely to want some sort of tangible bonus as well.

In a world of trinkets, trifle, ornamentation, and bling, babies are but a blip on the screen of life.  Too often infants conceived though intimate acts are as possessions, important for what they say about us, and there is much to say.  During the holiday season, people consider the importance of being benevolent and charitable.  We bless the almighty or those mighty in our lives.  We are grateful for our bountiful pleasures.  As a new mother might thank goodness for her healthy child, Americans express gratitude for all those close to them, or so we say.  

However, as we venture out into the malls, journey into brick and mortar stores, or shop in cyberspace we might take a moment to consider what we do and why.  How do our purchases affect us as a whole.  Perchance, the earlier discussion of newborns provides enlightenment; the narrative helps us understand the Story of Stuff.

Some call it the “baby mama gift.”  Others refer to it as the “baby bauble.”  But it’s most popularly known as the “push present.”

That’s “push” as in, “I the mother, having been through the wringer and pushed out this blessed event, hereby claim my reward.”  Or “push” as in, “I’ve delivered something special and now I’m pushing you, my husband/boyfriend, to follow suit.”

Americans are “pushed” to purchase as we do.  Numerous social scientists posit this is the Century of Self.  The line is now blurred between want and need, nourishment and necessary, conservative, and conservation.  Consumption, for its own sake, is promoted in this, the era of Public Relations.   Sadly, specialists in communications often honor commercial concerns, not those of the preservationist.  

Propaganda is bought, and sold, although we do not use such a derogatory identifier for advertisements.  The public is persuaded; shop til you drop.  Nonetheless, in each and every moment Americans are convinced they must live a lavish life if they are to find joy.  Expensive material gifts will bring you happiness and glee.  

In our modern society, people realize they must labor long and arduous hours if they are to pay the price for simple pleasures.  Others, such as Jena believe their labor of love will yield grand chattels.  Apparently, in the last few years, many first-time mothers think as Mommy Slosberg does.

“It’s more and more an expectation of moms these days that they deserve something for bearing the burden for nine months, getting sick, ruining their body,” said Linda Murray, executive editor of BabyCenter.com. “The guilt really gets piled on.”

A recent survey of more than 30,000 respondents by BabyCenter.com found that 38 percent of new mothers received a gift from their mate in connection with their child.  Among pregnant mothers, 55 percent wanted one.  About 40 percent of both groups said the baby was ample reward.

Sandra Miller of Arlington, Mass., is not among the 40 percent.

“Women can and do expect a thoughtful token of appreciation,” she said.  “It’s a way to honor a mother giving her emotions, body and hormones over to a baby for nine months, culminating in an experience which, when done naturally, redefines the meaning of pain.  And when not done naturally, it’s still an act of sacrifice.”

Apparently, today more than half of the new mothers in America think they have suffered.  Therefore, they must be rewarded.  Women believe when they choose to give birth they forfeit their figure.  New moms surrender more than a few seconds of their lives.  These feminine embryo vessels are deprived and chemically depleted.  Daddies owe their spouse or female partner a present or two.  At least one big package is a must, and she does not speak of the bundle named baby.

It seems in America we do not give credence to the notion, commercials cause us to commit to an accepted custom, consumption.  Merchandisers do not make us leap from our chair; nor do they have the power to force us to dash downtown before the boutiques close.  Perchance, empathy encourages us to do as we do. Possibly, the father feels he was free to be, as his woman carried such a burden.  If not guilt-ridden, or worn into submission, a proud Papa believes he owes his beloved a bauble, a bracelet, a token of some sort.

Push presents seem to have taken off within the last decade, particularly in the last couple of years.  In 2005 the Southeast-based jewelry chain Mayors marketed diamond earrings with the tag line, “She delivered your first born; now give her twins.”  Fortunoff, the jewelry and gift chain with a Fifth Avenue flagship, established a push present registry six months ago.

But the push present – unlike the 15-year anniversary ring – is apparently not the invention of the jewelry industry looking for another opportunity to sell goods. No one is quite sure how the trend began; in practice, the baubles are presented before or after the big day, or sometimes right in the delivery room.

“They’ve arisen from the time cavemen brought trinkets to their wives,” said Jim Brusilovsky of Chains-and-charms.com, a Philadelphia-based jewelry chain. “I haven’t seen it coming from the industry.”

Michael Toback, a jewelry supplier in Manhattan’s diamond district, traces the practice to a new posture of assertiveness by women. “You know, ‘Honey, you wanted this child as much as I did. So I want this,'” he said.

A more likely explanation is that men are now simply more aware of and sympathetic to the plight of their pregnant partners, given their increasing tendency to attend childbirth classes and help in the actual delivery.  “I think husbands are more involved with the prenatal process,” said Dr. Philippe Girerd, an obstetrician in Richmond, Va. “Women go through back pain, morning sickness, stress and so on.  We just sit around and take the credit.  I think a lot of 21st century husbands are a little more in touch with that.”

Yes, that is it.  Empathy, sympathy pains prompt men, women, and children to shop.  Ties the season to be jolly, and to do this we must feel for our wife, husband, daughter, or son.  Late in November, we gave thanks; however, then the gift of food was the focus.  Mostly, we rewarded our stomachs.  The turkey was stuffed and so were we.  Now, in the spirit of the holidays, we will stuff our face, our stockings, our homes, and garages.  We will fill our rooms with treasures until we can fill no more.  Then we will expand our horizons.  Each of us will bestow gifts upon those we love.

It is Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, and Ramadan; in truth, any excuse will do.  We need no reason to spend and spread the cheer.  Any day, every day is a celebration when you are an American consumer.

Citizens who reside in the United States are taught to consume.  As children, we were delighted when commercials rang out on the radio or danced across screens.  As toddlers we heard the cheery music, sang the jingles that we still recall today.  We strolled through the supermarkets with Mommy and Daddy.  All was attractive to us and was placed within our reach.  We grabbed for everything.

The brightly colored boxes, the sweet sugary confections, and the vibrant balloons that hung overhead, all called to us.  The stickers, soda cans, snacks . . . what more could a young person want but to buy, buy, and buy.  Mommy please, can I have this?  Daddy, I want that . . . As toddler we expected to be rewarded.  Did mother and father not say, if you are a good girl, the best boy, then I will give you a gift?  In our early years, we were trained, not only to use the toilet, but to buy.  We learned, if we acted as others hoped we would, they would give us gifts galore.  Things were surrogates for love.

Mom was too busy to pay attention to young John or Jane.  However, she had time to spend on shopping for Jill and Joshua.  Dad was overwhelmed with the demands of his job.  His boss brought more burdens.  Father was out, for he needed to provide [for Sam and Sally.]  The man we called Pop was gone.  Still the presents came.  “Daddy when you come home, what will you bring me?'”

As a tot, we learned; we needed stuff.  Stuff was our supplement for affection, adoration, devotion, and demonstrations of kindness.  Our hearts were empty.  There was a huge void to fill.  We did not just want goodies.  Trinkets were and are necessities.  Then and now Americans need, validation and vindication.  If we do not receive a present, certainly the reason must be vengeance.  No one would wish to leave the impression that they are bitter, rancorous, or unreasonable; thus, even if guilt motivates our purchases we will buy.  Young fathers such as Paul Schlosberg may not appreciate the presumption that he must pay his wife for bringing the bundle of joy into the universe.  Nevertheless, he is grateful.  Hence . . .

  • The average U.S. person now consumes twice as much as they did 50 years ago.

We are easily influenced, or convinced of what we already believe.

  • We each see more advertisements in one year than a people 50 years ago saw in a lifetime.

We do as directed.  Americans embark on a mission to consume.  During the holidays, even days before, we merely set our sights higher.  Most see this season as an opportunity to increase our standard of living, or at least our credit limit.  Our quest begins on Black Friday.   In the twenty-first century, there is no need to wait ’til dawn.  The race to rejoice in shopping with the religious holy days in mind inspires entrepreneurs to open shop doors before the sun rises.  By breakfast, the stores filled with people.  People scramble from one sale table to another.  Warehouse shelves are stocked, cleared by eager customers, and stocked again.  

Carolers sing as if to cheer the patrons on.  Procure, purchase, pay for your wares.  Do this in one depot then move on to another.  Collectibles, china, figurines, fine jewelry.  Clothing, cameras, computers, and candy.  Ties, tableware, television sets, high definition, and plasma screens.  Shoes are nice.  Do you know her size?  Digital Media Players, that is what he truly desires.  Software, hardware, perchance, an automobile would the perfect gift.  Let us look for sales and hope we are in time for bargains.

In times of strife, in moments of glory, no matter the season or the reason, in America we shop.  There is never enough stuff.  We are never satisfied.  We want a newer, brighter, lighter, convenient, compact, more powerful, more prestigious, more, more, and more.  “Too much is never enough.”  Yet, there is a price to pay.  Americans work longer hours.  We are less happy.  Our health is poor.  Citizens in this country are stressed.  No amount of stuff we have, nothing seems to satiate our need to feel whatever bliss buying brings us.

  • In the U.S. our national happiness peaked sometime in the 1950s.
  • In the U.S., we spend 3-4 times as many hours shopping as our counterparts in Europe do.

“Joy to the world, the Lord has come.”  Americans find him under a Christmas tree or beneath a Hanukah bush.  The divine may shine in the light from the candles.  A mishumaa saba or a menorah might light the way to the almighty.  Possibly, in America stuff is our G-d.

I, for one, love the traditions of the holidays.  Every time-honored festivity warms my heart.  However, much to my surprise, only when my family chose to forego the exchange of ‘goodies’ did I truly learn to appreciate the winter solstice and the time spent with those I truly treasure.  In truth, a much as I protested the change, and I did, every day of my life has been far better since I “sacrificed” the joy of conventional gift giving or more accurately taking from the Earth.

  • In the past three decades, one-third of the planet’s natural resources base have been consumed.
  • In the United States, we have less than 4% of our original forests left.
  • Forty percent of waterways in the US have become undrinkable.
  • The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population but consumes 30% of the world’s resources4 and creates 30% of the world’s waste.
  • If everybody consumed at U.S. rates, we would need 3 to 5 planets.

As much as we have in America, it seems what we acquire is never enough.  Marketers and manufactures know this.  Perhaps the awareness grew out of the era of Freud.

Edward L. Bernays, an early leader in the public relations field, and often described as the Father of Public Relations, devised or developed many techniques for influencing public opinion.  During the Industrial Revolution Mr. Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, realized that if you persuade people to behave irrationally if you link products to their emotional desires and feelings you can sell any product.  Bernays understood if an advertisement attempts to appeal to the intellect, it will not likely be successful.  People will ultimately conclude they do not need more than they can afford or use.  However, if you allure and entice a person to desire an object, they will justify that what they want is what they truly require.

During the Industrial Revolution production increased, workers were employed.  Money began to flow.  However, the corporate bigwigs had a fear.  What would happen once the market was saturated?  Bernays trusted, if people were trained to believe they need what they  merely want, the streets would never be sparse.  Shops would be full, and there would be customers aplenty.  Economically, the marketplace would work efficiently, if advertisements were presented effectively.  Charm the customer to consume and he will do so eternally.  Edward Bernays appreciated this construct early in his life.

Born on Nov. 22, 1891, Mr. Bernays was one of five children of Ely Bernays and Anna Freud Bernays.  The family moved in 1892 to the United States, and in 1912, Mr. Bernays graduated from Cornell University.  After doing United States Government war propaganda work in World War I, Mr. Bernays realized that, as he put it in the 1991 interview, “if this could be used for war, it can be used for peace.” . . .

Some of Mr. Bernays’s promotion efforts became legendary. To promote Ivory soap and make bathing more popular with children, he set up a national small-sculpture panel that for years oversaw soap-carving competitions.

Several of the societal changes that Mr. Bernays espoused for clients have had long-lasting effects. For instance, he was instrumental in making it acceptable for women to smoke in public, sponsoring, on behalf of the American Tobacco Company’s Lucky Strike cigarettes, demonstrations in which debutantes gathered on street corners to light up. The cigarettes were even called “torches of freedom.”

On behalf of Lucky Strike, Mr. Bernays also undertook to alter women’s fashions. When surveys showed that women objected to Luckies because the green package with its red bull’s-eye clashed with the colors of their clothes, he swung into action to make green fashionable. There followed a green fashion luncheon, green balls (at which green gowns were worn), and window displays of green suits and dresses. The campaign was a brilliant success, according to sales figures.

He regarded himself as a professional opinion maker who, by following precise principles, could produce desired changes in attitudes.

“Public relations, effectively used, helps validate an underlying principle of our society — competition in the market place of ideas and things,” he wrote in 1971.

. . . One of his early public relations strokes was on behalf of Venida hairnets. When women began to bob their hair after World War I, they discarded hairnets, much to the distress of hairnet manufacturers.

Venida, an industry leader, called in Mr. Bernays, who conducted a public relations campaign for the product. Among other things, he got artists to praise the “Greek coiffure” look that hairnets gave their wearers. And he got a labor expert to urge labor commissioners around the country to insist that women working with or near machines wear hairnets for their own protection. Much favorable publicity ensued.

In this, as in similar campaigns, Mr. Bernays’s approach was oblique. The emphasis was on hairnets, not on Venida. Indeed, Venida was rarely mentioned at all.

While we are all aware of brand loyalty, and accept that a name can sell a product, there must be an emotional connection to ensure a customer will be devoted throughout their lifetime. Manufacturers accepted they must maintain a certain standard of excellence to secure dedication.  However, industrialists also knew, once a consumer believed implicitly in a product, it was difficult to convince them to venture far from the familiar.  Diamonds will be forever.  A De Beers [if not a blood gem] is truly a prize.  Did Paul buy Jena the best?

Industry moguls in America love that humans have a deep desire to satisfy every emotion with stuff.  To appease the inner angst that we might be good enough we must embellish ourselves.  To quell the anxiety we feel when we consider we might go without we must horde.  If we are to honor others, we must give.  

Hence, companies in the United States produce and do so with abandon.  Manufacturers seek ways to make the wares more attractive to consumers.  Years ago, companies realized if they use synthetic material and relied on the miracle of chemistry they could generate more goods at a lower price.  Thus, profits would increase.  Artificial substances were less expensive and more easily accessed.  The costs of the final product must be kept low in order to attract consumers.  

[T]he materials move to “production” and what happens there is we use energy to mix toxic chemicals in with the natural resources to make toxic contaminated products.  There are over 100,000 synthetic chemicals in commerce today.  Only a handful of these have even been tested for human health impacts and NONE of them have been tested for synergistic health impacts, that means when they interact with all the other chemicals we’re exposed to every day.

So, we don’t know the full impact of these toxics on our health and environment of all these toxic chemicals.  But we do know one thing: Toxics in, Toxics Out.  As long as we keep putting toxics into our production system, we are going to keep getting toxics in the stuff that we bring into our homes, our workplaces, and schools. And, duh, our bodies.  These toxics build up in the food chain and concentrate in our bodies.

Do you know what is the food at the top of the food chain with the highest levels of many toxic contaminants?

Human breast milk.  [Oh no.  Again, we are reminded of the Schlosberg’s.  Is mother’s milk contaminated?  Will the baby be affected, if not by a consumer driven society, but by a basic source of nourishment.]

That means that we have reached a point where the smallest members of our societies-our babies-are getting their highest lifetime dose of toxic chemicals from breastfeeding from their mothers.  Is that not an incredible violation?  Breastfeeding must be the most fundamental human act of nurturing; it should be sacred and safe.  Now breastfeeding is still best and mothers should definitely keep breastfeeding, but we should protect it.  They [government] should protect it.  I thought they were looking out for us.

And of course, the people who bear the biggest brunt of these toxic chemicals are the factory workers many of whom are women of reproductive age.  They’re working with reproductive toxics, carcinogens and more.

Diamond earrings will not reduce the effect lethal chemicals have on the body.  A silk scarf, even on sale will not soothe the lesions from skin cancer.  Even those fortunate females not exposed to deadly poisons in the workplace cannot escape the contaminants placed into the environment.  Emotionally, they may work to escape.  After all, there is always the best American distraction, shopping.  Let us head for the exits quickly after the work day ends.  Let us leave the our worries behind, if we can.

A lot of the toxics leave the factory as products, but even more leave as byproducts, or pollution.  And it’s a lot of pollution.  In the U.S., industry admits to releasing over 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals a year and it’s probably way more since that is only what they admit.

So, that’s another limit, because, yuck, who wants to look at and smell 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals

a year?

So, what do they do?  Move the dirty factories overseas.  Pollute someone else’s land [and use their resources!] . . .

  • 75% of global fisheries now are fished at or beyond capacity.
  • 80% of the planet’s original forests are gone.
  • In the Amazon alone, we’re losing 2000 trees a minute. That is seven football fields a minute.

Americans seem to believe what is out of sight, exists no more.  If we cannot smell the stench, there is none.  If we cannot feel the dirt the air, water, and ground must be clean.  However, as inhabitants of this planet, we must recognize that this is not so.  The third astronomical body from the sun, houses us all.  Every tree, plant, reptile, amphibian, mammal, insects has a purpose.  Each entity helps the other sustain life.

We must accept that not only Americans live here on the home we call Earth.  Persons, and all other life forms on every continent need and want a pristine wilderness.  A crystal clear lake is more than beautiful.  A blue sky is not but a term used in poetry.  Trees, flowers, the flora feed us all bug and beast.  Each entity is important and must be honored more than the frivolous fabrics that fill this nation.  [Is the baby a bundle of joy or is the signature blue box from Tiffany’s even better.]

Science tells us, in this huge planetary home contamination cannot be contained.  Every river and sea connects to another.  Air flows.  Landmasses shift; they are filled.  Dust is in the wind.  Nothing in nature is static.  The more stuff we create, the more we need to accommodate.  Americans try to adjust to the reality of consumption.  We build bigger homes to hold all our stuff.  Then we clean these structures.  We want no visible waste.

  • Average U.S. house size has doubled since the 1970s.
  • Each person in the United States makes 4 1/2 pounds of garbage a day.  That is twice what we each made thirty years ago.
  • For every one garbage can of waste you put out on the curb, 70 garbage cans of waste were made upstream to make the junk in that one garbage can you put out on the curb.

Americans must stop and consider the force that drives us . . .

Consumption

. . . This is the heart of the system, the engine that drives it. It is so important [to propping up this whole flawed system] that protecting this arrow is a top priority for both these guys.

That is why, after 9/11, when our country was in shock, President Bush could have suggested any number of appropriate things: to grieve, to pray, to hope.  NO.  He said to shop TO SHOP.

We have become a nation of consumers. Our primary identity has become that of consumer, not mothers, teachers, farmers, but consumers.  The primary way that our value is measured and demonstrated is by how much we contribute to this arrow, how much we consume. And do we!

We shop and shop and shop.  Keep the materials flowing.  And flow they do!

Guess what percentage of total material flow through this system is still in product or use 6 months after their sale in North America.  Fifty percent?  Twenty?   NO.  One percent.   One! In other words, 99 percent of the stuff we harvest, mine, process, transport -99 percent of the stuff we run through this system is trashed within 6 months. Now how can we run a planet with that rate of materials throughput?

Dear reader, you might say as I did.  This could not be true.  I keep what I buy.  I use each item until I can use it no more.  Well, except for the clothes, I purchased and never wore, or the closet hook I never hung or returned.  Then, there were the  sunglasses someone left in my home.  After, two years I took those to Goodwill.  Reluctantly, as I reflect I realize, in years gone by telephones lasted for more than a year.  Hark back to the day when you could buy a new battery for far less than the latest gadget cost.  I must admit much goes to the dump.

It wasn’t always like this. The average U.S. person now consumes twice as much as they did 50 years ago.  Ask your grandma. In her day, stewardship, and resourcefulness and thrift were valued. So, how did this happen?

Well, it didn’t just happen. It was designed.

Shortly after the World War 2, these guys were figuring out how to ramp up the [U.S.] economy.  Retailing analyst Victor Lebow articulated the solution that has become the norm for the whole system.  He said: “Our enormously productive economy . . . demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption . . . we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.”

And President Eisenhower’s Council of Economic Advisors Chairman said that “The American economy’s ultimate purpose is to produce more consumer goods.” MORE CONSUMER GOODS???  Our [economy’s] ultimate purpose?  Not provide health care, or education, or safe transportation, or sustainability or justice?

Consumer goods?

Researcher, and Author of The Story of Stuff,  Annie Leonard asks, “How did they get us to jump on board this program so enthusiastically?”  She offers one explanation.  However, we know the pattern began long before the post world War II Age of Productivity.  Edward Bernays eloquently persuaded us to consume long before his followers found a way to increase our expenditures.  The strategy was so subtle, the operations so oblique, Americans did not realize they had been hypnotized.  Perchance the glow from the diamonds their mothers received upon their birth obstructed their vision.

Nevertheless, over time industrialists did learn to avail themselves of the opportunities Bernays created.  Manufacturers and marketers encouraged emotional decisions.  They expand a consumer driven environment and increased their profits.  Companies found ways to ensure there would be a greater “need” to buy.

Well, two of their most effective strategies are planned obsolescence and perceived obsolescence.  Planned obsolescence is another word for “designed for the dump.”  It means they actually make stuff that is designed to be useless as quickly as possible so we will chuck it and go buy a new one. It’s obvious with stuff like plastic bags and coffee cups, but now it’s even big stuff: mops, DVDs, cameras, barbeques even, everything!

Even computers. Have you noticed that when you buy a computer now, the technology is changing so fast that within a couple years, it’s [your new computer] actually an impediment to communication.  I was curious about this so I opened up a big desktop computer to see what was inside.52 And I found out that the piece that changes each year is just a tiny little piece in the corner. But you can’t just change that one piece, because each new version is a different shape, so you gotta chuck the whole thing and buy a new one.

So, I was reading quotes from industrial design journals from the 1950s when planned obsolescence was really catching on. These designers are so open about it. They actually discuss how fast they can make stuff break and still leaves the consumer with enough faith in the product to go buy anther one.  It was so intentional.

But stuff cannot break fast enough to keep this arrow afloat, so there’s also “perceived obsolescence.”

Now perceived obsolescence convinces us to throw away stuff that is still perfectly useful.

Perception is truly our reality.  What we believe drives us, to the mall, the dump, and back to the mall again.  Most of us are quite comfortable with what we know.  The familiar, we believe is sagacious.  It is tried and true.  Customs are to be revered and celebrated.  People are to be cherished, and we can only show our appreciation through the gifts we give.  However, maybe, we need not bequeath as we do now.  After all, what is now a tradition was once a novelty.  Indeed, the old was new not too long ago, and the newer can become our convention.

Americans might recognize the wrath of Mother Earth.  Each of us may realize she is not happy as her globe warms.  Her children have not honored her.  We have not been good stewards of the environment.  While we gifted ourselves, Americans thrashed and trashed the nature that gave us life.  Perchance, it is time to truly honor others.  Let us give greenerly, not greedily.

You might think this would spoil the fun.  The fervor that is Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza or Ramadan would be lost without the glitz and glitter we have come to expect.  Holiday gatherings can be a challenge.  Time with the relatives is not an option you relish.  Tis true . . .

The holidays have always been an emotionally combustible time for families, bringing together a sometimes volatile mix of siblings, crotchety grandparents, and ill-behaved children.  But in recent years, a new figure has joined the celebration, to complicate the proceedings even further: the green evangelist of the family – the impassioned activist bent on eradicating the wasteful materialism of the holidays.

Otherwise known, at least to skeptical traditionalists, as the new Grinch.

This Grinch, however, is not out to spoil Christmas, but merely to use it as a platform to advocate ecological responsibility.  Perhaps emboldened by the “Live Earth” benefit concerts and Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize, this is the family member who is the first to point out, over the bountiful Christmas dinner, that the 2.6 billion holiday cards sold each year in the United States could fill a landfill the size of a football field 10 stories high, or that those conventional lights on the Christmas tree contribute up to nine times as much greenhouse-gas emissions as the leaner-burning L.E.D. models; or that some Christmas-tree growers use as many as 40 different pesticides, as well as chemical colorants, on their crops.

The question that an increasing number of families face is whether the proselytizing green member of the clan adds spice to the proceeding, like, say, a cup of whiskey in a bowl of eggnog, or an explosive element, like that same cup of whiskey tossed into the fire on Christmas morning.

IT’S not just the greens who feel this emotional tug at the end of the year: A 2005 survey by the Center for a New American Dream showed that 78 percent of Americans wish the holidays were “less materialistic.” At the same time, the average American spends about $900 on presents each year, according to the National Retail Federation.

Still, to some ears, the call for less excessive consumption during the holidays sounds almost un-American.

“The point of the holidays for many people is the joy people get in giving,” said Kenneth P. Green, a resident scholar on environmental issues at the American Enterprise Institute.  Environmentalists who scold their families are simply making “ritualistic gestures that won’t solve the problem,” he said.

Mister Green is correct.  Change will not come if we condescend for a day, an hour or even for a season.  If we are to genuinely give credence to what we say we believe, Americans must look at every choice they make.  We must ask ourselves what we value, a baby, or a bauble.  When we destroy the environment, ravage the land in search of diamonds, demean those that mine for the mineral, are we giving a gift and to whom?  

If we wish to appreciate another, might we bestow upon them that which honors their life, ours, and all lives?  Perchance, this season the best present we could give is consistent conscious awareness and compassionate action.  Let us give the gift that keeps on giving; love thy fellow man, the planet, and you.

We need not forego traditions; nor would it be wise to go without remembrances and relics that are not necessarily “needed.”  If we accept that what we purchase must be good for the Earth, our neighbors, ourselves, and the babies born seven generations from now we will produce and consume with reason.  Perchance, that is the lesson we must learn.  Mature love is an intellectual engagement.  Immature fondness is but an immediate gratification.  Love thy self and those that share this planet with you.

I wish you peace, prosperity; I hope for goodwill to all men.

The Story of Stuff, Sources, and Shopping . . .

Please Enjoy the Century of Self . . .



Century of Self