Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Un-self-sufficiency and convenience

We are constantly pushed to be "learning" and "consuming" and "doing something" nowadays. Further, our higher education system has created boundaries between disciplines, and created people that specialise and super-specialise in some topical area. We are being made to draw artificial boundaries in our interactions with people that are engaged in "other disciplines." Although there has been a growing voice around "interdisciplinary" and "multidisciplinary" research and education recently, by and large, higher education is teaching people to define themselves with single identifiers - "engineer," "doctor," "musician." We live in a divided, and un-self-sufficient society, in which time is of the essence - gone are the days of regular long dinners.

What does this mean for our day-to-day lives, resource use and trash? I take the example of food, because it is an easy one. Very few of us grow our own food, and very few of us take time to "make things from scratch." Indeed, we are constrained by spending most of our time in our "specialisation." You hear people say, "Oh, I don't have time to cook," or "I'd rather spend my time working." But say we want to make something simple - say pasta and sauce, the staple diet of most graduate students. If we wanted to make it "from scratch," we would need but a few ingredients - flour, water, salt, tomatoes, oil, garlic, maybe an onion, and some herbs. You can grow or buy most of these ingredients without packaging, and can re-use packaging for some if you are lucky enough. In the end, you have a little trash. But we are rushed for time, of course. What we resort to is premade pasta in its plastic wrapper, with tomato sauce from a can, which in general, you cannot reuse. The strive for convenience has resulted in trash. More broadly, we have made others do work for us, and that work is transported to you through trash.

Say you can't cook. How many of us would rather go to Jimmy John's regularly and buy a sandwich that is wrapped in waxed paper and tape (even though we may eat it right there) versus go to Sava's Cafe and "sit down and take time" to eat food that is served on a plate? Convenience generally supercedes.

Theses for this post:
1) Making others do work that you can do yourself is likely to result in trash.
2) Convenience and time constraints generally result in trash.


  1. We definitely do things for what we think is convenience - but is really only a (bad) habit, done without much thought at all. It would not take much to make new habits that would be much friendlier to the environment. We were talking last night at dinner about bowls/platters people used to carry around with them (a couple centuries ago) to eat from. This seems convenient and handy. If we all did this sort of thing today, as you do, we would not even notice. It's just because the products are there that we buy them and use them and think they're making our life easier and "saving" time.

  2. I think one of the issues is people sometimes being offended by someone doing that. Just as in the Gubbins experiment, where Adam Greenfield went car-free for a year, there are people who feel judged. How do you avoid that when you are trying to change habits? You are judging them, no doubt.