Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Seriously, America

Neil Young and Crazy Horse--"Be The Rain" (mp3)

Sitting here with nothing to do, wishing I was watching the finale of 24 but not wanting to wade/wait through those commercials (I'll see it on tonight), I have been picking out the last remaining nuts from a jar of Planters Dry Roasted Peanuts. And now, they are all gone, except for those last few that I don't want to eat because I don't want that handful of salt that will go with them.

But, that's beside the point. What's really on my mind is the large, heavy glass jar they came in.

And now that they're gone, the incredible, unnecessary waste of it. I bought a pound of peanuts; the jar that they came in weighs 14 ounces.

Seriously, America, I don't think we're getting it. I don't think we're figuring out waste and excess and reusing and cutting back and making do. Yeah, I know we're cutting some corners financially, maybe not eating out as much or buying some things we might like to have, but the increasing scarity of the world's resources? I don't think we get that at all.

Take me. Take that jar. For 18 of the last 20 years, I chuck that thing in the garbage and don't give it another thought. For the last two years, we've "kind of gotten into recycling" (italics mine, because the phrasing clarifies the commitment), but if we weren't "into it," I'd still be chucking that thing in the trash. Like a lot of other people still are.

Oh, I'm not playing high and mighty, believe me. I don't really know why we're recycling. I mean, I know it's a good thing to do, but I haven't felt a mandate, no one has asked me to do it, either locally or nationally, no government campaign or presidential plea has come my way, no public service ad campaign has caught my attention. I think we really just got tired of throwing so much shit away. We're kind alone on some kind of recycling island, as many of you are, I'm sure. We're blind virtue.

In the late 70's, when a president suggested that we turn down our thermostats and put on a sweater in the winter, he was ridiculed. Two years ago, when a presidential candidate talked about efficient light bulbs and other little things everyone could do, he was ridiculed.

Sadly, both caved to that ridicule and dropped the issue.

And now, here we are. It's 2010, and most restaurants giving to-go cups are using styrofoam. What? In 2010? You can't recycle styrofoam. Styrofoam takes longer to biodegrade than a Twinkie, for God's sakes!

Now, I certainly don't want to argue that Europe has got it all figured out. Not when their daily financial fears are dragging down my 401k. But if I bought those peanuts in Europe, say France or Italy, since those are the only places I've been, those peanuts would not be in a heavy glass jar.

First of all, the portion wouldn't be even half as large. And probably wouldn't contain MSG or whatever is in those damn things that makes them impossible to stop eating (while your brain sends you contradictory messages: a) "Nuts are good for you," and b) "Why does my head feel like it's swelling from a salt overdose?") Second, there would be some kind of fresh nuts that you could buy on the street somewhere. And, finally, they would come in some kind of light, unassuming cellophane wrapping. Not that cellophane is God's gift to the earth.

But still, window dressing aside, America does not seem at all to be on a mission to save itself environmentally. Al Gore has figured out how to make a lot of money from it. Madison Avenue learned that "green" sells products. Hell, even the Fox networks have gotten into the game, promoting "green" this and "green" that, and you know those bastards are marching to the drum beat that says man-made global warming is an impossibility.

As for my family's recycling empire? I grade us no better than a B-. That's a grade that would send any self-respecting private school student into a teacher's office to grub for a higher grade. And I think we're pretty committed. We've done a good job at sticking with something I didn't think we'd stick with. But come any time that we're putting on a party or simply get too overwhelmed and backed up, we just bag it all up and throw it out, vowing to do better next time.

No, we're all still consumers first, and everyone, from our own government to the world's other interdependent economies, wants us to to be consumers first. So that when we buy our peanuts, we not only support the nut roasters, we support the glass jar maker, the plastic lid maker, the label maker, the boxmaker, the grocery store, and, a little bit, some sorryass farmer who grew the things in the first place--for peanuts.

"Be The Rain" comes from the underappreciated cd/novel Greendale, available at


Jason said...

I don't understand why it is a mindset that doesn't seem to permeate in America. In Canada, people almost had competitions with their 'blue boxes of recyclable materials. In Asia it has caught on a lot as well, even for food garbage being seperate compost. In America people would look at me like I was from outer space (come to think of it....) when I would want to recycle at my house.

I think that public service announcements would go a long way, but so would simple education for some about where our planet is going to be for our future generations if we don't start fixing some problems now. Genetic engineering can't cover these issues.

John said...

Reminds me of that Michelle Shocked song, "Other People." Great lyrics. Wish I was as tech savvy as you so I could provide a link to a streaming version. Google it and her myspace page has it...

troutking said...

Bob, I do think in other areas of the country Americans have embraced environmental responsibility to a greater degree. Unfortunately, it seems Republicans have been able to find a way to use environmentalism as a wedge issue. Not only do they play on the old jobs loss fear--instead of seeing green policies as job creators---they also have been able to portray environmental concern as some kind of effete, limousine liberal, condescending, Al-Gore-weenie philosophy. Whether they do this out of sheer political opportunism or as bought and sold corporate shills, it is appalling and, sadly, effective.

troutking said...

Also, when I saw him in concert, Neil Young played Greendale in its entirety...before it had even been released. That WAS much underappreciated---by me!

Bob said...

Trout, it's the consumer mentality I'm after here. Even in the Pacific Northwest, I'll bet peanuts still come in a glass jar.

Your comments about Greendale being played before being released have given me an idea for a future blog. Thanks.

cinderkeys said...

It's frustrating. We save certain items that we can't recycle, like glass jars. But space is limited, and we only need so many glass jars, you know?

Thom Anon said...

Here in NYC we're fined if we don't recycle. A job has even been created for someone to go around and sift through samplings of garbage cans on trash days.

Last week my son came home singing a song about the new 3 R's:


So, this liberal Northeastern City may do a lot of stuff wrong, but occasionally we get a few scraps and farthings right-on.


Reduce, reuse recycle
3 words that we all know.
We have to save the planet
So we can live and grow.
We may be only children
As you can plainly see,
But reduce, reuse, recycle
Begins with you and me.

Abbie said...

I wonder sometimes what it would be like to do a household experiment, during which nothing would be thrown away. No, I'm not talking about a "Hoarders" sort of thing (scary) but an experiment in which the unusable portion of anything consumed must be kept on the premises and composted or re-purposed. I wonder what difference that would make in my purchases at the grocery store and elsewhere. Would I feel shame at a growing pile of PBR cans and yogurt containers, or just a sense of resignation in the face of an war I can't win? I don't know.

Bob said...

Abbie, certainly the PBR cans could be worked into a dynamic sculpture of some sort for the house or yard.

John said...


Go to Summerville, GA to Howard Finster's Paradise Gardens and you'll pretty much see what that experiment would look like...worth the trip.

jed said...

Troutking - if you were in Atlanta, I was there.