I was challenged in my masters program to keep track of some of my consumption habits for 2-3 weeks. We were instructed to "pay particular attention to direct and indirect messages we receive daily that prompt consumer activity." Along with this assignment, we were instructed to create a change in our own lives. Some ideas I had were buying only local Christmas gifts this year, having an hour of phoneless time each night, and engaging in a buy nothing day. You will need to read to the bottom to see which one I chose.
Small Instances of Insight From One Consumer to Another
Oct. 12th - While on a bus trip with the senior boys volleyball team, we always stop at Subway for a late supper after games. I brought supper with me and ate it on the bus before our game, so I wasn’t very hungry. As the boys were lining up I sat down at a booth and one of them asked me, “Why are you sitting down, aren’t you buying anything?” I thought for a second and then got into line as I decided that I wanted a treat. I bought a 6” sub and ate it with the rest of the team. I don’t think I did this because I was actually hungry, but because I was presented with the opportunity to buy something.
Oct. 16th – I was shopping at my local grocery store during their “10 for $10 sale.” I love this sale, it happens once every few months and I always stock up on canned foods such as tomato sauce and peach halves. Today I bought 4 of each and paid a dollar for each one. The question I had based on my purchases is “why bother saying 10 for $10?” Obviously this leads to greater sales but what about the food waste? I talked to others about it and they were unaware that they could get the same price for only buying one item. One friend told a story where they bought 10 loaves of bread because they thought it was a better deal, even though they knew they would throw away some of those loaves after they were freezer burnt.
Oct.18th – I caught myself this morning when I was greeting my kindergarten students. I said to one of them “Is that a new jacket? I love it!” She beamed with pride, but reflecting on this encounter, am I encouraging consumerism? Am I not saying “Hey there! You are more special today than other days because of the new clothing item you are wearing!” This idea that having material goods that are new is related to self-worth is perpetuated at the earliest level. As Lipovetsky (2011) put it, am I helping my students “believe they can consume their way to a better life”?
Oct. 19th – Today I was driving home from work with my partner and the song “Orange Crush” by R.E.M. was playing on the radio. We sang along with it and each of us had a craving for Orange Crush. This is highly unordinary for me since I drink pop only a handful of times each year. We went to the grocery store on our way home and picked up 2 Orange Crushes to have when we got home. My takeaway from this is the importance of a brand name and how much influence it can have, even when placed in a context that is not blatant advertising.
Oct. 23rd – My partner and I always plan our meals for the week on Sunday. Then we go to the store to buy our ingredients and things to take for lunch. With winter coming we wanted some hearty meals that would last a few days. I decided I would make a whole-chicken one day and vegetarian chili the next. She decided to make a beer roast and we would use the leftovers the rest of the week. We had some ingredients at home but went to buy the rest. Our bill came to about $80, which is pretty normal for us. We don’t eat a lot of meat (only on average 4-6 meals a week). What was surprising was $35 of that was on meat! So even though our diet consists of far more plant-based foods than animals, we paid almost the same amount for each.
Oct. 25th – Halloween is near and I always struggle with decorations and costumes. The same thing happens at Christmas and Valentine’s Day. As a K/1 teacher, I want my students to have the same connection that I had with holidays. I (vaguely) remember my elementary teachers decorating our entire room, with paper pumpkins and plastic ghosts and all the spider webs you can find. I always decide against any disposable decorations, party plates, etc. This year my classroom had a total of four decorations apart from those made in art class by the students: four large pumpkins. I have some amazing teachers in my school that spend hours and money from their own pocket to make their classrooms look the way that anyone on Pinterest would be jealous of. I buy oranges for our class party when other teachers make amazing treat bags. That are colourful and decorated with the latest Disney movie characters. I am still sure of my stance, but I always have doubts when I see how other classrooms look and how much kids love these kinds of material goods. The “planned obsolescence” of these products makes them single use, not because they can’t actually be used again, but because they are so inexpensive that we’ve been conditioned to throw them away rather than store them. (Mulligan, 2014) Somedays it feels like I am the no-fun teacher. I guess this is the sense of “lack” that I am fighting against. Etzioni (2011) speaks about how ridiculous it is that people buy inflatable Santa Claus' so these decorations reminded me of that video. I remind myself that the things that are actually going to make my students fulfilled are not material, they are relationships with their classmates and myself, being engaged in intellectual aspects of school, and the feeling like they have control of their environment.
(If you are interested in planned obsolescence, here is a great documentary that I recommend.)
Based on some of my consumption habits, I find that I do not consume nearly as much as the average Canadian adult. However, I am always looking for a way to reduce my consumption in a meaningful way.
The personal change that I chose is my food consumption, in particularly the amount and source of meat I eat each week. I was once a vegetarian, I tried it for a year and I felt great but I knew that there were parts of life that were more inconvenient as a vegetarian that I would enjoy more if I consumed meat. I currently eat about three suppers and three lunches that contain animal-protein each week. My main reason for becoming a vegetarian was actually for the ecological impact that our meat-producing industry has. In very simple terms, on average meat takes ten times the fossil fuel and twelve times the fresh water to produce. Here is a great article if you want to know more:
I chose to eat meat so I tried to think of a way to make that more sustainable so that I can reduce the amount of fossil fuels used to get that meat to me. I decided to buy beef from a local farmer and family friend. Although I am not saving any money, the animals are slaughtered and processed locally and I can go visit them to approve of the handling standards. I knew a farmer personally, but if you live in Manitoba and are looking to connect with a local farm, here is a handy website:
As Mulligan explains, “relocalisation refers to the suggestion that globalization has gone too far and that people should seek to satisfy their needs and aspirations by turning more to the local context.” I thought a lot about how I use this already and what kind of change I could make. I wanted something that I could see the direct impact of in a measurable way. In this short time, it has reduced my number of trips to the grocery store, connected me with an old friend, and helped me support my local economy. I look forward to explaining how this change affects me in the future.
Etzioni, Amitai (2012). You Don’t need to Buy This. Retreived on October 25, 2016 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FN3z8gtDUFE
Lipovetsky, Gilles (2011) ‘The Hyperconsumption Society’, in Karin Ekstrom and Kay Glans (eds), Beyond the Consumption Bubble, New York: Routledge, pp. 25– 36.
Meat! Now, Its Not Personal. (2004, July/August). World Watch, 17(4)
Mulligan, Martin. (2014) An Introduction to Sustainability: Environmental, Social and Personal Perspectives (p. 40). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
MrNiboSibo (2014). The Lightbulb Conspiracy. Retreived on October 25, 2016 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1j0XDGIsUg