Stories of research, nutrition, and nature

Guilt of a Consumer

I scribbled these paragraphs a couple of weeks ago when I was sitting in a plane and looking down to the vast blue ocean, mostly covered with clouds. I remember wondering what kinds of living beings swam under the glimmering waves, and whether pollutants in their environment were making them sick. I could try to rationalize my travelling, but I couldn’t deny being part of the problem.

What can change the nature of a man? Love or guilt, perhaps. This is about both of them.

I’m flying across Atlantic once more. My soul, which has trouble with keeping up with the speed, is growing weary of it. But I felt that the ties, some of them bound by blood and others by friendship, compelled me to visit Finland in the summer. And oh, the light skies, the clear lakes, and the sweet flavor of berries. Goose berries, blueberries, a couple of swims, walks and talks.

Still, those are sort of selfish reasons. I know I’m not practising what I preach in every domain of life. What if Facebook’s “Places I’ve visited” map also included the amounts of CO2 emissions produced by the journey? What if people, while telling about their vacation trips, would also recite the number of trees that would need to be planted to offset the harm done to the environment, or the volume of the arctic ice that melted as a result?

Most estimates state that a single trans-Atlantic  flight produces roughly an equal amount of CO2 emissions as driving an average car – non-stop – for a year. I’m really sorry, polar bears.

I can certainly explain away and rationalize my travels, but still – my sister only visited Finland once during her exchange year in France. And she survived. Afterwards I learned that she certainly wasn’t happy all the time, but she grew a lot during that year.

The person who I will miss the most during the rest of this year gave me a book to read on the journey. It’s Alissa Quart’s book about brands among youth, published ten years ago. I’m afraid it’s still an accurate portrayal of the lifestyle of a major part of youth in USA (perhaps not as much in Ithaca). In summary, the picture that Quart paints depicts teenagers and kids as willing slaves to the companies that happily exploit them to market their products more effectively.

In one chapter, she talks about Breakfast Club, a youth movie made in 1985 (I’ve actually seen it too when I was a teenager, and I admit that I liked it). It is similar to other youth movies in the 70s and 80s: it’s about loneliness and not fitting in, and ultimately about strengthening own personal identity. Being your own unique person.

In contrast, youth movies nowadays seem to be only about fitting in into the mainstream. People need to brand themselves with clothes, makeup, shopping, and gigantic parties. These movies promote herd mentality. Not to mention that the expensive brands usually originate from sweatshops in Asia where workers need to work around the clock to be able to feed themselves.

Why do we consume instead of creating or enjoying? Why do we seek our self-worth through possessions and self-enhancement through dressing up and modifying our bodies?

Again, it’s the environment that we live in. Advertisements, television, magazines, shops, other people’s Facebook status updates and vacation photos. They all shout that we should strive to not look natural or casual, and that we must travel (and especially take photos!) around the world so that we’re not considered boring.

Travel can certainly broaden the mind, but we need to take the time to truly understand the local people and nature. Every place has a history and life of its own. It should be given the appreciation it deserves.

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