Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"The opposite of consumption isn't thrift.....

....Its generosity" - Raj Patel. This esteemed Economist was interviewed on the radio yesterday, discussing his new book 'The Value of Nothing'. He estimates that if the standard $5 hamburger were to be priced according to its true social and environmental cost, it should cost in excess of $200. Borrowing the words of that wise social commentator, Oscar Wilde, he observed that “nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing”. Imagine if all that 'cheap' plastic 'Made In China' tat you see in the shops actually cost our wallets what it cost the planet in resources, what it cost the human spirit of the sweatshop workers who made it....Something to think about. Here's hoping the library is going to get a copy of that book in! Please find a link to Raj Patel's website (its well worth a look) below.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Madame Blackthumb is in luck

I'm managing to do pretty well in the growing things stakes at the moment. Probably something to do with that blistering Perth summer sun finally having abated. Radishes, anyone? These have to be the best 'vegetable growing for dummies' plants around. Since sowing the seeds I've basically just thrown a bit of water at them occasionally and otherwise ignored them. Its a bit of a pity that I don't actually like the taste that much, but the BH enjoys them. At the moment I'm growing the 'French Breakfast' variety (shaped like a miniature sweet potato), but I also have some seeds for a black skinned radish which will be novel.

On the 'I'm only buying secondhand clothes' front, I'm struggling a little at the moment because its getting a bit cold! I've found that its hard to get long sleeved T-shirts (my usual cold weather staple) in secondhand shops - I guess because they probably don't stand the test of time too well. So I'm still living in a couple of long sleeved tops I wore when I was pregnant - needless to say they're rather stretched and have generally seen better days. I'm sorely tempted to go and get some new ones but I'll stand firm and go on an op-shop mission this afternoon with my fingers crossed.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The woes of consumption in a world of ice doughnuts

In the Weekend Australian Review Magazine this weekend (May 15-16, 2010) there is an article - 'The Hungry Mile' by Christopher Allen - discussing an exhibition of photographs taken during the Great Depression. It diverges from a general discussion of life during the Depression (as related by the photographs) to a general diatribe regarding the ills of consumerism - the relevance of which is a little questionable - but nonetheless it seems to express many of my own feelings on the topic much more elegantly than I ever could. I'm sure Christopher Allen won't mind if I share some of his words with you.

" The lesson drawn [from the exhibition]....is how little we need to survive and even to be happy; the contrast makes the bulimic consumerism all around us look absurd as well as indecent. The trouble is that it is not only individuals but whole societies that end up addicted to this voracious appetite for the superfluous....Advertisements urge us to borrow the money we are told we need to enjoy ourselves; freedom and spontaneity are the promise, but the reality is the servitude of indebtedness....it isn't a conspiracy, just something that is the logical consequence of the way a consumer economy works......the explicit axiom of this ideology is that our level of consumption is an index of our level of wealth, success and happiness. It is a version of the almost instinctive drive to eat as much as we can, with the dim sense that if we eat more we are more, an instinct that may promote survival in the age of cavemen but leads to self-destruction in a world of ice doughnuts....Consumerism, in the same way, gives the illusion of wealth....In reality it destroys wealth"
Here here!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The shopping diet

In response to a previous post where I had confessed to seeking comfort in shopping during a rough time, a follower helpfully pointed out that shopping triggers a release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine in the brain. This is our pleasure response - whether it be caused by sex, smoking, alcohol, chocolate, or, as we now know, buying something - when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of whats going on with your neurons, apparently its all pretty much the same. So it makes sense that Psychiatrists are now starting to discuss shopping addiction in the same way as we already think about gambling addiction, compulsive eating, and so on. So this is why we shop! It triggers the release of our natural happy brain juice.
Interesting, isn't it, how the other things we do that trigger our pleasure response - taking drugs, having sex, eating chocolate - have been cast in various ways as 'naughty' or morally reprehensible(to varying degrees), yet shopping hasn't. Its not to say that smoking and eating high fat foods don't come with their attendant risks and draw backs, and I'm not advocating these, but if you think about it, shopping for and buying things you don't technically need isn't really all that good for us either - in terms of the effect it has on your bank balance, your home (who else has a paucity of storage?), your planet, those Chinese sweatshop workers......Thing is that buying things makes the world go round, huh, so noone really wants us to think that maybe its not quite ok.
Think of the multibillion dollar dieting industry. What if we were to funnel some of that focus and effort to control our impulses into buying less stuff? Maybe we should all let ourselves eat a bit more chocolate and try to go on a bit of a shopping diet instead.