Consumption Junction

23 10 2006

I cleaned out my cupboards yesterday because I realized half of the things I purchased when I arrived were still there and were also partially-eaten. I have a terrible, terrible habit of buying things I think look tasty only to realize once I open them they don’t. At. All. But rather than finish them out of a feeling of guilt or necessity, I leave them sitting in my cupboards. This means, months later, I am blessed to have a full cupboard. Of half-eaten, gross, mostly carbohydrate-rich, foods that I have touched only twice: once to experiment, and once to store away knowing I will never touch them again.

So while cleaning out my cupboards, tossing the bag of crunchy mini pão de queijo snacks and the stale chocolate cookies (that admittedly were delicious, so much so that I ate half the box of them in one sitting and then put it away for fear I would actually finish it entirely) I decided to take mental stock of what I had actually consumed in my house since arriving in Brazil.

Here’s what I came up with:

-a half box of milk (milk is sold in boxes here)

-16 yogurts
-one and a half bottles of red wine
-something like 20 liters of various kinds of juice, with soy and without
-6 avocadoes
-3 bags of popcorn
-1 bag of Doritos
-1 passion fruit (whose insides were so bitter and gel-like, I actually tossed it. That was Day 2, so don’t judge.)
-18 liters of bottled water (until I realized I have a water filter next to the sink.)
-2 liters of soda (orange and Pepsi)
-6 bottles of beer
-3 bags of peanuts and cashews
-1 bag of Japanese peanuts
-a 1/2 tin of International Foods French Vanilla Cafe (a gift from my mom)
-2 scoops of Brazilian coffee
-a 1/2 bag of New England brand coffee
-1 package of pacoquinha
-1 bunch of celery
-2 bunches of carrots
-1 sundried tomato salad dressing
-4 olives
-1 lime sorbet
-1 bag of ravioli, which in NO way compare to ravioli in the States.
-1/2 gallon of ice cream (that suffered intense freezer burn)
-1/2 small round of Minas cheese (OH SO good.)
-1 loaf of bread (a combination of 2 loaves of which I ate only half.)
-1/2 package of chocolate biscuits. Eh.
-1 and a half delivery pizzas. Eh x 2.
-10 rolls of toilet paper. (These I did not eat, but I realized they should rank among what I have consumed.)
-3 boxes of laundry detergent. (See above.)

Dennis’ mother would freak out if she saw this. “Why aren’t you eating? You’re crazy! You’re gonna die!” But I assure her, and my own mother, the list does not accurately portray what I actually put into my system here. Clearly, from the time I arrived, I consumed caipirinhas and beer at a rate consistent with my own oxygen intake. And every morning, I consume coffee and bread. And at lunch I have a healthy meal at school. So the food I actually consume in my home is mostly snack food, since it is generally a private kind of torture to cook a complicated dinner for only myself. 

Making lists like this, and taking the time out of my day to quickly think about the things I use, is an interesting kind of reflection. What are my patterns and routines? What kind of a mark am I making? Today, my uncle sent me a link to a website that helps to examine the environmental footprints we leave, and what behaviors contribute to leaving larger or smaller footprints than others.

I am embarassed to look at my list of half-eaten food products. While I thought my footprint would be relatively small, it is, in fact, almost twice as much as the average footprint in Brazil. Not having a car here certainly helps me make less of an impact, but having a larger apartment, eating meat more regularly, and not having energy efficient appliances hurts.

I was thinking about recycling today, too. Here at school we have a recycling program. A man who lives in a favella near Shopping Iguatemí comes daily to pick up our paper, cans, and plastics. He walks here pulling his cart and he takes the materials to a recycling center, where he is paid by the kilo for our trash. He is paid something like, in US dollar equivalent, $0.02 for a kilo of paper, $1.50 for a kilo of metal, and something similar for plastic. He is thankful, according to an interview with him that is posted down the hill in the cantina, for being able to take away our material because those few centavos help him and his family survive.

In order to help him, our school needs to produce a lot of waste. But if we are to think of cutting down waste, we are jeopardizing the health and welfare of this family. This practice is common–recycling to sustain families. But this kind of thinking does not contribute to forming a culture that values the environment.  

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