Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Affluenza book discussion (chapters 11 - 14)

Affluenza: The All-Consuming EpidemicHere is the discussion post for the third installment of the Affluenza, The All-Consuming Epidemic book club.

Chapter 11. Resource Exhaustion - One of the points made in this chapter was regarding the real costs of the products we buy. For example, when we buy a computer we don't take into account the 700+ materials that went into it, we don't account for the 140 pounds of solid and hazardous waste resulting from its manufacture and we certainly don't account for the 7,000 gallons of wastewater and the massive amount of energy used in production.

The argument was not so much that we need to necessarily give up everything (although there is merit in that point), but to be conscious of what we are buying and choose products, when we do buy things, that have less ecological impact. For example, if you must still buy coffee, make sure that it is shade-grown or organic (and fair-trade, I might add).

What items do you still purchase that aren't necessary, but where you've made a concerted effort to choose a product with a lighter footprint?

Chapter 12. Industrial Diarrhea - We live in a toxic sludge soup, where 1,600 pounds of synthetic chemicals are produced every year per capita. Over the last half century the production of these chemicals increased 600 times. Again, there are hidden costs. All that cheap food is the direct result of chemical use, with cost savings a result of fertilizers and pesticides. And how many of those chemicals are we storing in our bodies?

The estimate in the book that 2 out of 5 Americans will contract cancer at some point in their lives rings true for me. Of the 5 family members I have living in Seattle, 2 of them are battling aggressive forms of cancer.

We rail against products like DDT, but how many of you are aware of the dangers of Scotch Guard, a common product that shows up in nearly everyone's blood stream? How many of you are still using non-stick (Teflon) pans? Convenience never outweighs the public health risk of many of these chemicals yet we oftentimes turn a blind eye on them until the risks are so blatantly obvious that we can't do anything but avoid them like the plague.

How aware are you of chemicals in your environment? Do you get disturbed every time you see advertising for spray air fresheners, and that hideous Febreze? Or do you think their benefits outweigh any potential hidden cost?

Chapter 13. The Addictive Virus - Consumption is an addictive virus, hooking the victim into feeling a sense of reassurance when they have purchased all those goods. Yet the standards for what is fashionable or acceptable changes constantly (thanks to product improvements and new, additional features), thereby leaving the addict never feeling satisfied with what they own. So, they continue purchasing, hoping to feel like they finally have what they "need".

I found this statement interesting: "Psychologists tell us pathological buying is typically related to a quest for greater recognition and acceptance, an expression of anger, or an escape through fantasy - all connected to shaky self-images." This sounds awfully like many of the "therapy shoppers" I know out there. There is the perceived need to have the next best thing lest you be though less of, or think less of yourself.

I frankly don't care about recognition or acceptance based on what I own, wear, want, read or eat. But it seems like the majority of Americans are stuck with that sort of mindset. Do you feel this is a result of media influence (TV shows like Friends, Sex in the City, Desperate Housewives) or product marketing or both? Sometimes I feel like product marketing in a vacuum outside of media doesn't have the same impact as watching what your favorite stars wearing or using what is being hawked.

Chapter 14. Dissatisfaction Guaranteed - We are not only working ourselves to death in order to buy things we really don't need, but we are working ourselves into a state of unhappiness. That's not to say that rich people are inherently unhappy. For many, it's the goal of wealth that drives people too hard, displacing things in their lives that are necessary for an enjoyable life.

So, let's talk about real wealth in terms of friends, skills, libraries, wilderness and free time for napping. The more real wealth we have, the less money we need to be happy. Hell, I would take a significant pay cut to keep my afternoon naps.

I think if everyone made a list of their top ten "real wealth" items, many of them would be inexpensive, or needn't be expensive. Things like spending time with friends and family cooking, eating or talking, taking a walk through the park or on the beach, watching the sun set, stargazing, playing with their children, having sex, reading a good book on a rainy day, sitting in front of the fire.... the list goes on and on. Granted, for many, the list would also include expensive entertainment (eating out, theatre, sports, travel) but I would argue that it includes less material items than you think.

What are a few of your favorite things? I, for one, won't be including opening the door of my overpriced faulty refrigerator as one of my top tens.

That ends Section I. Symptoms. Stay tuned for Section II. Causes in two weeks.


Anonymous said...

I still purchase magazines. And feel guilty every time, but I love indulging in them and they let me escape my stressful life. To mitigate, I try not to buy too many items packaged in plastic, use reusable grocery and produce bags, use cloth wipes, diva cup, became a member of the local CSA so I can be a part of the farm to table clan and a myriad of other random small acts of goodness inspired by Crunch.

I don't buy air fresheners or cleaning supplies because I don't care for the toxins they bring into my home or were used to produce them. I use mainly bleach which isn't the greatest for the environment, but is necessary to keep my husband and mom healthy. Other than bleach, I try to limit my cleaning supplies to vinegar, borax and baking soda, but sometimes my mom brings in something wonderfully toxic like Endust. Oh well, she's dying of cancer so I don't argue too hard.

I don't care about keeping up with celebrity trends but I do care about feeling good about myself in clothes. So, it doesn't daunt me to shell out big bucks for a nice pair of jeans. Although I will say all of my expensive jeans (I have three pairs, I'm not a huge jeans whore) have come from Robert Redford's Sundance Catalog, whose efforts I support.

These are a few of my favorite things (sung by Julie Andrews, of course):
1. sex, I was going to go into more detail but decided against it
2. my (mostly) very thoughtful husband
3. my diva cup (did I just say that?)
4. eating produce that I have grown, right off the branch or ground
5. laughing with my family and friends
6. having close friends I can turn to (especially the ones who have silly nicknames for me)
7. internet access
8. an outstanding library system
9. skiing and snowshoeing with Dan
10. living in a safe neighborhood

Thanks for the great questions, CC. I look forward to reading more of people's responses... what?... not everyone is up at 4 a.m. because of back spasms? Take care, all!

Anonymous said...

Hey Rachel is 7am early? I was actually awake at 5 w/my 2yo but am just starting to come out of the fog now. At any rate, I strongly identified w/the part about needing to shop for recognition. I just want to have everyone see the good deals I got, or I just want to have all these cool clothes/kitchen tools/party trays/shoes/teaching supplies/etc so that I can lend them to others and feel useful or wanted. ACK! I get excited thinking about it. However, recently I have gone to great lengths to change my habits. We had 2 cars, one was totaled. We are not buying a new one. Without use of the car every day, I'm limiting shopping trips. That's pretty easy. I'm starting to put half the stuff back before checking out and really analyzing what I need. We have done countless trips to the thrift stores to donate and contacted friends or co-workers to see if they want stuff. Most of this is precipitated by our desire to foster/adopt more children and clear out the spare rooms =) I also have quit buying things like cleaning products, hair gel (still hard to give up shampoo!) and convenience food for which I have ingredients at home, like granola bars or bread. As for my fave things...hearing my son laugh, congregating w/the parents group each week, dancing during worship at church, the crunch of snow, sledding, snowshoeing, family hugs, hot showers and farmer's markets. I could probably go on! Thanks for the reminder that it's not stuff...I've only started this journey but it's people like you and all your readers that inspire me!

Anonymous said...

I had my couch cleaned, and he Scotch-Garded it without asking me, then charged me $175 for it. Livid does not begin to describe....

Ch. 13: I have a little piece of paper taped to my mirror, with just two words: "perceived obsolescence." I go look at them whenever I feel like I need "new" something because the old is outdated, lame, whatever. Perceived obsolescence is an unbelievable scourge. I may not be as fashionable as I could be, but I'm also not buying tons of crap to replace perfectly good older crap I'm constantly packing off to Goodwill.

Chemicals totally give me the willies. In my microbiology lab, we have to use Ajax to clean new slides before using them. This cleaning is done with our bare hands (to say nothing of the cleaner being washed out into l'environment). Now, Ajax may be perfectly fine, but I'd bet against it, and the smell makes me think it'd be a good bet....

--Shana in Missouri

Deb G said...

I'm joining the early bird crowd :)

Chapter 11: I still buy a few magazines too. I've cut way back though. I've also cut way back on arts/crafts supplies. I'm trying to only get local wool or organic fibers for my yarn, hemp, reclaimed fabric or organic cotton for my fabric. I'm also seriously considering not replacing my printer when it dies (on my third!). I think I can take what I need printed to the print shop and print there. Looking into it.

Chapter 12: I am very concerned about the chemicals in the environment. I don't buy any chemical cleaners anymore-haven't for years. No non-stick pans either. I've only got 3 new pieces of furniture in my house that could off-gas, and I bought them unfinished.

Unfortunately, I'm surrounded by them at work due to licensing requirements. Everything must be sterile.... I think about it a lot.

Chapter 13: Well, here's another area that not watching TV or main stream media really helps let go of what are culture says is necessary. And staying out of the malls. And not reading fashion/star magazines. And making my own clothing. I am so "not cool." :)

Chapter 14: My favorite things? Spending time with my friends and family, crafting/creating clothing and household stuff, taking pictures, journaling, my garden, walking, sitting on the beach, reading, listening to music in small venues/parks, cooking and eating really yummy food, and yes I do like to travel when I get the chance. Well these are more things to do/processes than products.

By the way-I'm still thinking about the discussion about the 'fridge. I've been planning on replacing my old water guzzling, energy hog washing machine with an energy star front loader. Now I'm weighing the benefits/costs.

Anonymous said...

@DebG: good one. I'm a nursing student, and the sheer volume of trash generated by the need for sterility is absolutely unreal. It bothers me, to the point where I've considered doing something else, but it'd be used whether it was me doing it or not, I've always wanted to do this, and I'll be as conservative as possible with waste, which not everyone is.

But still. The Triclosan in the hand soap, the water, the gloves, the wrappers on every. single. little. thing. It's crazy. Largely unavoidable, but still freaks me out.

--Shana in Missouri

Lisa Zahn said...

Yes, the Febreze and air freshener commercials drive my husband and I crazy! Just walking by a Yankee candle shop gives me a headache and sore throat. I read once that burning a paraffin wax candle, not to mention a smelly one, in your house is just like having someone sitting there chain smoking. The smell may be more pleasant, but the chemicals are killing you.

I still get some magazines too. They are a guilty pleasure! I have quit subscriptions to several, though, so I don't get them every month.

I am trying to craft only with materials I already have, instead of running out to the store to get the latest new thing. Using my stash is very satisfying.

I'm also trying not to buy new jeans or sweaters or any clothing just for fashion's sake. This is hard, even though I'm not exactly a fashion queen, but some of the new stuff is cute!

Oh well.

DC said...

Chapter 11. Resource Exhaustion

"Need" is such a slippery term. We just got finished reading a book about a man who lived in an Amish community for a year. From the perspective of that group, we don't need 90% of what we purchase, even though we don't buy that much compared to the typical middle class American household. Some non-essential (and non-local) items we buy regularly include: green tea (I really can't function in the morning until I've had a cup), jasmine rice (Asian recipes just aren't the same without it), chocolate (our dark master), and new (vs. used) clothes. We only buy fair trade, organic tea, rice and chocolate. We only buy clothes when our old ones have holes in them or (in the case of our son) no longer fit. Nearly all of the clothes we purchase are made with organic fibers and are fair trade. This makes shopping for them a lot more difficult because we have to order most of them on the Internet without having a chance to try them on.

Chapter 12. Industrial Diarrhea

My mother died at a relatively young age of a form of cancer that has been linked to chemical exposure. We try to avoid all toxic chemicals in our home. I do all of our cleaning with vinegar and baking soda, and we definitely would never consider using spray air fresheners or other similar products. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of air pollutants (emissions from cars, factories, power plants, etc.) that we can't avoid. We feel lucky to live in a part of the country with relatively good air quality.

Chapter 13. The Addictive Virus

Buying things to feel better or impress others isn't an issue for us. I sometimes feel a little worse when I buy things because I realize that everything we purchase (even the "green" items) has an environmental impact.

I think media influence and a multitude of other factors contribute to people's need to shop to boost their self-esteem. Both our economic system and social structure are based on consumption. I can understand why it's hard for some people to overcome this conditioning. I truly feel sorry for people in this situation.

Chapter 14. Dissatisfaction Guaranteed

I remember a story I heard a number of years ago about a well known Rabbi in New York who had recently passed away. A reported asked a close friend of the Rabbi, "What did the Rabbi enjoy most in life?" The friend answered, "Whatever he was doing at the time."

When we stop looking to things to define ourselves and bring us pleasure and start to look within ourselves, we can find joy almost anywhere. Even the most simple, mundane tasks in life can become a source of happiness -- it just depends on our attitude.

My top 10 "real wealth" items, in no particular order:

1) Spending time with family and friends.
2) Walking in the woods.
3) Laughter.
4) Listening to music.
5) Cooking a nice meal for people I love.
6) Reading things that inspire me.
7) Volunteering.
8) Taking life and myself less seriously.
9) Watching the sun rise and set.
10) Spending time alone doing nothing of value to the world.

Greenpa said...

#13. A number of years ago I had the great good fortune to meet Jack Gladstone- he was doing the camp-fire talk at a campground in Glacier; we talked a long time after. He's a unique and special singer/songwriter; Blackfeet, with a degree in philosophy and a Rose Bowl ring.

One of his song lyrics: Couldn't Stop Shopping.

He identifies the advent of the Hudson Bay Company stores as one of the factors contributing to cultural paralysis and decay among the native Americans-

Like so much in his music; it rings true.

Anonymous said...

Hey Crunch, I'm guessing you meant fair trade coffee not free trade. I actually don't know if my coffee is fair trade, but it is organic, shade grown and locally roasted.

I can't stand artificial scents, airfresheners, perfume. I try to keep it natural.

I don't try to keep up with clothing trends. I usually buy used and what fits or looks nice. I have taken on the challenge to not buy any clothing for a year though. My whole family may be able to accomplish this. This may be the year my family buys the least amount of stuff. As long as you don't count toilets, water heater, and windows as stuff.

Cindy in FL

Cave-Woman said...

I admit it---I'm a consumer.

I'm mending my ways...significantly. But it is taking a while---I'm abstaining from buying new clothes for six months, I'm buying more local foods...but it's a battle to retrain yourself when you have been indoctrinated so thoroughly into the consumer world.
Sounds ridiculous---but it is true.

As to a favorite "things" instead of experiences:

1. My rice cooker. I never would have bought one, but since it was given to me as a gift I find I use it all the time. I'm sure it has some sort of toxic after effect...I've just never seen any definite information either way. ( I believe the inner container is some sort of aluminum.) But it is such a help in my cooking.

2. My drum. I beat on it regularly, and it makes me happy.

3. My fine china. I bought it used, through ebay. I use it daily. It is beautiful and brings me much joy.

4. My little garden and my compost pile. Ah, therapy in a pound of soil!

As to toxic chemicals...

I've edited many conventional cleaners from my life because of asthma.

Nowadays I clean with baking soda, vinegar, borax, dr. bronner's and a little bleach ( It's my last holdout). I'm looking for a good bleach substitute, so any suggestions are welcome

Anonymous said...

cave woman - you could try non-chlorine bleach made from hydrogen peroxide.

Anonymous said...

CC: I envy this comment you made [I frankly don't care about recognition or acceptance based on what I own, wear, want, read or eat.]

At 37, I still give a crap what others think. I embarrassed to tell people I don't drink alcohol, or eat meat etc.

Fortunately, my daughter's needs always come before my own vanity. Except for that stupid dress I purchased to wear to a wedding recently. *sigh*

Anonymous said...

Hi - great post! this all sounds like voluntary simplicity. I dont know if youve covered it in an ealier post (Im a new reader) but its a concept worth investigating.

Anonymous said...

Ch. 11: Definitely coffee--heck, we're not just users, we're pushers. We sell organic, fair trade coffee at our church (as well as teas, cocoa products, etc.). We still buy meat, but only from local, grassfed operations. Our milk & dairy come from a cowshare that I run. (Except for mozzarella--argh! Can't anyone local make mozzarella?!?!)

Ch. 12: I have an odd relationship with chemicals. I don't tend to abstain from products specifically because of their chemical loads (except Triclosan, which I find just intolerable). But I do abstain from lots of stupid, unnecessary products like standard household cleaners (even "green" ones), processed foods, and a lot of consumer goods. This all by itself reduced one's chemical load pretty far. So I guess reducing chemicals isn't my focus, but it's been a side-benefit of our other lifestyle changes.

Ch. 13: I do think that TV and mass marketing have a lot to do with this, and I think the two are so intimately bound together that they're inseparable. We got rid of broadcast/cable TV a few years ago, and I've since noticed a dramatic drop in my desires for consumer goods. I think I no longer have a skewed view of what an appropriate lifestyle is like, which I think is one of the main effects that TV has.

Ch. 14: Lessee, top 10, eh:

1. Sex. Yeah.
2. Dinner together with my family
3. Good friends who help me out all the time
4. The folks working on starting the co-op with me
5. Our UU church
6. The prevalence of local farmers in our area
7. Our coffee
8. Our local library
9. Internet access
10. Cheap parks to camp at

Anonymous said...

(Caveat: I'm not reading along...)

Chapter 11. Chocolate, tea, and rice are the big ones. Chocolate is always organic and fair-trade, and I also try to support either local or start-up small companies rather than buying from the larger ones every time. I try to buy tea and rice in bulk as well as being fair-trade and/or organic, though there's one brand of organic medicinal tea in little bags that is better than anything I've ever found in bulk. At least its quality means that I can brew five or six cups worth of tea out of one bag before it runs out of juice.

Chapter 12. I do use non-stick pots and pans, though our current set is starting to wear out, and I plan to replace at least some of them with cast-iron. A lot of cooking already happens in the wok, which is not non-stick. Is Teflon only bad if you heat it? I've got a fair amount of it holding my heart together. Other than the non-stick pans, the house is pretty icky-chemical-free. And kind of filthy. But I'm home sick with the first cold I've had in months, despite everyone around me being sick all winter, so I figure that the filth boosts my immune system ;-)

Chapter 13. I think it's a combination of both. I don't tend to feel a need for things unless I'm at the store looking at them (and it has to be a physical store -- I'm much better about it when shopping online). I think my relatively non-consumerist habits were helped by being a geeky loner during school. While I've now become more involved with geeky/fannish community, I've never identified with it strongly enough to get drawn into the alternative consumerist market either. (Unless, as mentioned, I'm standing there *looking* at the shiny objects at the convention dealer's room. This is why I no longer bring money into the dealer's room.)

Chapter 14.
Sex is definitely up there. Right now, one of my favorite things would be not having a sore throat. Round-singing in a room with really good acoustics. Spinning (yarn). Spinning (around in a circle while going wheeee!). Libraries. Noodle soup. Warm green forests. Playing with words.

I do enjoy going out to eat, and to a good concert or play, but even those don't have to be high-impact. Possibly because I'm not much of a theater buff, I appreciated the fact that the Broadway musicals I've been to had higher production values and more skilled performers than the college campus productions, but that didn't actually mean I *enjoyed* the professional performances any more.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I do find that the air freshener commercials bother me. But I never thought anyone actually bought that stuff until I noticed the amount of grocery aisle space dedicated to nothing but compressed spray aerosols. I usually avoid that aisle like the plague. I was lucky enough to grow up in a house where clean smelled like soap, vinegar and baking soda. My DH on the other hand doesn't believe that something is clean until he can smell the lysol emanating from it.. yuk. I am guilty of using teflon pans though.

Fresh and Feisty said...

Jedimomma - I knew you had to be UU with the "we are pushers" comment :) I agree with a lot of what everyone has to say. Beth Terry made a post last week that fits in with this and my feelings. I have a hard time not getting to over-whelmed and guilty feeling. I want to do what's right but each of us has a different definition of what is right. Anyways, thanks for the post CC.

Going Crunchy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Going Crunchy said...

Thank you so much for doing this club. It so clicked with me and helped clarify what I've been feeling about society and consumerism. It's really made a difference in my life.

I haven't posted comments about each chapter....but I blew through the book AND watched the movie. Amazing. Shannon