I recently heard a radio interview with a British gentleman who called himself a “garbologist”…His work involved archaeological excavations of Victorian era landfills. He explained that the first appearance of convenience foods and packaging was during the Victorian period. Glass containers and such were common.
A few years ago, I watched a documentary called “Bag It” about the use of plastics and packaging in our contemporary consumer society, and the deleterious health and environmental effects of our being engulfed in plastic bags and packaging. It is an eye-opening film, to say the least. Once you watch it, you will observe your own use of plastics and throw away containers in a new light. The film will make you feel uneasy, all while entertaining you and making you laugh.
Since viewing Bag It, I have thought back to my own childhood with respect to how foods and other items were packaged back in the 70’s and 80’s, when I was growing up. I also thought about how items were packaged in France, where I lived from 1986 to 2003. I remember when a disgruntled former employee from a Tylenol plant poisoned a few random bottles of children’s Tylenol on a store shelf, causing one or more children to die. This stupid act provoked a very destructive reaction which affects all packaging to this day. Fear and mistrust have lead to tubes, bottles, and boxes to be sealed in layers of foil, foam, clear plastic and various devices which collectively place a huge burden on our landfills and which are terribly destructive to our planet.
As a kid, I remember going to a small butcher shop, creamery, and bakery with my mom. The butcher wrapped the cuts of meat in butcher paper, which was a brownish cantaloupe color, or else a light yellow. He would deftly wrap the meat. There was no plastic involved. At the grocery store, brown paper bags were used. At the creamery, little paper cartons which looked like Chinese take-out cartons would be filled with large creamy curds of cottage cheese. Baked goods were also packaged in paper boxes. At the grocery store, yogurt or cottage cheese were sold in waxed paper cartons. Juice often came in cans or glass bottles, as did ketchup or mustard. Very little was packaged in plastic. I do remember shampoo or conditioner bottles being made of plastic.
Today, when I shop, I am often shocked by the quantity of plastic that goes to waste. Plastics are difficult to recycle, and they are most often sent overseas to China for recycling, polluting the people and cities at their destinations and the oceans in their transport. Chemical companies and manufacturers and bottling and packaging plants in the U.S. are highly reluctant to use recycled plastic. They prefer the new and unused raw materials, which are sold in beads and melted to form containers. Paper is much easier, less expensive, healthier, and less polluting to recycle. Yet even organic and so-called health foods are most often packaged in plastic. Goods that are canned are lined in plastic, which leaches into foods. Plastics produce xenoestrogens which modify our hormones, our fertility, mental health, sexuality and may cause a variety of cancers and health disorders of which we are not yet totally aware.
It seems to me that fear of direct contact with food and germs causes the Anglo-Saxon obsession with packaging. I noticed that in England, there was a great deal more packaging and plastics used than in France during the time I lived in Europe. The French culturally seem to be a lot more comfortable with germs. Giant rabbits covered with fur, their eye sockets dripping with fresh blood would hang alongside birds with radiant plumage, or a calf’s head, its eye sockets garnished with parsley. No plastic in sight. I can’t say how many times I saw a baguette carried under someone’s arm from the bakery accidentally fall on the ground and be picked up to be taken home and eaten without a qualm. So much healthier than all of this plastic!!!
Apparently in Germany, plastic soda bottles are reused many times, which is a great initiative. I would love to see shops open where we, the consumer, can bring our own reusable containers and refill them at the store. I would love to see the use of recycled glass and paper containers come back. In “Bag It”, the filmmaker Jeb Berrier, brings home-made cloth drawstring bags to his local market to bag his produce. We could bring back containers to stores so that they could be refilled, rather than send plastics to China to be melted down, poisoning the air, water, people, animals…
There is a great obsession with longevity and health, in particular in the United States, where a fear of death and of aging is prevalent. Health foods and vitamins are promoted, often without thought about the consequences to the planet caused by the production of items such as avocados, nuts, coconut oil, fish oil. If we are harming our fish populations and our oceans, how can it be healthy for us to protect our hearts by consuming fish oil? My heart can’t be more important than the health of the oceans or of the fish. I recently read that if people continue to take fish oil and to fish the oceans at the current rate, our world population of fish would be depleted by 2050. It takes 50 gallons of water to produce one avocado. By transporting avocados all over the globe, we create droughts by taking all of this water away from the place where the fruit was originally grown.
To heal our bodies and our planet, we need to change the way we think about our bodies. We need to start worrying less about how long we are going to live and think more about the quality of our thoughts and our hearts. We need to think about how to be responsible for ourselves and how we connect to everything and everyone else. Simplifying our lifestyles, eating less, raising up our thoughts and prayers to purify our bodies, our food, our planet, and trusting more would go a long way to reduce refuse and excessive packaging and consumption of consumer goods. Growing our own food and buying foods that don’t require packaging such as fruits and vegetables helps too.
I am convinced that we would improve the quality and length of our lives by being more loving, compassionate, and connected without taking a single vitamin, without using water filters, without eating organic foods. By raising our energy levels through meditation and prayer, and by extending our thoughts, love, and gratitude to the entire web of life, we can heal ourselves, our neighbors, friends, family, pets, plants, and the planet.