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spirit vs technology









reading wendell berry has been providing me with a sobering perspective for viewing advertisements for various products on tv, grocery store shelves and on other people. vegetarian eating had already heightened my awareness of our society's unhealthy system of producing and consuming food but the further detachment from the earth, the dirt that still exists underneath all the paved surfaces, and our misuses of its resources are represented so well in product/service advertisements, that are reaching out to the masses.

to describe a few: if you are lactose intolerant to cow's milk, which man was never designed to digest, there is a product for you to consume before eating dairy items which will suppress your bodies' natural urges into accepting the unwanted food. (happy thought.) if you and your child are venturing forth into nature such as a zoo or playground, there is a chemical product designed to rub onto your hands to kill nasty nature-like things such as germs or bacteria. (help mom, i touched something living, make me clean again with a man-made toxic cleanser from a plastic bottle.) my favorite -- if you, as a housewife and mother, are too busy doing dishes with your dishwasher, to spend time with your kids then start using paper plates! not the thin flimsy ones that require a table under them but thick plastic coated ones. this way you can throw everything in the trash after your meal and feel good about spending some quality time together (in front of the tv?). at the end of this commercial, i kid you not, a woman in an apron and blond bouncy hair, in her well-to-do kitchen announces "don't do a dish day" designed to make you feel good about using disposable paper goods for the entire day and do no dishes. give yourself a break" from that difficult labor of loading the machine.

walking down the aisles of the super grocery stores i'm dwarfed by the choices of each item - plastic sandwich bags (what happened to using waxed paper? or the free bags that you bring your produce home in...) offer a staggering display. the frozen section, booming with the sound of their giant open face freezers 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, has four full aisles of lifeless ready-made food. one item in the store at least we all buy is toilet paper. bentham, my brother who writes for an environmental journal did some informal research on fort howard brand paper products. he was in the grocery store looking at green forest toilet paper -- the only one advertised as "environmentally friendly" at the big super stores and he read that it was made by fort howard. nearby on the shelf was soft and gentle, also a product of fort howard. he called them and they explained - both tissues are produced, and have been produced in the same exact method, they are the same product, they both contain the same amount of recycled materials. the difference is the way they are advertised. they reach a wider audience if they market their product to the environmentally conscious as well as to those that think recycled papers are dirty.

one question i asked my aunts and uncles this fall was what did you do with all of your trash when you were young growing up on the farm (in northwest iowa during the 30's and 40's). they responded that they didn't have any. reducing the amount of stuff in the house was not an issue because it didn't enter the house. food was stored in glass containers, reused. plastic didn't exist. paul read the paper in town. other paper was reused, saved or burned. food waste was given to the pigs. any metal waste was recycled or buried in a scrap heap behind the barn. it seems so simple. the amount of paper that is used, in a school for example, in a day that cannot be recycled is too much. and it can be avoided -- don't use colored paper and rely on email and intercom for announcements, those two alone would reduce the pile. walking across the pentacrest large clear plastic bags sit outside the buildings waiting for pick-up that contain almost all paper, some pop cans and a few perishables like candy wrappers. why do institutions allow this? a fellow art teacher, whose wife teaches a local elementary school, helped run a paper making project in which the students gathered the schools' recycled paper supply and learned how to make their own paper. i love this idea. it brings about an awareness for the necessity of being conservative in our uses of resources and the value of an adjustment in your attitude about the amount of "work" it takes to reduce the waste.

in contrast to the above advertising messages, one recent commercial is of a corporate man exiting a subway station onto the street downtown in the skyscrapers, steel and cement, gray, and he catches a flash of a sports vehicle with a bike and canoe heading out of town presumably and he wonders longingly "it's tuesday, people work on tuesday, where is he going?". along a similar line the magazine ad of a corporate woman sitting in a taxi cab downtown with a dissatisfied spent expression and the image is cropped with a larger collaged image of her sitting in a gondola in venice. at least the message here is that corporate america has the desires of travel and leisure, even if not a closer more spiritual on-going connection to the earth.

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