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26TH November 2012

Culture - Food - Geopolitical - Race to the Bottom - Timeless - Uncategorized

Adieu, Twinkies. Au Revior HoHo. Can America consume less and enjoy more?


Twinkies

Only in America would people violently trample each other for discounts, exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have.

@brett summed up the supreme irony of America today. A country sublime in its ability to innovate, to produce and to lead nevertheless has faulty brakes when it comes to how to apply those resources. In a Tocqueville kind of way, I like using the French as a sounding board for how much is enough. My experience has always been that the French are huge fans of America, and genuinely want us to do better in the family of nations. Like an older brother that has learned a few lessons in growing up as a nation (and losing it’s world dominance in the process) I’ve always thought of France and the French as friendly nation-mentors. Hey, any culture that once supported a king with 10,000 rooms in his house would be experts at judging excess.
I’ve also worked tirelessly this year on the Sharing Economy, trying to help foster a community that is more self aware of consumption and looking for ways to utilize assets more effectively. Yes, Collaborative Consumption is green, and fits well with GenXY, but it also is a good solution to curtail waste. Many think Collaborative Consumption could be as big as the industrial revolution. Some of the best voices in the space come from Paris, in the work on OuiShare and Mutiniere.
For the past 10 years, roughly after 9/11, my friends in Paris would list this as one of few faults of Americans; conspicuous and constant consumption. Probably got us in a lot of trouble. But surprisingly it’s not often the shopping and debts that they point to. Here’s what they generally say:

Consumption of calories.

The Twinkee headline this week got me thinking about, with all our bounty we are unable, unwilling or incapable of  governing our intake.  Look, 150 calories of processed corn syrup won’t kill anyone in one sitting. But who in America eats one? And who does it just once. This food group has been a best seller in America for a generation. Later in the week, another caloric orgy takes place; It’s hard to believe, perhaps, that the average American Thanksgiving meal equals 3,000 Calories That would mean a 160 lb. person would have to run at a moderate pace for four hours, swim for five hours or walk 30 miles to burn off a 3,000-calorie Thanksgiving Day meal. Most do not.  Trying to work that off with the halftime football toss is as futile as try to get warmth from the slanting sun as the ball flies through a deep winter sky.

Consumption of natural resources.

How much gasoline does the United States consume? 1.18 gallons per person per day, every day. This figure includes every man women and child, (only 89% have licences, and about half of them in my neighborhood deserve to be retested regularly). 33 Gallons a month, enough to drive a little less than 1,000 miles on any of our great highways for the princely sum of about $4.00 per gallon. In France, that would run you about $10.00 per gallon, which is a) realistic , b) forces conservation, c) reduces the number of escalades tooling around in Paris. Add that to the amount of plastic we consume (another pertro-product) and you have the makings of a genuine addiction.

Consumption of Media.

The one that bothers me the most, and demonstrates the worst lack of self control is couch potato TV time: 2.5 to 2.9 hours per day. Worse as you get older. I’m not sure if this accounts for time spent on other screens like tablets and phones. I doubt it, and I will concede that at least most of that screen time is spent learning, communicating and socializing (in a mild form). But almost 3 hours per day in front of  the TV tells me people need something better to do.

So, the point is this: if even the French can point it out (and do so with empathy) it must be pretty obvious. If we can spend a little more time being thankful for what we have, consuming in more reasonable proportions, and buying and wasting a little less of what we don’t really need… we’ll be a little better off.

Giving up Twinkees is a good start.

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