buy-nothing-dayThe hypocrisy of the moment didn’t hit me until I was halfway through my chicken sandwich. It was the day after Thanksgiving – Black Friday to the shopping-crazed masses, and Buy Nothing Day to the minority of dissenters. In the morning, as I prepared the children for the day, I sent a quick email to my friends reminding them of the importance of resisting consumption on this hallowed national holiday of orgiastic greed and materialism.

So I took the boys and we spent the day visiting relatives and making a tour of the city’s parks. As I sat on a playground bench on a beautiful late-autumn afternoon, I felt pretty darn good about myself. Not only had I not participated in the shopping madness, I had also helped teach two children not to overconsume – or so I thought.

Just then, the youngest came up and told me he was hungry. So without thinking, we piled into the van and headed where we usually head after a day in the park – Chik-Fil-A. We placed our usual orders and then sat down at our usual table to enjoy our food.

Like I said, the hypocrisy of the moment didn’t hit me until I was halfway through my chicken sandwich. Suddenly, I became acutely aware of how much trash our meal was generating. For the pleasure of consuming a couple of 4-piece nuggets kids’ meals and one chicken sandwich combo, we also consumed this list of non-food items:

1 Paper sandwich wrapper

2 Paperboard nuggets boxes

1 Paperboard large fries container

fast food trash2 Paper small fries containers

2 Plastic chocolate milk bottles

1 Large styrofoam cup

1 Plastic cup lid

3 Plastic straws

3 Straw papers

8 Ketchup packets

1 Mayonnaise packet

6 Paper napkins

2 Paper bags for kids’ meals

2 Plastic wrappers for kids’ meal toys

2 Plastic placemats for kids

1 Paper placemat on tray

1 Paper advertisement for special Chik-Fil-A events

In fact, the only thing we used that was not thrown away was the plastic tray that we carried everything on. If you’re keeping score, that’s 3 people eating one fast food meal and generating 39 separate pieces of trash – almost as much meal-time trash as we generate in a week at home.

So my anti-consumerist pride came crashing down. I had carefully avoided the consumerist shopping rush, but then got suckered in by the routine of my family’s fast food habits. Which has gotten me to thinking:  Short of boycotting fast food and only eating at places that don’t use so much disposable stuff, what can be done to remedy this problem? The industry and it’s hyper-consumptive habits will march on whether or not my family continues eating there.

dishesMy first thought was to start bringing my own non-disposable dishes, and to ask the employees not to use disposable materials to deliver my food. Then, I could just take them home and wash them with my other dishes. But that would put undue stress on people who have no control over how those decisions are made and would accomplish nothing.

So my second thought was to make an appointment with the manager, and to see if we could work out some sort of system where I could get my food without so much trash being involved. But there again, a manager probably doesn’t have the authority to do something like that, and there are health department regulations that would be violated, too.

So the conclusion I have drawn from my failure at anti-consumerism is that the resistance must go to the top, and it has to be multi-faceted. We need legislation that encourages creative ways to practice less consumptive fast food dining, such as a tax on how much trash a restaurant produces.

But more importantly, we need to encourage corporations to embrace the idea. Perhaps a discount for people who bring their own dishes? Or maybe just a little sanity – such as no longer wrapping individual straws and no longer making ketchup packets so small that you need five or six just to eat your fries. Either way, as Wal-Mart is showing, corporations respond substantially to protests and pressure from consumers.

So I’m going to start drafting letters to all the fast food corporations I patronize, explaining my concern about trash and encouraging them to develop less consumptive policies. I’ll also write my local and federal representatives.  I’ll share any responses I get back. Until then, let’s all keep our eyes open for "moments of hypocrisy" when we realize how our own habits can be part of the problems we are working to fix.

Jim Moss

Jim Moss