A cartoon in a recent New Yorker shows God seated behind an executive desk dictating to a rather foxy angel-secretary. God says, “And, for being careless with the environment, put tiny, hard-to-remove stickers on all their fruit.” It reminds me of a pet peeve.
Whether it’s an apple or an orange or a nectarine, a little label is stuck to it that tells us it’s an apple or an orange or a nectarine. When you peel off the label, the skin of the fruit comes with it, leaving an open sore. Why must we have labels on fruit? The best reason I’ve heard comes from the cartoon: It’s divine punishment.
I realize that some of these labels have bar codes on them, and I suppose that makes it easier for the check-out person to ring up the tab, but we’re getting marred fruit in the process. Furthermore, putting labels on fruit involves printing and stickum and machinery to get it all done. It seems like a lot expense and trouble.
The first labels on fruit, if I’m not mistaken, were on Chiquita Bananas. These little yellow ovals were stuck to the banana skin before the days of bar codes, so there was no reason for them except to make us think these were special bananas. “Chiquita,” if I remember right, means “cute little one,” a term of endearment. Do we really need a label to tell us we’re eating dear little bananas? Most of those bananas didn’t seem cuter than other bananas anyway, and, frankly, some of them were downright ugly.
Going on, why do we need leaf blowers? Those contraptions are a menace. They’re so noisy the operator has to wear elaborate sound-deadening ear muffs, and yet guess where you’re likely to hear them: outside hospitals, nursing homes and funeral parlors during grandma’s grandma’s services.
I’ve been in parking lots where, after an ambitious leaf blowing, a hundred or so cars were covered with dust, leaves and insect parts. A maintenance man saved a little time, perhaps, but we all ended up with cars to wash. That doesn’t sound like efficiency to me.
Nor is it good for the environment. It means lots of water down the drain. There’s also the gasoline to run the stupid thing. And what about manufacturing it and shipping it to where it can cover our cars with dirt. A long handled rake is easier to use. It gets all the stuff in a pile on a piece of canvas where it can be wrapped up and carried off to mulch the garden, leaving nearby cars shiny and clean.
Then there are these little green and red lights glowing all over the house telling me my TV, stereo, computer, printer, DVD and half a dozen other gadgets are ready to switch on. Why do we need these little lights? They’re spooky. If you happen to be stumbling through your rooms in the dark, you can think beady eyes are watching you.
Years ago I read that it takes 16 power plants going night and day to supply the electricity for our ready to serve lights. Without them, we’d be burning less coal, less oil, creating less toxic waste, and, as far as I can tell, not losing out on anything.
It seems we do a lot of things just because we can do them, much of which adds to cost and uses up the limited resources on this planet. I’m sure labels on fruit, leaf blowers, and ready-to-serve lights were considered progress when first thought of, but it’s hard to see much advantage to any of them. They are minor symptoms of a major malady: too many of us living too lavishly and too wastefully. Environmental scientists tell us this is about to come to an end, voluntarily or otherwise.
C. S. Lewis, author of the Narnia tales, proposed SPOP: The Society for the Prevention of Progress. As 2020 comes on, SPOP turns out to be something we desperately need.
Bob Jones is the former minister of the Guerneville and Monte Rio Community Church.