Will That Be Medium, Large, Bucket Or Trough?
by Eve Livingston
Weaving through a sardine-packed, happy and colorful crowd last spring at the Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco, I felt a familiar surge of pride and gratitude about being part of such a dynamic community in a gorgeous area of the world. People of all ages were beaming and beautiful, smiling and interacting joyfully, as they waited for the next group of adorable, well-rehearsed and enchantingly costumed school-children to pass in front of them, dancing their hearts out, giddy to be in the parade. I was moving from one side of the street to another, through a dense ocean of humanity, and I came upon a very tall woman with a contagious smile and sparkly wand in her hand.
She towered over me. Must have been seven and a half feet tall, which is almost a good two and a half on me. I craned my neck to look up at her, as I tried to maneuver past, in my effort to reach the side of the street beyond her. She was sweet and friendly and we shared a smile while she said to me, “Watch your step, please don’t knock me off this.” Her eyes traveled toward her feet to direct my gaze so she could help me navigate. I then realized why she was so tall: she was on a platform made of an upside-down, thick plastic milk crate. Indeed, I would have tripped on the corner had she not helped me notice why she managed to have a vertical edge on the rest of us. I playfully responded, “No worries, I never knock a woman off her soap box, especially while she’s making good use of it!”
After all, a woman’s soap box is sometimes as precious as her favorite fancy patent leather pumps, and, now and again, it’s even more worthy of the attention of others. I think this might be one of those times.
Without padding this topic with too much excess, my particular soap box today is excess.
At the ripe old age of plenty of age, I’ve somehow managed to never make my way into to an all-American, All-You-Can-Eat Buffet. Until last night. In a casino, no less. Well, I guess, word on the street is that these buffets (these in the casinos, and on cruise ships and some tourist destination hotels) are the ones that give buffets their real name. I was both curious and famished; a combination which made for an irresistible opportunity to see what’s going on in these vaunted, culinary halls.
I’d been, to be completely honest, afraid of seeing such a thing since I was a child. Sounds silly, maybe, but it’s true. I knew it would disturb me, worry me, even anger me. I was right; it did, all of the above, in no small measure. In fact, it was kind of terrifying. Did I pay my money and take my plate and overfill it like the best of them? Yes I did. I was determined to roll up my sleeves and be more than merely an onlooker. I wanted to know what this experience was all about.
I nearly disappeared into my oversized, cushy vinyl booth as I did my best to have this well known experience for the first time. Glancing around the gigantic, sparkly and overstimulating dining hall, visualizing the huge mounds of food in a vast array of shapes, colors, sizes and textures, I said to my dinner companion, “This might be the downfall of Western Civilization.”
We talked about this, and I added, “…we’re an odd species, we humans….” She wanted an explanation.
I said, “This way that we work so very hard to seduce each other into environments such as these buffets, offering a place to be temporarily swept into fantasies of limitless resources, unending indulgences, no need to feel guilty about me, me, me….We are just so unique in the natural world in these ways that we shoot ourselves in the foot. For example, with our eating habits: these buffets, among other excesses….we are pillaging the oceans and the general environment so that, among other reasons, we can promote a fantasy of limitlessness. And it pays big bucks, so there’s a reward in the excess for nearly everyone who participates. Except, of course, for the little guys.”
The little guys who are fished out of the sea and piled insanely high in the shrimp bowl, the little guys whose forests are denuded so grass-fed critters can end up on the carving platters, the little guys who bust their butts waiting tables or bussing or washing dishes and who don’t get a fair cut of the loot. And guess what? We are them.
Just imagining what ends up in the dumpsters behind the casinos was staggering. It makes me crazy. It makes me mad. It makes me want to start an anti-buffet revolution. Yes, this will be my new cause. My raison d’être, when I’ve carved a window in my other causes, my other reasons to get up on my soap box, and sing for my supper, and try to do what I can to help.
I suppose it’s a good dovetail for what I do naturally, which is to look, and be curious, and ask others to look with me, and try my best to find a good way to explain to them what it is I see, in the hopes it might lend a broader perspective to their ability to see.
Please don’t knock me off my soap box–this particular soap box–before you help yourself to an all-you-can-eat bird’s eye view. This sort of pretending that unsustainable and wasteful excess is sustainable and worth it, just for the glorious and temporary fantasy of limitlessness, is nuts. Ok, there, I said it. Nuts. Clinical term: cuckoo. One more piece of evidence (but a very personally accessible one that we can immediately do something about!) that we are all too often heading in the wrong direction if we think we’re gonna stick around this planet a whole lot longer.
Join my grassroots movement, won’t you? Forego the trough. Hell, protest the trough. I suspect we can still manage to make vacations pleasurable enough. Then when your great, great grandchildren want to know the delectable taste of shrimp, maybe you (certainly your children or grandchildren) will have a good chance of seeing their face as they experience it for the first time.
We’ve gotten this far in our evolution…why get so delayed now? Try. Just try. As Jill Bolte-Taylor said, “Trying is everything.”