Consumption in Times of Uncertainty – Lessons from our Trash

As the first chapters of the book “Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage” point out, “garbage has often served as a kind of tattle-tale, setting the record straight” about our consumption (Rajthe & Murphy 2001). With this in mind, I went down to our kitchen trash can and noticed two main things:

1. Used Lysol Wipes

While the wipes were expected – the sheer quantity in our trash shocked me and led me to wonder if we collectively are consuming sanitizing products wastefully.

In the past, garbologists “have learned that we waste more of what is in short supply than of what is plentiful” (Rajthe & Murphy 2001). Despite our difficulties in finding lysol wipes, we seem to go through them at an alarming rate. Although an increase in sanitation is expected and desirable, future archaeologists may find our use of sanitizing products was wasteful/inefficient and further contributed to shortages. Moreover, fear of shortages have caused many to stock up on items such as hand sanitizer, cleaning products, gloves, and masks that they don’t need – many of these products may end up in the trash. Its hard to blame anyone for stocking up though – especially given how recommendations and information from official sources seem to be constantly changing. Thus, garbage from this time may shed light on how panic and unclear information can worsen or even create shortages.

2. Frozen Food Packages

This was somewhat shocking to look at because our family usually tries to eat whole foods and home cooked meals. However, the malaise and stress of quarantine has left us not wanting to put in further energy into planning and cooking our meals, causing us to revert to frozen foods. One Forbes article states that “People are consuming more alcohol, smoking weed, playing video games, eating a lot of junk food, binge-watching Netflix and adult films more than ever before” (Kelly 2020). In this way, our quarantine garbage could shed light on the stress many are feeling and how we cope.

Fortunately, my family can afford and access these low effort foods. For many, financial pressures or lack of food availability may be causing them to put further energy and effort into eating as cheaply and efficiently as possible. I imagine future garbologists may find a large difference in consumption patterns between different neighborhoods based on socioeconomic status. The pandemic has already exacerbated and made apparent a number of disparities and differences in consumption patterns may reveal further inequalities in our society.

References:

  • Kelly, J. (2020, April 6). Americans Are Excessively Eating, Drinking, Smoking Pot, Playing Video Games And Watching Porn While Quarantined. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2020/04/06/americans-are-excessively-eating-drinking-smoking-pot-playing-video-games-and-watching-porn-while-quarantined/#14024aa5404e
  • Rathje, W. L., & Murphy, C. (2001). Rubbish! the archaeology of garbage. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.

About Me – Al M.

Hi Everyone! I’m currently a sophomore in the Medical Anthropology and Global Health major. My academic interests are in how socioeconomic inequalities can affect an individual’s physical and mental health. I am especially interested in addressing health disparities in rural areas. This class is my first experience with archaeology (aside from movies) and I am interested in learning how archaeology can tell us more about our own society and the inequalities that exist within it.