Friday, April 25, 2008

Land of Plenty, So Much Waste

We're about to end our short visit to what some call the Land of Milk and Honey, where dreams of prosperity have a chance of being fulfilled with the abundance of opportunities. In the world's most powerful country, one can experience bounty to the heart's desire.

It seems that everything is super-sized in America, from the very land that they live in to the chips that they buy in the grocery. One time I was buying supplies in the supermarket and was looking for nachos for our snacks in the hotel room, and was looking for small bags of chips that would be just right for Trina and I. But all that was available were bags of chips that could feed a bunch of college kids on a drinking spree. They didn't have the tingi-tingi pouches that are so common back home.

Even the softdrinks (or soda, as it is known in the U.S.) are all sold either in bulk or in big containers. I had no choice but to get the 6-pack, although I foresaw that we would just have to consume quantities beyond our ideal volume, therefore adding unnecessary sugar in our system.

The Americans invented super size savings and the warehouse club stores. It seems that the prosperity of this country has led people to indulge in excess, with the seeming endless supply of goods and produce within their affordability.

IN the Philippines, we have done the opposite, specializing in the tingi and super-small-size. From toothpaste and shampoo to cigarettes, retailing has adapted to the Filipino's buying capacity. Isang kahig, isang tuka, the saying goes. You can't afford to buy a whole pack of cigarettes? Then buy per stick. You can't afford a liter-size of shampoo? Then buy the sachet. That's the Filipino way of life.

So as I was browsing through the shelves of the grocery, I couldn't help but think about how my countrymen are living a marginal life back home. A sense of guilt nagged at me.

I also couldn't help but feel a little envy at the Americans, who seem to be in ignorant bliss to the pangs of the third world countries. But then again, this state of plenty has also led to a rising percentage of Americans being supersized. Diabetes and heart disease are common, attributed to increasing obesity among them.

As I go to the check out counter to pay for my purchases, I noticed that the cashier placed the items purchased by the customers in plastic bags. Not much different from the Philippines, even during this time of environmental awareness, except that back home, the supermarket baggers packed the items in the plastic bags until the bags almost tear, just so that the customer will be given the least number of plastic bags as they could possibly give, in an effort to cut costs.

Here in the U.S., the supermarket clerks seem to not have a care in the world as to how many bags the customer is given, sometimes even placing only one item in a bag. I wondered if this practice affected the balance sheet of the supermarket, and added to the overhead costs of the business. Worse than that, I wondered how much of this non-biodegradable plastic will pollute the Earth. Or, I'm hoping, will be recycled. I remember the last time I went to the U.S. three years ago that I was asked by the supermarket clerk whether I wanted paper bags or plastic bags, in an obvious effort to give the customer a chance to be environmentally friendly. But now they don't. I wonder why...

Of course, being appreciative of the culinary arts, Trina and I tried different restaurants and fast food outlets. The quality of the food varied, but there is one got it----super size orders. Being used to the Philippines where one order is almost just enough for one person, we repeated the mistake of ordering separately. And one hundred percent of the time, we got overwhelmed by the size of the servings.

With guilty consciences, we couldn't finish the serving given to us. We resort to doggie-bags but often, we end up not being able to eat the left overs because there's no microwave in our hotel room. In the end, the food gets thrown in the waste.

In the fast food courts and restaurants, it is not uncommon to see lots of leftovers that are sufficient to feed a family of six. Two families even. Such a shame. Especially when I know that back home people are scrounging for the next meal.

But now there's a bit of reality catching up with the Land of Plenty. Just this morning I heard in the news that two of the top warehouse club stores are rationing rice. Costco and Sam's Club are limiting the amount of rice each customer can buy. Not a new story to the Filipinos. But I'm pretty sure to the Americans, it is something that is almost unimaginable. Indeed, how can this come to be?

But the rice crisis is global. Prices are rising not just in the Philippines but around the world as well. In the United States, the price of rice has increased 70% this year. Well, various explanations have been given, some of which attribute the rice crisis to increased demand in the “billion-people-Club” --- China and India----and others say it is the sudden shift from food crops to energy crops brought about by the trend of biofuels.

Whatever it may be, it sure is a cause of concern. Once again, as I prepare to go back to my motherland and back to my duties, I just hope that those of us who can do something to make the lives of our countrymen better will not fail the people's expectations and hopes. After all, our country may not be a Land of Plenty, but the people should not be deprived of hope.

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