As a New Yorker, I should be accustomed to the fact that the annual Fourth of July hot-dog eating contest held in Brooklyn is local news. I should be, but I still cringe whenever I turn on my evening newscast only to see a line of people stuffing frankfurters and buns into their mouths at nauseating speed. Then I stop to think about why this is news (people actually enjoy watching it, it’s a “sport” we can all relate to, etc. etc.), and the minister in me reacts.
Of the many things I find objectionable about this yearly American ritual, the one that sticks with me the longest is how it celebrates quantity over quality. This is a disease that is rampant in the dominant cultures of our world. It is a disease that is poisoning our species, our relationships and our Earth.
“More, more, more,” we cry, never satisfied. Our national hunger for stuff–lots of stuff, any stuff, more stuff–is impossible to ignore. Like a person who needs only 2,000 calories a day consuming 19,000 calories of hot dogs in just a few minutes, we eagerly snap up the latest contraptions, gadgets and fashions with no concern about how our overconsumption affects others.
We decry the high cost of gasoline because we have built communities in which our individual vehicles are required to get us to our individual activities. We protest at the merest notion that our taxes should be used to support mass transportation, say, or renewable energy (much less fuel efficiency). Meanwhile, we’re spewing carbon into the atmosphere at an almost unfathomable rate. Our Secretary of State goes to China to talk about low-emission cookstoves in poor households while millions of Americans drive behemoth SUVs for neither sport nor utility.
We measure our economy by the number of new houses built, largely because building new houses means hiring tradespeople and buying appliances. Despite the fact that our national policies are designed to spur the construction of more and more houses, more and more people are, simultaneously, forced to live on the streets, in the woods and in their cars.
I’m part of the problem, too. I love my electronic toys (I’m typing this on my iPad), and yet I pay little attention to the pollution caused in China by the factories that make the screen I’m looking at, or the child labor in Africa used to mine the rare metals inside my phone.
And so I see myself in the face of the eating contest participant shoving processed meat and refined white bread into his mouth, trying to do nothing but eat more than the person standing next to him. I look into the mirror of truth, and see something I cannot live with. I need to go on a diet. A stuff diet. Maybe you’ll join me. We’ll be healthier together that way.