Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Consumption: Past, Present and Near Future

I recently took a trip to Key West. Here. I can prove it. See. I was in southern Florida but closer to Cuba than to Miami. I even took the obligatory sunset shot. There was plenty to see in the Keys, but some of the most memorable sights were of disturbing levels of consumption. No. Not just of alcohol or other recreational drugs, but consumption of the sea.


The Ghost of Consumption Past: Turtle Soup


Historically, sea turtles were a favorite on many sailing ships. They weren't difficult to catch and they could be kept alive in the bottom of the boat and killed as food was needed. In the late 1800's sea turtles were caught and canned in Key West. As you might expect, most of the turtles were caught off of the shores of other, poorer countries, in this case Nicaragua. Turtles were placed on their backs and their flippers were sewn together to keep them from flapping about. After being brought back to the Keys, they were kept in crowded bins called kraals and then slaughtered for turtle soup and then canned. This occurred until the 1970's. As has happened with every major fishery in the world in modern times, the turtle fishery collapsed. Overharvesting is probably not the main cause of collapse in this case; drownings in fishing nets, pollution and habitat destruction all contributed greatly. By the early 1970s sea turtles were protected in the US and the fishery ended. Only 7 species of sea turtles exist on Earth today and 6 of those species are listed as endangered or critically endangered (there's not enough data on the 7th). With how many times over-consumption of natural resources has led to huge crashes, I'm sure that we've learned our lesson.

The Ghost of Consumption Present: Cheap Trinkets From the Sea
After leaving the turtle cannery museum a little nauseous, I soon got really ill. I walked into one of many shell shops in the Keys. It seemed as though I was in some other country. Here are some of the wares that you could purchase in such a shop.

Shells, of course. And they're cheap. And most are from other countries. Poor ones. Yay!


How about sea stars from the Philippines? Dirt cheap! Why buy seastars from the Philippines when you're in Florida? Because they're cheap! And who's reading the label anyway? And where's the Philippines anyway?
Buy a gross, if you like! We can always get more!
Do you need coral, but hate busting it off of the reef yourself? Buy coral from someone else's reefs. Small coral heads, or large ones, it's your choice!!
Perhaps you're interested in something handcrafted?
These hangings are only $2.00. What a deal. Between shell collecting, assembly and shipping, you'd think that maybe they'd be a little bit more expensive to produce. Thank goodness that they're not! Need something even cheaper? How about a shell pelican?
If shells aren't your thing, then you could always look in the vertebrates section.
Interested in shark jaws or a few hundred of them?
Need an alligator head, but hate dealing with Ebay? We have a deal for you. Pick your size.How about a pufferfish blow-out sale?
Googly eyes are added at no extra charge and are extra hilarious. Can you believe only $10 for these beauties?
Perhaps you desire something with a softer touch. There are piles of sponges to choose from. Good thing these aren't soaking up our seas anymore! Be sure to check out the creatures made from sea sponges too!
I guess that we can assume that these resources will always be here for us to exploit (hopefully there will always be cheap labor to make our needed shell pelicans too!). I'd hate to see a world where we couldn't buy a shark skull, bath sponge and shell pelican all in one place and all for less than $20.

Ghost of Near-Future Consumption
Listen to the news and it's clear that there is great hope that we'll all go out and buy lots of stuff to stimulate the economy. (Warning: I'm probably going to go off here.) My wish is that you'll consume less this year. Try it. Fewer motorized toys, electronic gadgets, clothes and jewelry would probably do most of us good. It can be really hard to give other things. After 5 years of giving recording of me on guitar that I spent 100s of hours making and 100's more hours worrying about, I always felt bad giving them as gifts. That seems stupid, but I was never able to shake the nagging feeling that I was being cheap by giving something so small and insignificant. Hence, I'm not making CDs anymore (although they're available on request). Truly, one of the most significant Christmas presents that I ever received was a basket of simple things (e.g., papertowels) given to me by someone who could hardly afford to buy them at the time. It was truly giving. I hope that you are creative this year (maybe give your loved ones experiences or a laugh, or stimulate their mind or spirit or help them help others). Ideally, give of yourself even though it is scary. It hurts when someone doesn't care for what we bought them, but it's crushing when they don't care for something that we made. If we all did it, however, I think that it would be easy. Do me one favor this year. Don't buy me a seashell pelican. I already have two.

1 comment:

Kimberly said...

Thank you for the depressing reminder that humans are by far the most selfish creatures on the planet. To make things even better my sister and Robert just got back from Hawaii with a suitcase full of this crap...coral, sea stars, shell necklaces...

Let's just say that conversation did not end with a "hope to see you soon." :)