Consumer Culture

When I hear the word ‘consumption’, I immediately think of alcohol. Alcohol is, however, far from the only thing that humans consume.

In society today, it is very easy to obtain what we desire in a food and beverage sense. When I was a kid I remember hardly ever having take-away food. Take-out was reserved for special occasions—like birthdays—and nothing else. Having dessert was also a rarity; a special treat when a friend was around for dinner on a weekend. Now however, every night when I work with my friend, we go to Maccas on the way home. Even just the other day, on the way to my house to make stir fry for dinner, we called past Maccas to pick up some fries for the five minute car ride.

For myself and many of my friends, fast food is something that we regularly have and it is exceptionally easy to get a hold of. A part of this is because we have the money to pay for it ourselves, and the other part is because we are no longer kids, so we get to decide what we eat. We also have our own means of transportation so we don’t have to rely on our parents when we want to get something. However, the other reason why ease of access is so simple is because fast food is more available and less frowned upon. Fast food is no longer seen as the rare treat of birthdays, although these businesses now have to evolve to keep up with the health craze that has become so popular.

In my opinion, fast food isn’t the only food industry to have expanded. In general, people appear to eat out more and eat in, as a family, less. When I was younger, my family always had dinner together at 6:30pm every night. Even now, with two of my brothers having moved out of home and the third currently in Canada, my parents and I sit down at the table to have dinner together when we can. Due to the nature of my work and my dad’s State Emergency Service participation, however, this doesn’t happen very often. When one of us isn’t going to be home for dinner, it is easier to just say ‘we’re doing help yourselves for dinner tonight, so eat whenever you want’. This prevents food being made that will inevitably be thrown out since no one is there to eat it, which, ironically, happens every night I’m at work.

Hospitality is an industry built on consumption and while eating is a fundamental human function, it is also a commodity. We sell people what they need to live and charge them more money for it depending on the restaurant’s reputation. In going to restaurants, we consume not only the food and drink available, but also the service of the people who work there and we measure the restaurant’s worth by the quality of its food and its staff. Despite being made for consumption, however, every night at work I see bucket loads of food thrown away, both off of customer’s plates and from the kitchen. The contradiction of our world is that we have a consumer culture—not just in food, but with fashion, brands, and media as well—and yet, at the same time, we also live in a throwaway society. We do not keep our leftovers or mend our broken items; we simply throw them away and get new ones.

One thing I find that doesn’t get thrown out at work very often, however, is alcohol. People would rather throw out the rest of their $40 seafood dish (our most expensive meal) than the rest of their $34 bottle of wine (our cheapest wine). At the restaurant I work at, and many others like it, it’s quite rare to get a table that comes in and doesn’t have at least one alcoholic beverage. Drinking goes hand in hand with going out for lunch or dinner, and even more so when it’s fine dining. This isn’t quite so unusual when you consider that one of the most well-known aspects of Australian life is its drinking culture. In Australia, unless you are the designated driver, you are often given questioning looks if you don’t drink. There is an unspoken agreement that when a group of people get together, either to go out or to go to someone’s house, drinking will be involved. We specify on invitations whether alcohol will be provided or you must bring your own, and when you go to a restaurant you will always be given a wine list. Alcohol is everywhere and there is always pressure to drink and keep up with the group, or risk being labelled as a ‘pussy’ or a ‘lightweight’.

In our society we consume everything, not just in the literal sense, but also in the passive sense. We take in everything we see and read, and incorporate it into our daily life, often without even being aware of it. This consumption culture isn’t always a bad thing though, as it can help us to stay up to date with what’s going on in the world around us. Sometimes, however, we need to learn when to stop and just appreciate things without having to have another drink, or own the latest technology, or wear the latest fashion. Sometimes we need to stop worrying about what everyone else is consuming and just consume life. We need to stop filling ourselves with alcohol and fill ourselves with the knowledge of the world. But sometimes, just sometimes, we need to consume a good meal and delicious beverage to go with it.

Words by Tamsin Alexander

Artwork by Sheydin Dew