Today, I bought a puffer for my Dad and a blister pack for medication. The puffer bothers me. Always has. It is a little plastic machine that one primes and presses a button to release a specific amount of vapour. After 60 puffs, it is thrown out – or recycled, though I am not confident that it can be recycled.
This is not a thing that calls lyrically to the consumer: ‘Buy me! I’m so pretty and if you have me you will feel sooooooo good!’ Nope, this is another kind of commodity, one with with a gruffer voice, scratchy and rough: ‘Tough luck, kid. You’re stuck with me, if you want your Dad to breathe more easily’.
When I am tempted by chocolate or coffee, part of the temptation is to get one with all the fair trade, ethically harvested, good for the rainforest logos. That way, I can feel like I am being good for the planet, or at least better, while indulging in goods that are grown far away from our northern climes. And I can feel that, by making the more ethical choice, I am contributing to consumer demand to shift away from the Nestle’s of this world, toward more thoughtful companies.
But there is no such choice with the plastic puffer. I can at least consider growing my own spinach rather than buying the lovely green organic leaves in large single-use plastic boxes. I can’t grow my own puffer vapour. I’m stuck without any consumer demand to shift from these single use plastic machines. The pharmaceutical industry is less susceptible to market forces. I should probably write a letter.
There are reasons that I won’t get into here why my Dad needs a puffer. Are those related to consuming? Absolutely! When we think about why we need our puffers and our pills, all packaged in plastic, it comes down to consumption patterns. As Super Size Me (2004) made explicitly clear, the fast food industry is disastrous for our health. Ill-health is often treated with medication (and all its packaging) rather than a change in lifestyle (though drs often urge that too!).
One of my favourite books is The Joy of Movement by Kelly McGonigal (2020). In it, she discusses some research being done on hunter-gatherer societies, specifically the Hazda. They are active for much of the day, squat rather than sit and have no incidence of depression, anxiety or cardiovascular disease (McGongical, 2020, pp. 11-14). These people don’t need puffers or the plastic that comes with them. Food for thought!
On a related note, I took the time to be with my Dad a little more, to make sure that puffer was bought during the daylight hours. This is part of the shift to focus more time on being present with my family and my community and myself.
McGonigal, Kelly (2020). The joy of movement: How exercise helps us find happiness, hope, connection, and courage. Penguin Random House.
Spurlock, Morgan (2004). Super size me.[Film]. The Con.