Waste Not, Want Not?
I never really understood the expression/idiom/injunction ‘waste not, want not’.
On the face of it, it seems to say: if you don’t waste it you don’t want it…
But obviously that’s not the real message. The idea is that if you waste something, you are implicitly saying you don’t want it. So if you waste food, water, energy, and time what are you saying? That somehow these things don’t matter to you?
No. You’re saying that you don’t think they are scarce resources.
Which is not the case.
All of these things are hugely important and increasingly scarce, it’s just that most of the people we know, and those reading this blog (I’m guessing) live in such a way that we don’t feel the pinch of that scarcity.
That perspective may change if we found ourselves identifying with somebody starving, dying from a disease caused by lack of access to fresh water, migrating from a small island that will soon go under due to rising sea levels, or just told they have a terminal disease(other than life)….If only we felt ‘as one’ with such people, we might be aware of the scarcity and waste less of the precious resources that such people may die for want of.
Perhaps the world is getting a bit smaller in this sense. Jeremy Rifkind seems to argue as much i.e. that our circles of empathy are expanding, and the suffering of ‘others’ is beginning to feel more like our problem, because those others are ‘closer’ due to social media and travel, and therefore closer to us emotionally too.
Perhaps. I still think there is a role for experience here. I suspect you only real ‘get’ the tragedy of waste when you really feel the pinch of scarcity at the level of personal experience…
Indeed these thoughts were prompted by reading a good news story in The Independent that says we are wasting much less food than we used to. We are still wasting far more than we need to, and there is massive scope for improvement, but it seems when we felt the pinch- when money was tight and couldn’t be wasted, we didn’t let invisible vegetables languish in the invisible parts of our fridge, or have one spoon of humous before throwing the rest out uneaten a week later.
I am not sure whether I have a point here- but does this suggest that the experience of scarcity may be an important part of behaviour change strategies to reduce waste? If so, how do we go about it- can we simulate scarcity to help us waste less of the precious resources we are (for now) lucky enough to have?