(Another Guest Blog from one of our favorites, Suzanne Pyrch. Continuing to instruct us on the lessons she is learning about ways in which we can help to save our planet.)
My wife and I love travel. We believe the old saw that travel broadens you. And yes, after a recent trip to Italy where we thoroughly enjoyed the food, I mean that as a double entendre. But it is how travel gets the wheels of your mind working that is so exciting. The wheels of my mind began cranking several weeks ago in Florence.
We needed to do laundry early and quickly before we set out for the day’s adventures. There was a Laundromat near to the place where we were staying. It was small, a bit dingy, and clearly a concession to tourists as most Florentians do laundry at home. The soap was dispensed from a machine similar to a coffee machine. This machine sported a handmade sign saying BIO, and when you put in a 50cent token detergent oozed down a tube into a plastic cup. After using the detergent, you returned the plastic cup to the repurposed coffee machine — that is if it didn’t slither out of your hand first.
Once we got the wash in, I left Deborah with the laundry and went looking for a place to get coffee and a nosh. I found a café at the next corner. It was a bright, woody and pleasant place with a display case full of tempting noshes. The regulars were standing at the counter drinking their espressos from those cute, tiny ceramic cups. To place my order I had to dodge in between the regulars. Since Deborah was minding the laundry, I ordered cappuccinos and apricot croissants to go. The barista put the croissants in a paper bag and the cappuccinos in plastic Dixie cups with no lids – and not even the good red Dixie cups, but the translucent white cups with the ribs.
I took it as a cheerful challenge to juggle the bag and two cups for the half a block back to the Laundromat. It was only when I had everything secure on a bench that this experience set my wheels turning. While plastic Dixie cups were not exactly eco-friendly, they were an indication of how little a concession Italians make for to go. And then the corollary popped into my mind: Americans are addicted to speed and ease. In the ballet of pedestrians, bicycles, scooters, motorcycles and cars that is Florentian traffic, not once did I see a delivery vehicle. And in investigating four Italian cities, I saw maybe two McDonalds.
As the detergent cup in the Laundromat evinced, Italians don’t go in much for overpackaging. There weren’t even many pizza boxes to be found. A trip to the market would cost you 5 cents extra if you forgot your bag. Even at a food kiosk in a park, the cappuccinos were served to us in ceramic cups. At a time when some first world countries are shipping their garbage to other countries, a cut back on garbage seems quite sane. According to The Clean Air Council, each American uses 500 disposable cups per year. I figure that the little detergent cup in the Laundromat saves many pounds of garbage each day. Not only does it save on garbage, but also the resources and energy needed to create and transport the containers that become garbage.
Protecting our endangered planet is very important to me, but sitting in that Laundromat I found a more personal reason to rethink the way we do things. When I pulled apart the apricot croissant, I realized that fresh replaced fast. Food in Italy is not an afterthought. Meals are meant to be savored, not dug out of boxes. I remember one meal at a restaurant where they brought to our table a metal mesh basket full of fresh fava beans. As we talked, we pulled apart the pods and ate the fresh beans. The only refuse was nature’s own biodegradable containers, and the taste was splendid. As an impatient American, I was sometimes annoyed when I had to elbow my way through espresso drinkers standing at the bar in order to place my order. But now I realize that they were much more likely to experience their coffee as a beverage rather than as a quick drug ingested on the run. I found out that a happy consequence of creating as little garbage as possible is living life intentionally.