Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of comments on Facebook and online that say something to the tune of, “You know Fall has arrived when you can get a pumpkin spice latte!” This has made me think a bit about our connection, or more accurately our disconnection, to the environment and change of seasons. The important markers of seasonal change are no longer crops and harvests, weather, or even a calendar, but the latest coffee flavor served at cafes. When pumpkin or gingerbread is being served, then you know Fall or Winter has really arrived. In essence, time has become a commodity.
We are increasingly seeing and defining ourselves solely through our connection to and consumption of the material world. Our very definition of ourselves and the world around us has become dependent on the brands we like. Along with this, we’ve become increasingly disconnected from the process of making the products we consume and the effects they have on the world. I don’t just mean environmental pollution, which is a huge factor, but also the lives of the people who helped contribute to the making of these products. Take the pumpkin spice latte, for example. Who picked the coffee beans (and how much were they paid for this work)? Who milked the cows that made the cream on top (person or machine, small or large farm, what are the lives of the cows like)? What about the pumpkins and the spices, how were these grown and transported (and who has access to the seeds and patents for these spices)? All of these things go into the products we consume but they become invisible when our lives become commodified. We become focused on the brands and products we buy rather than the story behind them (which is often extensive in our globalized world).
The time that went into one specialty coffee or one pair of jeans or tennis shoes is much more extensive then the ten minutes it takes for the barista to make your drink or the cashier to ring you up. I think keeping the real time that goes into them, as well as all the lives involved in the process, help us to stay grounded and understand our interconnection and dependence on each other. This awareness may also help push us to advocate for those who have put at a great disadvantage by these global markets and processes, which look mainly at profit rather than the human cost involved. So while you’re sipping your latte, take a minute to consider what went into getting that drink into your hands. It might be more complicated than you think!