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Pub: Sydney Morning Herald

Pubdate: 03-Jun-2010

Edition: First

Section: News and Features

Subsection: Opinion

Page: 15

Wordcount: 853

It takes flair to scoff ourselves stupid and waste so much


I’m looking at a painting called Cake by French-born Darwin artist Franck Gohier. It features a brown cake with white icing, a map of Australia and a list of ingredients; white flour, gluten, glutton, gluttony, white sugar, salt, artificial colour, artificial flavour, raising agent $$$$. Australia, like the cake, is chocolate brown, girt by sea. Around it a bunch of fat-cheeked pink kids, like mini-Rudds, play at being cowboys.

But to all the Gohier-type knockers and whingers who’d have Australia hang its head, I say, no. Resist. Stand proud, dammit! Because we have so much to be proud of. Not only the biggest houses in the world. We also have the highest carbon emissions per capita and, at a massive 150 kilograms per person per year, the most food waste.

That’s something, am I right? It shows achievement in distinctly adverse circumstances. Even now, when countries like the US are finding their carbon emissions going a bit limp, our graph, already so fulsome, is still rising. We’re doing our bit and more.

Same with food. US writer Marc Ambinder wrote recently: “At current rates of increase … it will take less than 30 years for all black women to become overweight or obese.” Course he didn’t mean all black women. He meant black American women. Those Somalians and Ethiopians are so not cutting it in the obesity race.

Not like us, running a close sixth in fatness (0.2 per cent behind Greece – but won’t they be tightening belts right about now, while we remain stoically troughside).

Oh yes, we eat. How we eat. And still we manage to waste a glorious 3.3 million tonnes of food, each and every year! That’s a full quarter of our intake. Scoff all you like. It’s not easy. Waste on this scale takes more than commitment. It takes flair.

Our successes in this field are legion. In overall, landfill-type waste we weigh in at a commanding 690 kilograms per person per year, second only to America’s heroic 720 kilograms.

And we don’t just fill land, we also occupy it like it was going out of fashion. Sure, the monster houses help here but so do pioneers like the Urban Taskforce’s Aaron Gadiel, pushing tirelessly for less planning and more exurban land releases. More sprawl. It can only enhance our emissions. The more we drive, the fatter we get, so it helps there too. Win-win.

In packaging alone we consume 90 kilograms per head per year – compared with Denmark’s pathetic 10 kilograms. I tell you. We’re up there.

So I say be proud. If consumption were an Olympic sport we’d go gold. Aussie Aussie Aussie! Oik oik oik!

And the thing is, despite all this put-out we still find the energy to be tougher on refugees than almost anywhere. It’s all in the cause. Think it through. Reffos are poor, right? So they’ll never consume enough per head and can only dilute our efforts, taking the consumption graphs diving. Hardly in the national interest.

What’s our secret? Truth be told, I reckon it’s mostly in the attitude. That fearless thing we have, the boundless optimism which is probably down to the sunshine. That and natural superiority. Plus of course, the Diggers.

Because we can only do it by being the world’s second-richest large economy, per capita, after America. And for the cash to fund our relentlessly rising graphs, we devotedly dig and sell and burn more underground stuff than anyone. So there’s probably a kind of natural cycle to the landfill thing, otherwise the planet would start shrinking, right? With all the stuff we take from it? Landfill, cash, consumption. They make a neat sustainability circle, so we’re doing our bit there, too.

Speaking of recycling, my mum used to wash plastic bags. Gospel truth. Bread bags, meat bags, even frozen pea bags would be pegged out on the line, waving in the breeze for all to see. Needless to say we kids, eating our school lunches from the pre-loved baggies, were embarrassed to the point of scarring by this bizarre maternal tic, rightly marking it a failure of nerve. A failure of consumption.

Eventually, we ridiculed her out of it, or it out of her, and had shop-bought lunch bags like everyone else. She never really got the throwaway habit, but.

Australia may have started late in the consumption steeplechase, but we’ve sure made up for it since. And while many argue, specially after this last spoofy election, that Britain should copy our voting system, seems to me they’ve already copied our habits.

A recent Spectator article blamed British obesity on the demise of the class system, with its strict rules about when, where and with whom to break bread. But I reckon the Poms should take all the reverse colonisation they can get and be grateful. Who brought them Neighbours, blatant disrespect and rule by fat chavs in hoodies? Who taught them to spend first, think later? Who broke Britain? Cripes. We did.

The baking instructions for Franck Gohier’s Australia cake go like this: 1. Mix thoroughly with wooden spoon until all the lumpy bits are beaten out. 2. Turn up the heat. 3. Gluttony.

Too right.


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