The Colonial Theatre Tea Garden

The beauty spot of downtown Richmond was, in 1921, the Tea Garden of the brand-new Colonial Theatre. Herein, we recreate the essence of elegance, joy and hauteur that was once found in Virginia's first real picture palace. Bathtub gin is available at the top of the grand ramps.

Friday, May 02, 2008

As all of you know, I am not a particularly original person. I tend to draw inspiration for these musings (oh, what a lovely Victorian-era word) from someone else's idea.
Further, as you all also know, I am not an especially environmentally-conscious person. The destruction of West Virginia mountainsides bothers me not in the least, as long as the coal produced keeps the industries of Baltimore and Richmond perking along happily and thereby increasing the value of my stockholdings in said industries. (I have, by the way, invested heavily in coal concerns lately. I figure that the oil-based economy is already on its way downhill.)
In my own way, though, I'm rather "green." (Conveniently, it's also my favorite color.) When L. over at Capital City Desk posted her Earth Day blog, I was appalled by the pie chart that she had found showing the distribution of...well, stuff in landfills.
It seems that a vast majority of the crap we throw away is stuff that can be recycled. When I think about my own kitchen trash can, I am immediately appalled.
There is a vast array of crap that I discard that really shouldn't even be there at all.
I have on my shelf of cookbooks a lovely tome published by none other than the sainted Thalhimer Brothers department store in 1932. While the recipes are fairly bland, some of the household hints are pretty good. Printed at the height of the Depression, this cookbook was evidently geared towards women who had previously had servants to do all of the work, thought only of the kitchen as that weird room they'd never seen, and were now forced to do all of this on their own. Most of the recipes include the direction "Light the gas stove." Umm, yeah, if you don't do that, the food doesn't cook. But--in 1932, some of the previously-privileged ladies might not have known that.
Among its helpful hints is a treatise on garbage. One of its suggestions is this terribly ingenuous contraption--a trash can that is buried in the back of one's yard and has a lid operated by a foot-pedal. Gets the trash out of the house, keeps it sealed and away from rats--so modern! I've actually seen one of these things in action, up in Bridgeport, Conn. It's great, but: it's tiny. It has a capacity of about two gallons. And it was meant to hold a week's worth of garbage.
In 1932, we were busily polluting the atmosphere with coal smoke and raw chemical waste, but at the same time, families were only producing two gallons of garbage per week. In 2008, as a single man, I fill a 20 gallon trash can at least once per week. What's wrong with this picture?
What's wrong is that we have created a throwaway culture. In 1932, we didn't buy Coca-Cola in two-litre plastic bottles. We either got it at a soda fountain, or bought it in glass bottles that were returned and reused. Food didn't come in plastic containers; it came fresh from markets and was prepared within a day or two of purchase. New household items didn't come wrapped in acres of shrinkwrap or plastic boxing. If things were wrapped at all, they were wrapped in paper or cardboard, both at least biodegradable.
I have always prided myself in my fairly traditional ways; I do still buy food at the markets and use fresh, rather than prepackaged, food. I make gallons of iced tea rather than buy dozens of canned sodas, and I don't really use much of anything that comes in blister packs. Yet, I manage to produce a huge can's worth of trash.
Then, I consider some of the sideline effects. Why do I use a can of spray starch? Because using real starch in an automatic washer is a pain in the ass. Why do I use an automatic washer, instead of a washboard or a wringer washer? Because it's a pain in the ass, and I don't have that much time on my hands. How did people do it? Oh, yes, they had domestic help. Why are there so many people wandering the streets of Baltimore without work? Oh, yes. They represent the class of people who were once employed as domestic servants...but aren't now because no one can afford them... so they're unemployed... so we now buy spray we dump aerosol into the atmosphere and the spent cans into the ground...
Just a bit more to consider, as I prepare for tomorrow's classes. I know that in my first-period class, I will hear an endless crinkle of officially-forbidden plastic bags, as my kids consume their "breakfast" of cheese curls and potato chips from plastic bags and a nourishing Pepsi. Go and grab an empty Utz bag, squeeze it for about five minutes, and you will hear the sound of my morning classes. My students are poisoning the environment. Clearly, though, I am as well, given the amount of trash that I produce. Now...cheese curls and Pepsi for breakfast? Well, that's the subject of another rant.