Feelings from Downstein

There I was, sitting at a corner table in Downstein with my friend. Since I wasn’t that hungry, I decided to people watch for a bit. I decided to do what Teresa Brennan calls “fee[ling] the atmosphere”. It’s been awhile since I said down during prime cafeteria rush  hour so I “felt” and I “felt”. Most of the tables around us were filled; those with friends either chatted away or, like those who were alone, quietly glued their eyes to their phones while mechanically feeding themselves with their spare hands. 

I didn’t particularly have an appetite for cafeteria food, so I did what I usually do when I’m unsure about what I want to eat and am not pressed for time: line up at the station with the longest queue. As strange as it sounds, I have done this for quite some time now. Just as word-of-mouth marketing operates based on personal recommendations from friends and family, I tend to gravitate towards things that other people like when I am ambivalent towards the subject. In this case, because I didn’t have a particular preference for the food that was offered, I wanted to see what other people stood in line for. I didn’t want to go around asking for opinions; instead, I observed. Some stations are more popular than others, so if people were willing to devote a fair amount of time to wait for the food (granted that they had that time), then it shouldn’t be too bad. This is perhaps what Brennan talks about when she discusses the idea of “transmission of affect” as a “process that is social in origin but biological and physical in effect (3). By interacting with other people around me in the cafeteria, I was influenced by their emotions, or affects.

Half an hour later, my friend and I were both ready to wrap up. My friend left a pizza crust, a piece of roast meat that he said was too dry to chew, and some soup that was too spicy. Since I was trying to prevent food waste, I asked him why he couldn’t finish his food (he probably saw it coming too). I was particularly curious in his answer for the leftover corn soup, where he said: “it was too spicy”. But that didn’t cut it for me because when I passed the soup station, I saw that the soups were identified by name as well as by ingredient. So I asked a follow-up question: “did you know that it was going to be spicy?” Knowing that I was on the quest to cut down food waste, my friend looked up and said “no…” It turns out that although he read the title of the soup (which said “corn soup”), he didn’t read the ingredients. 

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As we approached the tray return station, I realized something that I haven’t given much thought to before. There are a total of three trash bins where people can dispose their leftover meals but they aren’t exposed. Instead, the bins are situated under a nice, clean, white marble countertop that has three plate-sized holes drilled through. Perhaps it is designed to fit the chic green mosaic tiled walls of the station, but as my friend tossed his leftover scraps of food down the hole, it didn’t feel like he was throwing away food… it simply looked like he was making the food “disappear”.

So I did the unthinkable thing of peeping down the hole and stared at all the bits and pieces of food that has gathered over the first few hours of lunch. I saw all sorts of colors, shapes, sizes, which made me think of Jane Bennett’s discussion of the “vitality of matter”. Although I don’t know the reasoning behind the countertop (perhaps it was purely for aesthetic considerations), I do think that it obstructs the force of things. Bennett uses Sullivan’s anecdote to suggest that “a vital materiality can never really be thrown ‘away’, for it continues its activities even as a discarded or unwanted commodity.” (6). With this in mind, I hope to communicate the same sense of vitality in the food that goes wasted every meal through the small collection of photos that I took. Cutting down food waste only takes a little bit more willpower.

fist-pump-baby-lets

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~ by ws932 on September 30, 2016.

3 Responses to “Feelings from Downstein”

  1. I really found this blog post to be best in learning (and more specifically, observing). Your description of tray return station really struck me. It is so often that we feel like the food we dispose of just miraculously disappears. This “illusion” has a lot to do with the design of trash disposal stations. Or, even more so in restaurants, when our plates are magically taken away from us thanks to fairy food disposers… formerly known as your servers. Where does the food go? We are too good at hiding our trash and I am looking forward to learning more about the consequences through your ecology!

    – Roche

  2. (Since I got ahead of myself and commented before class… I am reposting my comment)
    I really found this blog post to be best in learning (and more specifically, observing). Your description of the tray return station really struck me. It is so often that we feel like the food we dispose of just miraculously disappears. This “illusion” has a lot to do with the design of trash disposal stations. Or, even more so in restaurants, when our plates are magically taken away from us thanks to fairy food disposers… formerly known as servers. Where does the food go? We are too good at hiding our trash and I am looking forward to learning more about the consequences through your ecology!
    – Roche

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