We have doubtless all seen one or more First World Problem memes detailing frustrations that are only experienced by privileged people in wealthy countries. They are typically tongue-in-cheek devices (at least I hope they are tongue-in-cheek) to make light of trivial inconveniences. (See, e.g., here.)
The other day I came across a change.org petition that makes me wonder at the problems some people really think they have. (It definitely was not tongue-in-cheek.) The petition was to the CEO of Starbucks aimed at getting Starbucks to make its Pumpkin Spice Latte (a seasonal beverage that appears every fall) vegan and dairy-free. Apparently (and this in bold letters on the request for signatures) “there is currently no vegan option for this drink mix, which is a total bummer” and “many people are shocked to hear that the mix contains condensed milk.”
I am not insensitive to those who are lactose intolerant or who for health or other reasons wish to eat a vegan diet. I love to cook for friends and have no reluctance to modify menus to take into account their food allergies or other dietary restrictions and preferences.
But really, friends. Is it really that great a hardship that there are some by-no-means-necessary items of food and drink that are not vegan and dairy-free? Is one’s life greatly diminished (or diminished at all) by being forced to go through the fall season without a pumpkin latte? Aren’t there plenty of other vegan and dairy-free lattes to choose from?
And aren’t there more important things worth trying to change?
I just finished reading a book on “rightsizing” that my friend Tim recommended to me, Rightsizing Your Life, by Ciji Ware. I’ve been pondering a section of the book titled, The Continuing Curse of Accumulation. It points out that “self-storage is now a $15 billion industry with some thirty-nine thousand facilities nationwide,” and quotes a spokesman for the Self Storage Association that “in the last decade alone the number of self-storage facilities nationwide has grown about 70 percent.”
What does it say that we own so much we can’t even fit it into our houses? That people pay money to store their excess belongings off-site? And surely it is “excess”; if it were needed it would be where we had easy access to it. The author of the book gives an example of one couple who spent $36,000 to store the contents of a house whose style clashed with the decor of their new home. Another couple kept an entire storage locker of clothes they no longer could fit into. Surely somewhere there must be a family that could use the house contents that no longer worked with the couple’s new decor (not to mention the better use that could be made of $36,000). Surely somewhere there must be people who could use the clothes that no longer fit us. What in the world are we doing with so much that we don’t need?
I can’t help but think of the passage in St. Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus admonishes his disciples not to store up for themselves treasures on earth. Good advice under any circumstances. But a particularly good reminder in a world where some have so much more than they could ever need or use and others have so little. Perhaps a bit of reflection on our patterns of acquisition and accumulation is in order.