The Amazing Plastic Spoon

I ran into this on Facebook, or Twitter, or some site or another. It’s been making the rounds, I guess.

“It’s pretty amazing that our society has reached a point where the effort necessary to extract oil from the ground, ship it to a refinery, turn it into plastic, shape it appropriately, truck it to a store, buy it, and bring it home is considered to be less effort than what it takes to just wash the spoon when you’re done with it.”

Of course, with a healthy dose of skepticism, the first thing I did was to research how much was involved in getting a plastic spoon to my dining room table, compared to what was involved in doing the dishes. A plastic spoon costs about 2¢. Washing a steel spoon, even if I paid someone to do it, is still cheaper.

(I’m sure that’s one reason why most people use plastic spoons only on rare occasions. The other reason is that plastic spoons are chintzy, and break in two pieces, and feel funny in your mouth, and generally just kinda suck.)

But 2¢ is still pretty damn amazing. Think about that for a moment, how many steps and how much transportation goes into producing plastic spoon and getting it to your table. And all of that for less than the price of two serious thoughts. Sheesh! It pays for half of itself just by me thinking about it!

Think about the implications!

If it’s that easy to bring you a plastic spoon, it’s similarly easy to bring you food and clean water, shelter and clothes, cure from disease, security and rule of law, cars and busses and computers and the Internet, and the list goes on and on. The world is a smaller place than ever before, and more and more people are doing more and more to help others, and prospering because of it. God has put us in a time and place in history in which world productivity and prosperity is greater than ever before in human existence.

Let’s talk about food for a minute. We can already bring nourishment to people staying in every far-flung location around the globe, even in Antarctica. That wasn’t always possible. We have an increasingly greater selection of food, something I’ve observed changing even through my lifetime. And we have more confidence now than ever that we will not starve through even the bad times. An incredible number of poor people in the US are overweight, which is nothing like what poverty meant throughout most of history— far more unhealthy, being poor historically has meant the risk of dying of starvation.

And this still happens in too many places in the world, because of extractive political institutions. Frankly, there’s no excuse for starvation in today’s world, and I believe there’s a special place in hell reserved for rulers who exploit their people to starvation, while all around the rest of the world is prospering. But even that basic human phenomenon, the abuse of power, used to be the norm; now it’s the exception.

Truly amazing. I don’t think we should ever feel sad or worried by the blessings God has given us, but rather should expect them to continue and to increase, as indeed they have been.

Yet, everyone who posts the “Amazing Plastic Spoon” image, they seem to think that “amazing” is code for “sad and distressing.” Is it because there’s something wrong with me, that I don’t think an amazing feat should distress us and make us sad? Or because no one wants to be the bearer of good news?

It could be both. On the one hand, there is definitely something wrong with me, because I no longer watch or read the news. I do follow a number of niche news sources, which I can trust to give me information I can use without just trying to whip me into a feeling frenzy, but as far as CNN and Newsweek… What are they? I dropped lowest-common-denominator news some years ago, because I found it a little depressing. (Wow, imagine that.) And I’m all the more happy for doing it.

On the other hand, I think there’s some part of human nature, deep in our guts, that feels uneasy if everything’s going too well. It’s like, we’re designed to watch out for threats and predators. And if we’re too secure and too prosperous and too peaceful, if there are no threats or predators, we start worrying about them. It’s highly dysfunctional. But what other explanation can there be for getting upset over the amazing plastic spoon?


P.S. I’d be happy to explain to you why the reason you’re thinking about right now is probably no reason at all.

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Poor people being overweight has a lot to do with food insecurity (which is at its highest *ever*). When you have very little money with which to purchase food, simple carbs like white rice or pasta give you the most bang for the buck. They are cheap and store easily. Many underprivileged folks do not have access to a variety of grocery stores; they may have only the corner store available to them, with its smaller selection and higher prices since overhead is not spread around. If there is no car to drive to a better store, that’s that. When McDonald’s is a treat that you might not get again for a long time, it’s more likely that you’ll “super-size it.”

I have done a lot of reading and studying on food insecurity over the past few years precisely because of the whole “they can’t be too poor if they’re fat” meme that seems to go around pretty regularly. Here’s a great resource if you want to know more: Food insecurity isn’t just lack of food; it’s lack of variety and/or nutrition as well. A diet full of white rice and pasta is going to make people overweight.

Some farmer’s markets are starting to allow use of EBT cards, but then you get into another issue. What if the person can’t get to the farmer’s market, or does not have cooking facilities (many underprivileged people live in SRO hotels and cannot cook there). It’s a complicated thing.

So, there are my several plastic spoons’ worth of thoughts on the matter.

Exactly, Sharon. That’s kinda my point. If you’ll note, I did not make the “they can’t be too poor if they’re fat” argument. You made that argument, and I’m sure many lower-income families do as well. And that’s part of the problem.

I made the “we can’t be too poor if we’re not dying of starvation” argument. And as someone who has also been hit by the economic downturn, I include myself and my family in that group. None of us likes to give up all the nice things we have, even temporarily. But our lives are not really that bad, even in a downturn. We need to stop panicking about matters that do not benefit from panic, and instead relax and think about all the possibilities open to us.


You’re right; I kind of went down the wrong path. Food insecurity =/= starvation. We are lucky to have what amount to first-world problems.

Um, ok. But you ARE aware that the point of this image is how much we waste and pollute because we’re too lazy to just use a metal spoon in the first place? And this correlates to restaurants today that only use disposable instead of hiring someone to do the dishes and setting up a system for it, or the other things that we waste on a daily basis.

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