Cleaning Up the Mess
The nature of our food disposal systems are complex and multifaceted. Despite this complexity, most of us have little idea of what occurs inside the dishwasher, behind the restaurant counter after a meal, or when the garbage goes to the landfill. The sonic illustration of the sub-exhibit Disposal embodies the blissful ignorance of accessibility in privileged American food culture. All of the sounds captured for this exhibit are a form of luxury that often goes unseen. The purpose of these sounds is not only to unhinge the invisible infrastructure to make it more accommodating, but to also amplify the voices that built it originally.
Disposing of Trash
In its entirety the sound is the continuous plundering of objects making rough "patting" noises as they hit the bottom of a recycling bin. Different types of materials produce slightly different sounds. These sounds have social implications, such as the sound of food hitting the bin; it signifies how serious the campus takes recycling on a micro level. It is also important to note what sounds are not included in the sound. There are no forces of the outside world, one cannot hear the birds chirping, the hum of a lawnmower, or the irritatingly loud beep of a garbage truck. The process of food systems is very accommodating, the participant only had to go outside to throw their trash in a larger dumpster when it is convenient for them. This process of the food system has the illusion of being solely independent and invisible, much to the rhetoric of American consumerism. However, this is merely a a guise, disposal is an intricate part of the food system infrastructure that many depend on, but only think about when it becomes an inconvenience. As stated by Susan Star, "The normally invisible quality of infrastructure becomes visible when it breaks (Star 382)..." The description of "Disposing of Trash itself reinforces the pastoral idealism of nature; nature is being used as a backdrop and vessel for the human experience, instead of a vehicle used to talk about sustainability (Garrard 39). The journey of taking out trash heightens the oasis nature of a recycling bin, to journey outside to the dumpster is the height of luxuriant inconvenience. The recycling bin itself has become a symbol of an American archetype, a type of person who values nature's beauty enough to preserve its cleanliness. Nature's beauty correlates directly with its cleanliness (Garrard 45). The sounds of trash being disposed of in a recycling bin validate the time and effort of an individual who takes nature's preservation seriously.
Washing and Scrubbing Dishes
This recording is of a resident washing a glass pie pan in her sink in her college apartment. The pan had been sitting in the sink since Thanksgiving, and had been soaking for multiple days to make cleaning easier. The resident pours out the water, rinses the pan, scrubs it, and then rinses the soap off after cleaning. This is a typical ritual after food has been discarded in preparation to use the pot, pan, utensil, or other food item in the future. We are not content with leaving food items unclean; this is meant to avoid pests, mold, and decomposition in our homes. This ritual of cleaning is not innately a bad thing, but it seems to hold only in culture. Sterilization is vital to avoid compromising bacteria entering our bodies, but the way we think of washing dishes has evolved greatly on the use of food tools. We have created a food culture in which we prefer to only see the pristine cleanliness of our food tools; washing these tools is considered a chore. This reminds me of the dwelling trope in that we feel a responsibility to clean our food tools the same way we feel responsible for the environment (Garrard 117). There is a sense of “real work” that needs to be accomplished that is vital to survival; this is through the sterilization of our food tools and the protection of our environment (Garrard 145). Beyond our views of responsibility, we view our current ways of sterilizing food items to be critical parts of the way we consume food. Most of us will not consider the idea of washing dishes, the act of scrubbing and rinsing, before we use a food tool or item. However, most of us will stop and consider rewashing a plate or utensil from the cabinet if there is even the slightest speck of food waste. We often forget about the process of washing until it has failed us. This is similar to the way we forget about the energy running our lights until those lights fail us. This is evidence that our cleaning habits are part of infrastructure; this is the same infrastructure that Star warns us to begin paying attention to (Star 385-386). Our food cultures are based mostly around the idea that food and clean food tools are a given; it is only when we see failure or filth that we become attuned to that food, and this usually only results in disgust.
Plates inserted into dishwasher
The following recording is the sound of dishes being loaded, by students, into a dish dispenser where employers are paid to clean the dishes. This system is designed for convenience and efficiency, keeping students/faculty fluid in their day to day activities that involve consuming and disposing food waste. However, as a culture we fail to recognize the value of what our systems/employers do for us, that is, to make our personal lives easier. Susan Leigh Star does a great job of putting our individual lives in perspective of the marginalized saying, “For a railroad engineer, the rails are not infrastructure but topic. For the person in the wheelchair, the stairs and doorjamb in front of a building are not seamless sub tenders of use, but barriers” (Star, 380). For the people who drop their dishes off, it's a matter of convenience and luxury. For the dishwasher it's a means of work, and a means of provision for personal essentials. Our waste system has become so convenient, because of the embeddedness it has within our human/social systems. Star describes embeddedness as, “Infrastructure [that] is sunk into and inside of other structures, social arrangements, and technologies. People do not necessarily distinguish the several coordinated aspects of infrastructure” (Star, 381). It has become a social norm, not just at Furman, but in America, to see these trash cans and dish dispensaries, embedded in our overall systems. Cronon does a good job of bringing up an important question that relates to how we choose to dwell in our living spaces, “If the core problem of wilderness is that it distances us too much from the very things it teaches us to value, then the question we must ask is what it can tell us about home, the place where we actually live” (Cronon, 87). If we are able to dispose of our waste in an easy and convenient matter, then what does it teach us in terms of our overall dwelling space? We now do not value reusability, but disposability because of the convenience it provides. Cronon brings up a key point in this quotation by understanding how our distance from wilderness has programmed specific ideals that we take for granted. It’s impossible to say that one hundred per cent of Americans contribute to this problem. A lot want to make a positive change. However, Gerrard points out that many rely too heavily on outside sources, to change policies/problems, instead of changing their own personal actions, stating that, “the very broad range of people who are concerned about environmental issues such as global warming and pollution, but who wish to maintain or improve their standard of living as conventionally defined, and who would not welcome radical social change, will be described hereinafter as ‘environmentalists’…They may be concerned about natural resource scarcity or pollution but would look to governments or non-governmental organizations such as charities to provide solutions, usually technological ones” (Gerrard, 21). Many of us want to see a different system that values our environment and not one centered on the convenience of producing more waste. However, we rely too often on outside agencies and organizations to produce the science and policies to make the changes we want to see. Furman’s dish dispenser allows us convenience, but also allows disregard for acknowledging how much waste we generate as well as the people who have to cater to our waste.