The Chinese buffet

“Western civilization is a loaded gun pointed at the head of this planet”

Terrance McKenna

Last Friday a colleague resigned at work. Their leaving function was a little different in that we were all invited out for a Chinese food luncheon.

We ended up going to one of those all you can eat buffet style meals. Probably not my preferred choice for lunch, but a nice social gathering nonetheless.  Our group arrived at the restaurant a twilight time around 2.40 pm. Right in the quiet period where lunch has largely finished, but dinner is still several hours away. Because of this most of the dishes in the buffet were running pretty low. The owner of the restaurant (I’m assuming) saw the size of our group and ran into the kitchen. We could hear him out back enthusiastically encouraging the kitchen staff to get cracking! I say enthusiastically because I don’t speak Mandarin.

While he rallied his troops we all lined up by the buffet. I was about 8th in line and looking at what was on offer I started to suspect that the only dish that I was interested in (steamed veg with noodles) would run out before I got there. However, an interesting thing happened. Because the buffet was running so low people were very conscious of not taking too much. My colleagues carefully picked very small portions in an attempt to ration the food so that everyone had something on the first helping. Without saying so people were severely restricting their plate so that everyone would have something to eat while we all waited for the buffet to be refilled.

It occurred to me afterwards that life is a giant buffet, but unfortunately we don’t have any sense to the length of the line or just how little there really is to go around. We also don’t think about the people that aren’t born yet that will definitely want a spot at the back of the queue.

The result is that we don’t feel any compulsion to manage our appetite for resources in a way that let’s everybody get their fair share.

Just take people driving an SUV or a Hummer as an example. They are thinking status symbol, not hideously inefficient and unfair consumption of petroleum, road space and other resources.

Imagine just how different our life would be if everyone realised they were standing in that huge global queue for the giant resource buffet. Unlike in the restaurant story there isn’t a kitchen staff beavering away to cater to our endless gluttony. Once we have used up the entire world’s supply of helium in our party balloons there simply won’t be any left.

Today my overpriced vegetables provided nourishment and a lesson.

In the words of Hervé Kempf,  “Consume less; share better”.

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