Bali – the Culture of Consumption


‘Consumption’ here refers to the literal translation of the Indonesian word, konsumsi: food or drink provided for participants or guests at any given occasion.

Every and any occasion in Bali is an excuse for konsumsi, in fact no one would even dare suggest having the smallest meeting, gathering or even music practice without addressing konsumsi. The “need” for konsumsi is actually a cultural rather than literal or logical need (does one really need to be provided with food and drink at a meeting that may last just an hour?). Balinese (and other Indonesians for that matter) are very hospitable people, and providing visitors with food and drink is not only manners but considered essential. This explains why when I’ve visited even the poorest households they make an effort to bring me food and drink. Culturally, Indonesians expect to be served – at a meeting or sports practice they are not used to moving from their seat to help themselves to food or drink that in other countries is presented with no packaging in buffet and dispenser form.

Twenty years ago, konsumsi did not include single-use plastics, nor did organizers include full meals at meetings as they do today. If you’ve ever been to a meeting, a ceremony, even a sports or cultural event here, both governmental or non-governmental, the standard offering for participants is called nasi kotak a cardboard or Styrofoam (God forbid) box the hides an environmental disaster within: a single-use plastic cup of mineral water with a disposable rip-off plastic lid, as well as a single-use straw packaged in a disposable plastic wrapper; a plastic food tray with divisions in it bento-style; peanuts in plastic sachet, and cakes individually wrapped in plastic including often a type of cake that is tied up with a piece of plastic cord called tali rafia.

Even at the Indonesian Embassies overseas I’ve visited, I saw that they provide guests with single-use plastics (including cultlery!) too, exporting their own poor waste management habits.

Most organizers also do not separate their waste, which means that the leftover food and drink is mixed with non-organics creating a smelly mess that is a disaster for any waste management system. In addition, the culture of consumption leads to not only a lot of food waste but also blows a hole in any budget, including government budgets when it could be used for education, health, infrastructure, or waste management: things that are clearly lacking in this country.

So while we are all talking about Bali’s horrendously dirty beaches and waterways, we need to understand culturally that one of the major sources of the problem is the culture of consumption that local leaders need to find eco-friendly alternatives for fast.

 

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