Snack food is not customarily known or celebrated for its subtlety or its dignity. In contemporary marketing, snack food is anything but understated. With the purchase of a bag of chips, can of soda, or bit of candy, you will be promised all manner of extraordinary sensory experience, from acute spiciness to pure brazen noise. The quality of snap and crunch in a food experience has been a key component of snack food marketing for quite some time, as if the attributes of exaggeration and bluster were synonymous with value (see exemplary Doritos commercial below)
So while we live in this noise oriented snack culture that exalts anything and everything that tickles the upper register of the decibel scale, we obviously have our limits (or our hypocritical tendencies), as is evidence by the recent rejection of the decidedly noisy SunChips compostable bag. Let me explain.
Sometime last year, SunChips (a Frito-Lay company) made a seemingly bold and progressive move when they brought to market a new product, well not so much a new product, as much as a new product package – the compostable chip bag. The bag, which was said to be fully compostable, was pretty revolutionary for the snack bag set. Sure, there were chip bags made from recycled materials, but here was a bag that, after its contents were consumed, could be tossed onto the compost pile, along with the banana peels, coffee grounds, and organic detritus to become one again with the earth.
Whether or not this product lived up to its compostable claims was almost irrelevant, as any serious investigation into the durability (or lack thereof) of its claims were drowned out by the noise of thousands of complaints. The complaints (ironically enough) were about the incidental noise of the bags when handled. Although bags of potato chips are not known for their reticence, these bags were exceedingly noisy. Some complaints said it was like the sound of breaking glass (my personal experience left me thinking it was closer to bubble wrap or the crinkling of cellophane) while other consumers just wanted their relatively quiet SunChips bags back. Well, the SunChips people listened over the roaring din of their compostable bags, and sent the new fangled compostable bags to the trash heap, in favor of good old, non-compost friendly, plastic bags (at this point, it is somewhat unclear whether or not SunChips will continue to manufacture the compostable bags as an option for consumers, or if they will just phase them out all together). The people have spoken.
Not since the whole New Coke phenomenon of the 1980s have the American consumers revealed their petty and contemptible true selves. While we have an unyielding appetite for snacks that send concussive waves of noise and violence through our skulls, we become wholly trivial and peevish if our bags make more noise than we anticipated, even if it is for a good cause, like the earth.
This whole disturbance, while somewhat entertaining for some, has totally eclipsed the discussion and investigation into whether or not the compostable bags were really successful. There have been many first person reports that indicate that the bags did not succeed in breaking down under normal compost conditions, as the company claimed they would. And many consumers have taken to fishing out the bags from their compost piles in frustration and moving them over to the conventional trashcan. This along with reports that municipalities that have composting programs, were picking the bags out of neighborhood compost bins, as their compostable qualities have not been proven (not to mention all of the difficulty in distinguishing a compostable bag from a conventional one). And there is of course, the issue of compostable items having little or no value unless they are properly composted (the package reads that it is suitable for “industrial composting”). All of these aspects though were seemingly marginal compared to the consideration of the aforementioned noise pollution.
|The Colbert Report||Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|Tiny Triumphs – Environmentalist Ear Pollution|
In my mind, there is really nothing inherently subtle or inconspicuous about ripping open a bag of potato chips and eating its contents. It is a noisy, and somewhat brutish act of consumption. And it is disheartening to witness the fact that these bags, that represented a legitimate effort on the part of a major corporation to embrace sustainable practices, were categorically rejected by a querulous and whiny consumer base. How are we going to clean up (or at least compost) the planet, if we can’t contend with a little noise? Is a towering garbage pile our true legacy?