Thinking Allowed: Just blame it on London

Let's face it. There's a lot wrong with the world these days. But two things make me really mad. Stainless steel pineapple slicers and planned obsolescence. Let me explain.

Stainless steel pineapple slicers (let's just call them SSPS for short) are the ludicrous tip of the kitchen gadget iceberg.

Once upon a time we had knives and ingenuity. Now we have drawers full of single-purpose appliances. The SSPS beds down next to strawberry hullers, apple dividers and mango splitters. I ask you! Not only are these gadgets single-purpose, they are also pretty much single-use. Once the novelty wears off, they are just a waste of space.

In the cupboard underneath, of course, there is the requisite line-up of larger gadgetry. Blenders, juicers and electric pepper grinders rub shoulders with machines that make donuts, waffles and toasties. You can buy hot chocolate dispensers that don't even heat the chocolate. They just have a tap. So you still need to use good old-fashioned contraptions such as a pan or a kettle. Do these extra-special items spawn like rats under the bench top when left unused for months?

My sister-in-law, last time she checked, had three toastie makers. Why would you?

In this case, apparently, because one is white plastic, one is stainless steel and another is broken. And let's face it; some of us are suckers for justifying our next purchases as bigger, better - shinier, even. Prime candidates for the buy-now, throw-away-later kitchen culture, in the same way we are groomed to update our phones.

I blame London. Not London, England, although it has its own issues. No, I'm referring to Bernard London, who wrote a cheerful and instructive essay on Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence back in 1932 in the US. Like it was a positive thing. The Planned Obsolescence plan did not mention landfill waste (of which we produce more than a million tonnes a year here). Instead, it was full of radical promise.

His basic premise was that it was problematic (for the economy, rather than the planet) that people were buying good stuff that lasted a long time. They didn't need to buy extra throwaway or replacement stuff. So lots of extra pointless stuff like SSPS was not being made. I'm picking that $2 Shops were not a 1930s trend.

Along with product life, our mate Bernie also came up with some warranty legalese: ''I would have the Government assign a lease of life to shoes and homes and machines, to all products of manufacture, mining and agriculture, when they are first created, and they would be sold and used within the term of their existence definitely known by the consumer ... New products would constantly be pouring forth from the factories and marketplaces, to take the place of the obsolete, and the wheels of industry would be kept going and employment regularised and assured for the masses.''

Well, that sounds easy, convenient and completely beneficial, doesn't it? Except for those of us who have bought a blender or a SSPS and want to use it for a day longer than the one-year warranty period. And instead of chucking it out, we write to the manufacturer and inquire about parts, or take it back to the vendor.

You know, buy one little replacement piece rather than consign a technological mass to landfill. But no, I have been told four times, with four separate kitchen bits, they are not worth fixing. Monetarily, that is. They would cost more to fix than replace. The solution? Go and buy a new one. Gee, thanks, Mr London.

I have owned three blenders in the past five years and I would like to blame their demise on something other than my carelessness. My awesomely thrifty mother-in-law has still got the same mixer she bought three decades ago. It has seen her through a family move to Fiji and back, the necessity to make bread there every day, and years of baking for a big family. It's not shiny, nor trendy.

But it works. A far cry from single-function junk. Back in the aspirational '30s, Mr London goes on: ''I am not advocating the total destruction of anything, with the exception of such things as are outward and useless''.

I wonder, if we fast-forwarded him 80 years, if he would be happy with the way his vision has played out. Would he be pleased with a SSPS and a hot chocolate dispenser? Or would he want to consign his theory, instead of a whole heap of redundant junk, to the rubbish bin of history?

Add a Comment

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter