The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
November 20, 2008

Focus on Fake

The title of this blog is Fake Plastic Fish, ostensibly because if we don’t solve our plastic pollution problem, fake plastic ones could be the only kind of fish we have left. And also because of Radiohead, for those who know what that means.

But there’s another reason for the word “fake” in the title of this blog, and after the small uproar caused by yesterday’s post about PETA’s fake plastic wishbones, I’d like to try and address that reason.

But first, what is real?

Besides being kind to others and taking care of the earth, the primary motivating question of my life is “What is real?” That question is the reason I go on meditation retreats, sit and notice the silence around me, and listen to the words of spiritual teachers. It’s why I practice noticing my own thoughts and the explanations my brain creates about life that, when I step aside, turn out to be just stories.

And what story does plastic tell? It’s a substance often made to fool us. We can have plastic decks that look like wood; plastic bottles that resemble glass; Mylar that looks like metal; nylon that seems like silk; synthetic fibers that mimic cotton or fur or wool; even plastic dolls that look and feel like real human babies.

But have you ever seen any “natural” materials made to resemble plastic? Granted, I’ve been fooled by live flowers that seemed too perfect to be real. But would anyone advertise that their product is so great, you’d think it was plastic? In fact, my Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (c. 1996) lists among its many definitions for plastic,

13. artificial or insincere; synthetic; phony

Which is also what Zen Chef Edward Espe Brown says in the movie How to Cook Your Life when he holds up what looks like a yogurt container and says, “Plastic is insincere.”

So the idea of a plastic wishbone, besides the fact that it’s made from a substance that we know may be harmful to our planet, rattles me because of its very inauthenticity. It’s not a bone. It’s only the idea of a bone because a marketing company gave it that name and shape and planted the idea in our heads. But really, it’s just a piece of plastic. And once it’s snapped, it will go the route of all the other non-biodegradable plastics.

Is it recyclable as PETA claims? Perhaps in theory. In the wishful thinking of our minds. As an idea. In reality? Tiny pieces of plastic like that don’t get recycled. I’ve visited recycling centers. It’ll go the way of the rest of the junk, and hopefully end up in the lesser evil of the landfill rather than the ocean.

Plastic wishbones remind me of imitation food. I love tofu. I like to eat big chunks of it. But please don’t texturize it and fill it full of food coloring and liquid smoke and other “natural” flavors to give the illusion that it’s meat. It’s not meat. It’s tofu, beautiful tofu. And it’s fine the way it is. I also eat real meat sometimes. And therein lies another question of authenticity. Do I believe the stories sold to me by the organic, humane meat producers? Or do I, like Michael Pollan, need to go and see for myself what is real and what is fake?

During the last meditation retreat, as I’d find my mind wandering and conjuring up one image or story after another, I had moment after moment of waking up to the startling realization, “Oh! That’s not really happening!” What was real was me sitting in my chair with my eyes closed, breathing. The rest were thoughts in my brain. And what a wonderful brain it is that can imagine and play, plan and remember, and create stories for us.

I am not dissing the powers of our amazing brains!

But isn’t it also true that these are the very capabilities that advertisers take advantage of every day? Selling us beautiful stories. A McDonald’s hamburger is a happy family smiling together. A hunk of California cheese is the gift of happy talking cows. And a piece of plastic molded into the shape of a V is a Lucky Break Wishbone to make all a vegan’s wildest dreams come true.

What’s real? What’s fake? It’s a question for many lifetimes. But it’s also a question for right now. What do you all think?

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14 Comments on "Focus on Fake"

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7 years 7 days ago

Hey guys thanks for such a wonderful idea, they really look very cute and I didn’t knew that they were recycle able and thanks for sharing this wonderful information with us

7 years 9 days ago

I totally like the poem you have written it made me cry and same time think about what we never think, it is really never assumed what we think , actually I always assumed that the plastic is so beautiful and can make several things, I really appreciate your poem

Rejin/Urban Botany
7 years 9 days ago

Clif: “WE are the giant asteroid crashing into the planet, altering it profoundly.” I loved that.

And I think it is partly because so many thing we encounter are fake, that I am so attracted to things that are authentic.

7 years 9 days ago

Well I used “Veranda” composite decking on my Deck- while Home Depot calls it composite, it is made from plastic milk jugs and such- I know it is “fake” wood- but I like it better- No splinters, doesn’t rot, Never needs refinishing, But sorry,I just don’t see the sense to plastic wishbones. I think it is absurd!

A Slice of the Pie
7 years 9 days ago

I understand what you are getting at. When I first became a vegetarian I tried to make foods that were trying to be “meat-like” to ease the transition, especially for the kids. But it just didn’t make sense and for that, we are now eating healthier. We eat the food and appreciate it for what it is, and we aren’t eating food pretending to be something else.

And though we do have amazing capabilities to imagine and create, we too often let others do that for us. We need to be reminded that we can imagine and create our own… Read more »

Fake Plastic Fish
7 years 9 days ago

Wow. FPF readers are some of the most intelligent and creative around. Tracey, your poem made me cry and find a new appreciation for this material and Clif, your scientific explanation is spot-on and also made me cry.

Bernadette, you are absolutely right. I guess what I meant about the wishbone was about the first level of insincerity — that it is the idea of a bone rather than an actual bone, and that so many times we live with the idea of what things are rather than what they actually are.

And you are right too that there is… Read more »

7 years 9 days ago

I have an old friend who used to say to me, “It’s all real, B.” I agree with the passion for using and enjoying and protecting natural substances that grow from the earth and can return to the earth through a short period of decay.

But what we create is no less real. I find myself asking the question “should we?” more than “could we?” We have to act responsibly with all of it in mind.

I don’t think a tree is more real than a plastic wishbone–and we might say that it is all… Read more »

7 years 9 days ago

A defense of plastic – sort of.

What is nature? All that we know – the entire physical world is composed of material built from atoms that are linked together in different ways.

What is plastic? Plastic is a material made from atoms linked together in different ways.

What’s the difference?

The natural world has come about over billions of years of trial and error. If something works, that is, if it can survive in the surroundings it finds itself in, it stays. If something doesn’t work, that is, if it cannot survive its surroundings, it goes.

In the natural world, things happen very slowly… Read more »

7 years 9 days ago

It is getting harder and harder to find real in a regular store and maybe anywhere — I was buying unsalted butter on sale the other day in the store and just happened to look at the label, cream AND natural flavor. Okay, unsalted butter should be cream and nothing else. Around the same time, my partner came up to me with a quart of heavy cream which you would think would be cream (and maybe some vitamin additions since this was regular industrial dairy) — nope, heavy cream (supposedly not fake) included thickeners! I’m not even… Read more »

7 years 9 days ago

oh my. you may not like lunch then. but i promise you, there ARE some fake meat products that are amazing. and they’re put there for those of us (meeee) who have a hard time transitioning from a life filled with meat to no meat at all. i admit it, i miss it. i used to dream about hamburgers almost every night for a year. im not sure im okay with tofu pretending to be like meat…cuz it’s really nothing like meat, taste or texture wise. but seitan…that’s another story! you will… Read more »

7 years 9 days ago

The majority of things in our world are fake. GM corn and soy make up most of the products we eat (95% of all soy is GM. voer 70% of corn and 85% of cotton). Most meats are fed hormones and all kinds of things so they grow faster filling grocery stores with cheap fake meat. Even when we try to buy “real” products many of them are fake as well. People are also fake so many with with botox and plastic surgery. You just never know what’s real anymore.

This is why… Read more »

7 years 9 days ago

I don’t think I have ever thought about plastic as really anything but what it was – plastic. I will echo another poster’s thought about imitation items. If I want wood floors, it is unlikely that I will install Pergo. In my mind, the imitation things are simply ways of getting the more expensive items cheaply. But if I went the cheap route, I would always know in my mind that it was fake and not the real thing that I was admiring.

Rejin/Urban Botany
7 years 9 days ago

I’ve always felt the same way about imitation things – they are just not honest. And usually are higher impact than what they try to replace.
Years ago a contractor took it upon himself to install a wood-look vinyl door in my house. When I saw it my head nearly exploded. But he’d already cut it to size, it couldn’t be returned. It was either live with it or landfill it. Now it is a daily reminder to seek authenticity, and speak up about it before others choose for me.

Anarres Natural Health
7 years 10 days ago

In a documentary about Bjork that has her showing all of her favourite spots in Iceland, she compares some extraordinary geological features to plastic. She is seated beside a crevice with a pool of bubbling goo below her.

It’s the only nice thing I can think of about plastic. The irony is that plastic can be beautiful, made into all shapes and all colours, but it represents the monstrous disposable culture we literally bought into since WWII. So here is my contribution to the irony.

“Dear Plastic”
Made of atoms
By tender fingers
And determined heads
Of inventors

I was born aeons ago
Before anything human… Read more »