Privilege, the pandemic and plastic-free choices – part 1 – we are not in the same boat

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

I was prompted by someone on Twitter to write about this – it’s been on the (very long) list for a while now.

It’s a bit of a thorny issue and something which gets quite a lot of discussion already – it’s highly unlikely that I’m going to say anything that has never been said before on this, but you never know.

Here’s the question. Is it the premise of the middle classes only (and presumably those richer than the middle class) to make plastic-free choices? Is it possible to be poor and still go plastic-free? When, for example, a plastic-free deodorant costs maybe two or three times the price of a plastic roll-on bought in a supermarket? (I tried, I really did… I will do a final report on the Great Deodorant Experiment one day). When supermarkets charge more for loose fruit and vegetables than they do for the produce wrapped in plastic? (This article discusses why that might be the case).

A couple of things have happened recently which have made me think about this issue, particularly in relation to fruit and vegetable shopping. It is of course a much wider issue than just food choices, but I’ve seen some eco-influencers (with sexy Instagram accounts and monetised blogs, so they must be doing something right) saying that they have massively reduced their food spend since implementing changes to live more sustainably. They manage to shop mainly organic and plastic-free (including, as one of them mentioned, the fortnightly Ocado shop…) and still save money.

So here’s our little story. As I posted way back many moons ago when this blog was in its infancy, we like to go to our local greengrocers for our fruit and veg as much as possible, to get predominantly organic and plastic-free produce. I very rarely buy produce in the supermarket now. In normal times, going to the greengrocer is an almost daily outing – the small one loves it, I get to speak to a grown-up, there’s no plastic wrapping to deal with, everyone’s a winner. But at the moment it’s hard for us to manage these trips – I can’t take the boy in the buggy and maintain social distancing and safety, as he’s still small and touches or licks things and it’s just too stressful. My husband can’t easily go during the daytime and the shop is running reduced opening hours to protect their staff, which is totally understandable. So we’ve been buying fruit and veg from the supermarket and oh my god the plastic is a pain in the arse to put in the ecobrick. So in the spirit of my recent ecobricking resolutions, I decided to do something about it and order us a fruit and veg box. And here it is, in all its glory.

Critical point to mention – it’s from a New Covent Garden supplier, who normally sell produce to restaurants, but in the current situation they are using their supply chain to get produce directly to customers at home. So they’re not marketing themselves as plastic-free, local or seasonal. This medium sized fruit and veg box cost £32 and to be fair, it is amazing quality and will probably last us nearly two weeks. BUT. I put the same produce into the online shopping calculator on the Asda website and it’s half the price. Also, it’s not completely plastic-free, as you can see in the picture. (Only the salad bag, herbs, cucumber, bananas and some of the potatoes were in plastic though, and of course in the supermarket nearly all of it would be in plastic packaging.) And it’s not seasonal or local.

Other cheaper veg boxes are available – for example the Oddbox equivalent medium box is £14.99. This is a brilliant initiative to reduce food waste by selling imperfect produce rejected by supermarkets. It’s local and seasonal and all packaging is recyclable. But they only cover the London area and they deliver overnight – I want to try them out but I have concerns that our box would get nicked or ravaged by foxes before we got to it. Riverford is also cheaper and much better on the plastic and local produce front. But they’re running a waiting list at the moment and I believe you have to commit to a regular order. So there is more research to be done.

But, back to the privilege point. We all have to buy food. Most people buy food in a supermarket because it’s a cheap option – Mr Tesco et al have massive economies of scale that smaller shops struggle to replicate. We also shop in supermarkets because it’s easy – it’s all there in one place, they’re open long hours and you don’t have to think too much or make lots of decisions. So, in my view, privilege is about more than just money. Sure, you can probably find a veg box which is a similar price point to supermarkets, and maybe a refill shop where some things are cheaper and some things are more expensive, so it evens out – remember my surprisingly cheap organic thyme? So much of this, though, depends on time (see what I did there?) and choice, and that’s the crux of privilege. Time to do the research for the best veg box, and time to go to four different shops each week to get what you need, not to mention the financial head room to pay the plastic-free premium where it does exist. (Do families need to be in a position to have a stay at home parent to actually pull this off? Usually a woman? Is plastic a feminist issue…? Why does every post I write lead me to though processes for about another ten?)

And interestingly, the current situation where it’s been hard to get hold of certain foods seems to caused this particular penny to drop for some eco-influencers – those hardcore anti-plastic folk who couldn’t get to their local zero waste shop for rice, so had to buy it in plastic from Asda. Their choice has been taken away from them. So maybe this will engender some more empathy and understanding for people who work full-time and can’t fit in multiple shopping trips each week, or people who have no childcare support and can’t drag multiple kids to multiple shops, or are so frazzled by their life that they can’t work out if a veg box would be cheaper than Asda and they haven’t got time to do the admin anyway.

Just like we are NOT all in the same boat in relation to lockdown, we are not all in the same boat in how we can respond to the challenges of plastic pollution and climate change, and it’s important to remember that, now more than ever.

And here’s a little anonymous lockdown poem which has been doing the rounds on social media which I don’t hate, just for good measure (I’ve cut some bits out where I’ve seen various versions that don’t quite make sense).

WE ARE NOT IN THE SAME BOAT …
I heard that we are all in the same boat, but it’s not like that. We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat. Your ship could be shipwrecked and mine might not be. Or vice versa.

For some, quarantine is optimal. A moment of reflection, of re-connection, easy in flip flops, with a cocktail or coffee. For others, this is a desperate financial & family crisis.

For some that live alone they’re facing endless loneliness. While for others it is peace, rest & time with their mother, father, sons & daughters.

Some are not getting on with family and domestic abuse is rife…we never know what goes on behind closed doors.

Some were concerned about getting a certain candy for Easter while others were concerned if there would be enough bread, milk and eggs for the weekend.

Some want to go back to work because they don’t qualify for unemployment and are running out of money. Others want to kill those who break the quarantine.

Some are home spending 2-3 hours/day helping their child with online schooling while others are spending 2-3 hours/day to educate their children on top of a 10-12 hour workday.

Some have experienced the near death of the virus, some have already lost someone from it and some are not sure if their loved ones are going to make it. Others don’t believe this is a big deal.

Some have faith in God and expect miracles during this 2020. Others say the worst is yet to come.

So, friends, we are not in the same boat. We are going through a time when our perceptions and needs are completely different.

Each of us will emerge, in our own way, from this storm. It is very important to see beyond what is seen at first glance. Not just looking, actually seeing.

We are all on different ships during this storm experiencing a very different journey.

Realize that and be kind.

Unknown author

#SaturdaySwitch part 2 – yog yog

Yoghurt is a staple of ours and has been since early on in the weaning process. It’s usually very popular and has sometimes been the only thing eaten in times of teething and illness. Sometimes it gets quite messy, and I have tons of funny photos of my boy covered in yoghurt, which would make great headers for this blog – but when he’s 18 he might object to me having shared them publicly, so this stock photo will have to do.

We made a lot of purchase decisions out of convenience/exhaustion in the early days, especially during the brief and hideous period of time when I was working four days a week on the other side of London and we literally couldn’t cope with our lives. So we just got used to buying multi-packs of baby yoghurt, as that’s what we’ve always done. And what a no-brainer of a switch this has turned out to be. Here’s the maths:

Little Yeo – 4 x 90g pot yoghurt, creates 36g empty plastic packaging. Costs: £1.40, or 2 packs for £2 (permanently on offer in Asda) – cost of yoghurt per 100g = 27.7p

Petit Filous – 6 x 47g pot yoghurt, creates 24g empty plastic packaging. Costs: £1.40, or 2 packs for £2 (same offer as above, also £1 in Co-op) – cost of yoghurt per 100g = 35.5p

Yeo Valley – 1 x 450g pot yoghurt, creates 13g empty plastic packaging. Costs: £1.50, or 2 packs for £2 (same again from Asda, also £1 in Co-op for any flavour) – cost of yoghurt per 100g = 22p

A slight downside of course is having to serve a portion of the big tub in a bowl, but there’s less washing up of annoying plastic for recycling and the ecobrick, with the added bonus that I get to eat some too. Sometime I even get fed it. “Mummy want yog yog?” Definitely no photos of that being shared any time soon.

I can’t quite fathom how to work out the savings per week on this, but it’s definitely cheaper and worth it for the plastic saving alone. Someone did suggest having a go at making my own yoghurt, which is a thought indeed – although I fear that these kinds of missions (similar to DIY deodorant) would have a detrimental impact on the amount of CBeebies viewing that goes on in this house. Maybe we’ll do it together one day as messy play… do I get extra smug mummy points for that? Anyone want to come over and help?

Here’s some photos of weighed plastic to prove I did this properly (NB the outer packaging of the big pot of Yeo Valley is cardboard so should go into the recycling separately).

Vegan date night

We went on an almost entirely Grandma-facilitated date night earlier in the week. Babysitting services provided by Grandma, and Cafe Rouge vouchers provided with Grandma’s Tesco Clubcard points.

I decided, as an experiment, to see how easy it would be, and also how “fun”, to have a fully vegan meal.

Like I said in my last post, the vegan issue is on my mind at the moment and I am doing some reading about it. We are definitely not considering making the leap in any full-time sense, but the flexitarian/part-time vegan concept holds some attraction to me.

I had the pea and mint tortelloni as a starter (the ONLY vegan starter option on the menu) and it was really nice. I don’t think I would want to eat its equivalent as a main course, and I still have some work to do on accepting the concept of pasta without cheese on top, but it was enjoyable.

On ordering the main course, though, it was a bit more challenging – I could have had pea and asparagus risotto, but didn’t really want more peas, or vegetable tagine – but I really wanted a burger. (I actually really wanted a steak with blue cheese sauce, but hey ho. All in the name of the blog.)

The spicy chickpea burger is marked on the menu as vegan, but the accompaniments (frites or sweet potato frites) are only marked as dairy-free. So I asked the waiter what the issue was here to make the chips non-vegan. He didn’t seem too thrilled to be asked, and came back eventually to tell me that there were sometimes products containing eggs cooked in the same fryers so they couldn’t guarantee the chips were fully vegan.

I ordered the sweet potato frites anyway, as I’m not a purist and not even an actual proper vegan, so refusing them on that basis seemed a bit extreme. They were quite disappointing and under-cooked. The burger was okay, a bit too spicy for me though – I am a huge spice wuss. I’m kind of falling out of love with Cafe Rouge anyway.

So my conclusions are that eating out in restaurants which aren’t specialty vegan is probably quite boring and quite hard work for vegans. It’s also really hard work to find out what various restaurants’ policies are regarding using higher welfare animal products – although the British Hen Welfare Trust has a good go at it here in relation to eggs. If anyone can recommend any good vegan restaurants in South East London for us to check out, that would be ace.

Anyway, here’s a badly-lit and non-Instagram-worthy picture of my sad chickpea burger, with £1.50’s worth of extra smashed avo for good hipster measure. (I cropped out my husband’s succulent roast chicken in the background). Food for thought.

Eggies!

We eat a lot of eggs. Our son is particularly enthusiastic about them – he will sit in his high chair at lunchtime yelling “eggiesh!!!” until his omelette is served up. He also gets quite excited about helping to “do mixing!” for scrambled eggs.

We also read a lot of books about farms. We are teaching our son, through these books, that farms are like the picture above – spacious, green and happy places (although I’m a bit worried about the proximity of those cats to the hen house – if they’re anything like our #notvegan cat, those plump chickens won’t last long).

I decided a long time ago, at my first Rise Up Singing camp (an amazing singing camp on the edge of Dartmoor, where I’ve learnt a lot about community, sustainable living and being a part-time hippy) to try really hard not to eat animals who’ve had a miserable life. This has been quite hard to stick to, while keeping budgetary constraints in mind and also the need for convenience when working 100,000 hours a week as an NHS manager, or more recently when spending every waking moment trying to stop a toddler from maiming himself. But we have recently made some decisions on this; this post is about eggs in particular.

So, just in case you’re interested, a brief history of welfare issues for egg production is as follows:

2012 saw the EU banning “barren” battery cages for hens. Hens are still allowed to be kept in “enriched”cages, with supposedly more room to scratch and nest, and places to perch. But Compassion in World Farming’s investigations show that the reality of this system is still a huge amount of suffering for hens: overcrowding causes feather-pecking, most hens are painfully debeaked and they have limited space to carry out natural behaviours such as washing, wing flapping and dust-bathing. Approximately 58% of all chickens farmed in the EU are within caged systems. If you think this should no longer be allowed, you can support the End the Cage Age campaign here.

Going back to 2004, the UK introduced a mandatory labelling scheme to identify the farming method used, and this led to an increase in demand for higher welfare eggs. 60% of UK eggs are now cage free – either barn eggs (in barns with no access outdoors but no cages), free range or organic.

BUT – and here’s the rub. How free range is your free range egg? Possibly not very. “Multi-tier” free range hens are a thing – basically they live in multi-storey metal layers in a barn, with a limited amount of exits to the outside, which are often blocked off by dominant hens. Over-crowding is a major issue; there is no limit on flock size, as is the case for organic farming. Beak trimming is also commonly practiced. This article is a grim read but probably represents the reality of a lot of “free range” chicken farming, where less than 10% of the hens are outside at any given time, and some are never able to go outside at all.

So we have decided to only buy organic – unless we can be completely assured of the welfare standards of the farm supplying the free range eggs. This takes a lot of effort and research and I think is only really possible if you personally know the farm (difficult in zone 3), or the shop-keeper (maybe possible in a health food shop or green grocer – I’m working on this in our locale).

The cheapest organic eggs I’ve found are from Aldi at 20.83p each – vs. 12.33p each for free range and 7.9p for eggs from caged hens. If you buy 12 eggs per week, switching from caged to organic would cost you an extra £1.55 per week, and switching from free range to organic would cost you an extra £1.03. Maths is not my strong point, but I think this means that organic eggs are over 250% more expensive than caged.

We’ve managed to afford this switch by making other savings, mainly by significantly reducing how much meat we eat and cooking a lot of Jack Monroe‘s amazing recipes. It’s a matter of priorities, and every decision has an impact on other decisions – every action has a reaction.

I am really thinking hard about the whole vegan concept – not ready to write about this yet, but give it time! I am going to have vegan dinner tonight at Cafe Rouge, so follow me on Twitter for exciting food photos! @TheEverydayRad1

(No Instagram, ever. Promise)

The challenge of plastic vegetables…

No, I’m not talking about tripping over a plastic aubergine on the living room floor, or breaking up toddler fights over the play kitchen at playgroup. Although that’s an everyday challenge I face too.

There’s been palpable shock-waves on social media from people who watched the first episode of BBC’s The War on Plastic last week, presented by Anita Rani and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, particularly in relation to the truth about what’s happening to some of our kerbside recycling. A recycling bag from Essex finding its way into the Malaysian jungle is a staggeringly shocking thing.

We’re always been avid recyclers and I still believe there’s a place for recycling, with an improved understanding of the end-to-end process and taking full responsibility for our own waste. Exporting it to developing countries who don’t even have their own kerbside recycling (I had a reference for this in relation to Malaysia somewhere and now I can’t find it – when I do, I will post it!) is definitely not the answer. We can no longer be smugly assured that our yoghurt pots aren’t in fact ending up in the ocean.

Until we have some assurance about the destination of our recycling (post coming on this soon where I will be badgering Greenwich Council with FOI requests to find out the destinations of what I diligently put in my blue bin), I think more and more people are coming to the conclusion that our priority must be to reduce. This is hard work for us well-trained 21st century consumers, programmed as we are to buy more and more stuff and expect ready-chopped mangoes to be available all year round.

So I’m setting us a challenge at home to reduce, reduce, reduce and I will be posting more about this over the next few weeks.

We are very lucky to have an amazing green grocer nearby, and I have managed an almost plastic-free shop today:

My son gets particularly excited, bellowing “bananananash” across the shop and insisting on paying himself with the “beep beep”. So it’s pretty fun for all concerned. But I am at home all week and can take my time and shop most days for fresh produce. It’s more expensive than shrink-wrapped supermarket veg, and we can afford it mainly because we hardly eat any meat now. Some of it has still travelled a long way (no bananananash grown in Kent, as far as I know) and we definitely can’t afford to only buy organic.

So none of this stuff is simple. Shopping locally doesn’t feel that radical to me, and isn’t possible for everyone, but it’s enabling us to reduce our plastic waste massively.

It’s #meatfreeMonday tonight, so if you’re super lucky, I might share a photo of my lentil ragu later. No Instagram though, promise. Never going to happen.