I’m just revisiting some old posts on the blog, for nostalgic kicks. This one was the first post I ever wrote with actual content, after the intro post when I started the blog. The bit about my son yelling “banannnnash!” has made me laugh, as he tells us off now if we add “sh” to the ends of words as he used to say them – “it’s eggies, mummy, not eggiesh!”
We stopped going to the village greengrocer for absolutely ages during lock down (I say “village” – I mean, not-quite-gentrified-yet high street in zone three). It’s a very small shop and it remained quite well stocked throughout the panic-buying stage, as far as we could tell from the local grapevine, so had huge queues for a good few weeks. Then we felt like we couldn’t go in there with the pushchair, due to the risk of things being touched/licked by the small one. And I honestly missed it so much, our almost daily little trips out to buy brocoli and bananas and cabbage. And chat to another grown-up for five minutes.
So we did supermarket online click and collect shopping for a while, including fruit and vegetables, but the plastic just depressed me, and my husband refused to partake in any further ecobrick-related activities. So we got ourselves sorted out with a veg box. The first one we bought was super expensive, from a New Covent Garden supplier who in normal times supplies restaurants. And it wasn’t organic or plastic-free. So I switched to Abel and Cole and I have to say I’m pretty impressed so far. Their Twitter help person is amazing and has been super-responsive to all my newbie queries. Their packaging is almost entirely plastic-free – either small cardboard punnets which can go in the recycling, or compostable “non-plastic” bags, or the bigger cardboard boxes can be returned via the delivery driver for reuse. The fruit and veg is all organic and tastes amazing. The scheme is flexible so you can swap different boxes for different weeks and skip weeks if you want to, and add top-up produce. It’s varied so you have to be prepared to learn how to cook new stuff – beetroot and squash surprise, anyone? And while it’s not all local/British produce, everything is shipped on water rather than transported by air, which does reduce the carbon footprint considerably (their all-British veg box is unavailable at the moment). Honestly I’m not sure I’m brave enough right now to just eat local, which I guess involves a lot of turnips and swede, but maybe this is something to aim towards.
BUT, it’s undeniably more expensive than Asda. Going plastic-free is a privilege and going organic is a luxury. I’ve written about this before, here. I just cashed up the latest Abel and Cole veg box contents vs. what it would cost in Asda, and it is twice the price. Maybe the same produce would be equivalent price, or cheaper, at a local market, but that in itself requires the relative privilege of being able to food shop during the day on a weekday (i.e. not having to be at work, not having to drag multiple children around with you, not being scared of going outside in the current context of lock down being eased but people behaving like Covid never happened).
We are back in the habit of going to the local greengrocer now more regularly, since the team there protested to me how much they missed seeing the small one (did I mention how cute and funny he is?) So maybe we will scale back slightly on the deliveries, but either way we are accepting paying a plastic-free premium for what we believe is the right course of action, and cutting down our spends elsewhere to accommodate that.
I’m wondering, as usual, what else we can do? I feel like I want to revisit all the protests and letter campaigns to supermarkets that grew out of the outrage generated from the War on Plastic program which aired this time last year. Did it make any difference? What else can be done? Does anyone care anymore? The state of Bournemouth beach this week suggests that a LOT of people don’t care. More of that in a few days.
Meanwhile, tell me about your fruit and vegetable habits in the comments. And your favourite way to cook rainbow chard…
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.
I always have these great ideas to write posts which are relevant to something current, so I can ride the hashtag wave and go viral, then I don’t manage to write them in time for the actual day and it feels a bit naff. But anyway, I’m going to post this a few days late and hope that someone out there still finds it interesting.
Disclaimer: I was not trying to have a zero waste Valentine’s Day. I have had one full night’s sleep in the last 16 days so I’m not really trying very hard at anything much at the moment. This is a just some reflections on what we did, what some other people seem to do and what we could do better next year.
Clearly the most low carbon impact to do would be nothing. Have a bowl of locally sourced turnip soup, stay in with the heating turned off and play Scrabble by candle-light, then definitely do NOT conceive a child (carbon footprint of babies… God, I’m procrastinating SO much on writing about this). For the perfect Instagrammable “zero waste” gifts, you could choose organic underwear or a hand-engraved vintage fork for £12. Less easily Instagrammable options include chocolates (vegan and plastic-free, obvs) or booze (in glass of course). Other things I’ve seen people write about are wrapping presents in old maps or fabric, donating to a charity in place of buying a gift (I do actually quite like this one), the usual eco-friendly suggestions like soap bars, natural loofahs, natural beard shampoo (!), or home made edibles wrapped in tissue paper. “Experience” gifts like going to a concert or a stately home don’t have a “stuff” impact, but they will have some carbon footprint in terms of travel.
Of course, all of these are better than plastic-wrapped crap or polyester teddies from Clinton’s that you don’t want or need. It’s hard to strike the balance between having a bit of romance and treating your partner, and buying stuff that you don’t need – and that means anything, even organic beard oil if they don’t want it or organic underwear if they don’t need it (the carbon and water footprint of organic cotton is actually still pretty awful).
I would absolutely NEVER be up for going out to a restaurant on Valentine’s Day, even without any childcare considerations – I’ve got no desire to be crammed in with loads of other couples, eating from an over-priced set menu surrounded by naff decorations. In previous years I’ve cooked special food, and my plan this year was to try out Jack Monroe’s mushroom, lentil and ale pie (37p per portion, #FrugalFebruary), but as noted above, I’m tired. So I used my Christmas Marks & Spencer gift card (thanks Mum!) to get us some ready-cook deliciousness (and booze). And this is what was left…
In the strictest zero waste definition (nothing going to landfill), this is zero waste because our black bin waste goes for incineration, but I totally get that I’m being facetious in my interpretation there. Actually everything went in the recycling except the cork (compost), the plastic films from the Camembert and the spinach (ecobrick) and the black plastic from the Camembert (I thought our council actually accepted black plastic for recycling, but I’ve recently learnt that they don’t). Present-wise, my husband bought me some tulips (plastic wrapper in the bin, eco footprint of cut flowers very bad), and I bought him two books about Brexit that I want to read (who said romance was dead…) and some beers. And we did give each other cards, and we also will go for a curry tomorrow night when my mum is here to babysit (again, thanks, Mum).
Is the waste from the ready-cook meal any worse than the ingredients for a home-cooked meal would have been? Probably not, unless I went on a major mission to get loose mushrooms and plastic-free lentils. What’s the ecological and climate impact of new books? (I don’t want to know, I am closing my eyes on this one for as long as I can, I just can’t bear it…) Also I know that meals at restaurants have a higher carbon footprint per head than meals cooked at home, but again I haven’t researched this properly.
So we did a pretty crap job really, but we had a nice time (we watched Best Home Cook – which I love, Claudia Winkelman is brilliant and Mary Berry is magnificent – and went to bed at 10pm, in case anyone’s interested).
Realistically, what would we do differently next year? Possibly re-use the same cards and write a new message. I quite like this idea. Possibly have more energy to buy local, plastic-free food and cook from scratch – but the I’ve got to say it doesn’t feel like much of a treat for me, as chief cook and bottle-washer. (Actual my husband is chief bottle-washer, but anyway). No more flowers? Not sure about this but it’s not exactly a regular thing here. I think we probably won’t buy wrapping paper again for any adult presents (we have 4973 gift bags in a cupboard).
I think it’s about deciding what’s important to you as a couple. I know some people despise the consumerist nature of Valentines’ Day (or Hallmark Day, as some call it), whereas some people really want to be pampered and like to be shown love through gifts and special celebrations. We like eating and watching TV, so I suspect that’s what we will continue to do to mark any and all special occasions for the next decade or so. And I will try to find some plastic-free lentils soon.
Meanwhile, this is the best Valentine’s card I’ve EVER had. (And I have limited interest in discussing zero waste toddler crafts in this context right now, although I suspect the time will come!)
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).
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