Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Send Them Packing

My mother became asthmatic late in life and I’ve always been convinced that it is because she is too clean. Yes. As you know I hold, shall we say, unorthodox views when it comes to health care. You might as well have the full ugly truth, my personal hygiene leaves a great deal to be desired, or not as the case may be. It is indeed probably the strongest of a number of very good reasons why no one has ever wanted to marry me. My bedroom makes Tracey Emin’s look like the presidential suite at the Waldorf so even inebriated nooky is out. No one ever gets that drunk.
My long laboured point is that after lifetime of being alone in this belief, I was actually proved by medical science to be absolutely correct relatively recently. Following years of meticulous research in their little white coats, cosseted away in nerdy labs, devouring taxpayers’ money faster than Ken Livingstone on Saga’s Jewels of Marxism Cruise, the bobble heads came up with what I have known practically from birth. Being too clean can make you ill because it suppresses your immune system. There is a reason why children scour the floor for dropped delicacies. Your own germs are nature’s antibiotic.
I habitually drink from dirty cups. It is not unusual for me to use the same coffee cup, unwashed, for days. I once made a bet with a bar owner when I lived in Spain that I would drink out of the same dirty glass for a week. Every night I went into the bar and he pulled down my lipstick stained glass from the shelf and poured a large G&T into it. He gave up after four days because the customers thought his glasses were dirty, and he frankly couldn’t stand it. I was just getting started. Alcohol is antiseptic for effsake. So preconditioned are we from fifty years of Fairy liquid TV commercials, we honestly believe we will die of cholera unless we sterilise our domestic kitchenware. If we are going to do any sterilising, let’s introduce it into hospitals where it might have some practical application. I am only in favour of recycling my own germs.
In our usual spirit of wait until a problem becomes virtually insurmountable and then overreact in the manner of a decapitated chook, Environment Minister Ben Bradshaw has unveiled his considered for a minute and a half solution to supermarket over-packaging. The Guardian reports today,
'Shoppers were urged yesterday to take direct action to force supermarkets to cut the excessive and wasteful packaging that goes direct from the shop shelf to the household bin. The environment minister Ben Bradshaw advised food shoppers to leave excessive wrapping at the tills and to report the stores to trading standards in an attempt to cut the amount of unnecessary plastic sent to landfill sites.’
How did we get here? Does anyone think for a moment that supermarkets made boardroom decisions to devolve a slice of their huge profits on packaging items that don’t require packaging for no good reason? They were responding to increased customer demand for hygienic sealing, surely. Doesn’t anyone else remember those paranoid times in the 80s when everyone was getting ‘jabs’ before they went on holidays to Jersey? People took food instead of clothes in their suitcases when they vacationed in Torremolinos. They drank beer instead of water, ‘because it was safer’. A night on the ale would probably only leave you half conscious on the beach minus your travellers’ cheques and your passport, which you were far too sensible to leave in your room because of the thieving locals. Drinking the water though would most assuredly kill you. I have drunk tap water from Moscow to Manila with no ill effect. Antibodies are your internal composting engine.
So, let’s look at the strategic approach offered by our minister. It contains all the hallmarks of a classic Government response to a very serious problem, (grocery packaging accounts for one third of landfill waste – a further third is disposable nappies.)
  • It is fatuous and flippant. Possibly not a high water mark, but it's close.
  • It requires individual members of the public to do all the work.
  • It will irritate absolutely everyone involved and probably cause fights.
  • No one in their right mind will participate in it.
  • It serves no useful purpose as the waste still exists and will have to be disposed of, just by someone else.
It also contains an irredeemable flaw in logic, the type of which this Government is an exemplar. The people who care about pointless packaging don’t buy their fruit and vegetables pointlessly wrapped in the first place. They take their twenty-year old raffia basket which they have lovingly repaired with string over the years down to the local farmers market or they get a delivery from Abel & Cole which cheerily and reliably brings them non shrink-wrapped fresh seasonal vegetables once a week in a reusable box. So please go away and stop wasting our non-recyclable money on your sub Blue Peter creations you sticky back plastic morons.

Picture of Bugs Bunny by Warner Brothers


andie said...

But cleaning is, apparently, the "new gardening". And people love watching How Clean is Your House even though it's obviously not true that all those germs are as dangerous as they make out otherwise we would all be dead by now.

Penless Artist said...

In Nova Scotia, it's conventional parenting wisdom that if you can get your kid to eat a fistfull of dirt before they're 2, they will be healthy their whole lives.

It's usually not difficult.

That's so pants said...

Nova Scotia sounds great. Is there a tropical version? I don't like the cold. I do, however, love mud. Mud baths are fantastic. There was a brilliant article by Kate Clanchy in last Saturday's Guardian - I'm not very good at links but it should be easy to find - where she talks about how her Kosovan friend showed her how to teach a new born baby to pee by hissing psspsspss in his/her ear. Fantastic.

Anonymous said...

I love Abel and Cole!!!

Anonymous said...

Well, I think there's more to it than this. A lot of people can't afford Abel & Cole, or the farmer's market, or indeed don't have a local market, or are busy working parents who have to stop at the easiest place as they rush home to the hungry maws of their offspring. Also, lots of redundant packaging is on things that aren't fresh food. Plastic around magazines, the huige packaging around razors, single jars or bottles with cardboard wrapped round them, huge dispensers with small amounts of product inside, etc etc etc.

Also, though this is a patronising suggestion coming from the source it has come from, this model can work - but as a grassroots movement, as in Germany about 20 years ago. The supermarkets are immensely powerful and CAN drive the packaging agenda. I mean DO drive it. They don;t want the produce they have paid for to get bruised, or to go off in transit as it crosses the earth to reach Surbiton, Peckham or Ware. If consumers do indeed want less packaging, this needs to be communicated forcefully to the big chains. Dumping our rubbish on them - making it their problem - might help to do the trick.

In fact, the big supermarkets do in fact do a hell of a lot of recycling. At least one own-brand recycled toilet paper is made out of the recycled office waste of the company itself - is it Waitrose? I can't remember.

That's so pants said...

I take your point Ms Baroque. A word in defence of Abel & Cole though. They do deliver which saves on the cost of transport and the time taken to rush to the supermarket and they are really quite competitive in terms of price. We spend a far lower percentage of our incomes on food now than we did twenty years ago and the public now expects food and clothing to cost virtually nothing. I think we do need to take some individual responsibility for driving demand. I also believe that people who can afford and have access to locally produced organic food should choose to buy it because this is likely to narrow any price differential and make it more attractive and affordable for families on lower incomes.

That's so pants said...

Something a bit strange has happened here. Ms Baroque's comment has turned into anonymous - Sorry Ms B. I've done something idiotic, as usual. I should be locked away really, for my own safety.

Ms Baroque said...

I agree with everything you say about Abel & Cole. I live in a block of flats, though, and i've been a bit scared off by the proviso on their website about how they may leave deliveries outside... in my place that meanbs I come home and my food's been a) gobbed on, b) covered in fag-ends, c) nicked. Maybe a bit too organic for my tastes. I couuld make a phone call and clear that up with them, I suppose.

Andie, I would never watch How Clean Is Your House - though, on aesthetic grounds. I keep trying tp ban all reality TV from MY house, but somehow Queer Eye for the Straight Guy keeps wheedling its way back in.

By the way, TSP, on the day you posted this the g2 section of The Guardian had a fab, pages-long write-up where their journos had to go and remove all excess packaging at a number of checkouts! Did you see it? Riveting reading.

That's so pants said...

Welcome back Ms Baroque. You can give you outside doorkey to Abel and Cole so they can leave the box outside your flat door. Yes I saw The Guardian piece. Most of the journalists seemed to go at non busy times which showed enormous restraint, but it WAS the Guardian. The Evening Standard would have sent them all in at five on a wet Friday. The thing I'd have reservations about is putting those poor till operators in the position of having to deal with the consequences. People are always so on edge when they're supermarket shopping because it's a vile experience most of the time. What might be better is to move away from the till and leave the packaging in the trolley - then the managers would have to deal with it.