Posted on by Rebecca Bryn
Image courtesy of petelovespurple via Visual Hunt.
Back in the good old days, I suppose I’d have been about three and sitting in a little metal chair on the back of Mum’s sit-up-and-beg Raleigh, shopping was quite a different experience. We went to the corner shop, the greengrocer, or the butcher for most of our daily requirements. Daily, because domestic refrigeration was unheard of. Potatoes were weighed out and poured into the bottom of our shopping bag. Next came root vegetables, then greens, and on top of those, the most squashable items, like fruit and salad. Perched on top of those were eggs in a paper bag, or maybe sausages in waxed paper. And when we got home the shopping was unloaded into a vegetable rack, or a larder or meat safe to keep off the flies.
Bread, milk, and coal were delivered by horse and cart. Milk daily, bread two or three times a week, and coal, you could have best bright or nutty slack, about once a month, and you had to run out into the street if you wanted bread or coal. Not that that was a hardship to me as I loved the horses. Bobby was the milkman’s horse and Tommy the baker’s. Tommy was apt to bite so his piece of carrot had to be offered carefully on the flat of my small hand.
What, you are asking by now, has this got to do with being stark naked in Tesco? It’s packaging, especially plastic packaging. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need the stuff: vegetables come in their own packaging: it’s called skin or leaves. Okay, so sugar and flour need to be in bags, paper is usually sufficient, and liquids need containing, glass or waxed cardboard works well, but there’s a heck of a lot of stuff that doesn’t need to be fully clothed in frilly crinolines and bustles, with flowery hats, wigs and suitcases. And surely it’s possible for manufacturers of packaging to come up with an alternative to plastic bags. According to another TV programme, on as I write, there is an environmental sea-change coming in packaging which has to be good news.
Packaging, or the way it’s presently abused, also deceives the purchaser and that really, really annoys me. Try going around any supermarket and looking at the packaged cooked meat, for example. Do what I do and shake the packets to see what’s hidden behind the large stick-on label. Answer: nothing. Absolutely sod all – air in fact. I shake them, turn them upside down so people can see what they’re not buying, and walk on. Oh, I’m sure these supermarkets are perfectly legal in their packaging but legal isn’t necessarily morally or ecologically defensible. The law, after all, does often have long furry ears and bray a lot.
I once bought an apricot and champagne gateau, really scrummy, that boasted it served six to eight. From the packet size, I believed it. Well, we’ve all been conned. It was literally half the size of the packaging. Thank goodness I hadn’t relied on it to feed eight or four of us would have gone without.
But there’s a much more serious issue here than conning the public over value for money. According to a TV report tonight, 50,000 people a year in the UK die from pollution. I dread to think what it is in China. Let’s suppose for a moment that the packaging of my apricot gateau was reduced to what is really necessary. You could get twice as many on a lorry. Expand that to every commodity that is over-packaged and that would probably halve the number of lorry journeys. The saving in unsustainable, exhaustible resources and in pollution would be astronomical.
Of course there’s a down side, profit and jobs at the very least, but look what’s at stake. There is, apparently an island the size of Wales that is made entirely of plastic. Worse, if you need worse, the plastic that degrades ends up as micro-plastics, tiny grains that are ingested by fish and birds and are already making their way up the food chain and onto our supermarket shelves. This stuff is toxic and we’re feeding it to our children. Add to this the fact that modern farming methods, basically not using organic manure, are causing soil infertility and have reduced the nutritional value of some vegetable foods by as much as fifty percent and we run a real risk of suffering malnutrition in the future.
Just take a look next time you’re in a supermarket and see if you think taking a step back in packaging wouldn’t be a good thing to try. I wonder what the check-out person would say if you put your spuds, carrots, and tomatoes naked on the conveyor belt? Maybe, we should try going stark naked in Tesco.
Originally written in 2017, how much has changed? Certainly, there’s a lot more talking about the problem, but is much actually happening? I bet that island is the size of England by now.