WIPES

TRIGGER WARNING: this piece contains the word “moist”. Steel yourself, chin up, best foot forward, and read on.

Quick digression 1

I’ve been on holiday. And I’ve been massively down in the dumps for reasons too complicated to write here. The state of the world hasn’t helped. So I took a break from doing this because it’s a lot of work. But I am back at the helm now, trying to persuade you to save the world one product / idea at a time. (For the record – I’ve found St. John’s Wort very effective.)

Back to wipes!

A wipe, in short, is a moist towelette that has been impregnated with chemicals and cleansing agents. And lordy lordy, there are moist towelettes for every occasion. Here’s a list of available which I do not claim to be anything like comprehensive.

  • Whiteboard wipes for the office/school. So no-one gets to be blackboard monitor and experience the joy of bashing the cleaner thingy with a ruler and seeing clouds of chalk fill the air. Shame.
  • Wipes for electronic cleaning. I just use a slightly damp duster.
  • “Washlets” for people with a neurosis about their botty hygiene and too lazy to wash themselves with soap and a flannel.
  • Sterile moist wound-cleansing wipes that meet current HSE regulations. Actually, I’ll concede that these are necessary.
  • Antibacterial wipes for the food industry. Vinegar and a very hot clean cloth would do just as well – the moment after you wipe a surface, bacteria in the air will settle back down on it.
  • Wipes for removal of adhesives, sealants, oils, paints & grease. Remember Grandad’s oily rag?  Same thing but it comes in a plastic packet and you throw it it away immediately.
  • Facial cleanser wipes. FFS, what’s wrong with make-up remover and cotton wool?
  • Intimate wipes for feminine cleansing. Grrrrrrr – yet another way to make women feel insecure about their femaleness.
  • Baby wipes. Water and a soft cloth infinitely preferable, but we’ll get to that.
  • Toddler wipes. Yes, different from baby wipes. So a mum with a toddler and a newborn is suckered into buying two different types of wipes.
  • Pet care grooming wipes. My terrier, Piper, wouldn’t thank you, a good rub in horse manure is on her Christmas Wish List.
  • Washlets, and other moist toilet tissue.  In other words, botty wipes for using in tandem with dry toilet tissue – or perhaps instead of?
  • Cage cleaning wipes for pets’ cages. Never heard of a hose?
  • Individually wrapped restaurant wipes. Bring back the finger bowl!
  • Jumbo ear wipes for cats and dogs. Yes, honestly!
  • Glass and window wipes. Newspaper and vinegar is so much better!
  • Tushie wipes for cats and dogs. These really exist. FFS…!

And there are more, but you get my drift. You are paying for a small wet flannel with chemicals. A small wet flannel which you will then throw away.

Every single one of these (except the sterile ones for wounds) is replaceable by a small WASHABLE flannel (or towel, cut up t-shirt, piece of ancient sheeting etc) WITHOUT chemicals. A small wet flannel which you can pop into your washing machine and use again. And again. Etcetera.

Quick digression 2

Yes, I know it’s hard to concentrate on anything other than the crazy political situation here in the UK. My friends in other countries are just as glued to the horror as we are. However, my opinion is that environmental destruction is by far the most important issue the world has to face, so do tear yourself away from Brexit for a moment and bend your mind to wipes!

What is a wipe?

In the past, cloth was always woven or knitted with yarn that interlocked or interwove. Not so with wipes. They are not flannels, nor are they tissues for that matter. They are made by pressing a mass of separate fibres together to make a single sheet of material. A huge range of different fibres are used, but as far as I understand it, natural fibres are necessary for the absorbency and non-biodegradable plastic derivatives are added for strength.

Yes, plastic. Almost all wipes contain plastics, which then degrade down to microplastics. And those don’t go anywhere. They will linger in the sea and the soil long after we are all dead. Recent reasearch shows that earthworms don’t prosper in soil containing high proportions of plastic contaminants.

“Scientists found that worms placed in soil loaded with high density polyethylene (HDPE) – a common plastic used for bags and bottles – for 30 days lost about 3% of their body weight, compared with a control sample of similar worms placed in similar soil without HDPE, which put on 5% in body weight over the same period.”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/12/worms-fail-to-thrive-in-soil-containing-microplastics-study?CMP=share_btn_fb&fbclid=IwAR3OTDpUJdsP4dEy6-fE-yejuAMZPNWY-cFRrexmSx6KiqonGxEIulUwwak

If you don’t care about that (you should, because healthy soil is vital for growing the crops that feed us), then you should care about the fact that YOU are now almost definitely host to microplastics. It’s almost definitely in your poop, for instance. The threat to human health is only now beginning to be understood.

The life of a wipe…

… is a great deal longer than the few seconds of its use, as fatbergs have conclusively proved. The plastic based fibres will take HUNDREDS of years to decompose. Photographs of fatbergs don’t really show the scale of the horror, so here’s another image of waste to haunt your dreams.

I dragged this photo from Bloomberg (sorry…!). Apparently, this toxic horror is almost entirely made up of wipes pulled from the water by a screen and scrape machine at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Resource Recovery Center.

Just in case you’ve emerged from 10 years with a contemplative order of Visitandine nuns (a rare breed), a fatberg is an agglomeration of gubbins and goo that gathers in sewers and constipates our waste disposal systems.

Wipes are estimated to make up 93% of the contents of these fatbergs. The rest is mostly other debris, like tissues and poop stuck between wipes. And fat. Tons of fat glueing it all together. That’s the fat you pour down the sink instead of letting it cool and disposing of it with your food waste… grr!!!

Should you assume this is a big city problem, on 8th January this year (2019) a vast fatberg the size of 6 London buses was found under a children’s playground in dear old Sidmouth.

Sidmouth, if you’ve never been there, is a charming, sleepy, seaside town in Devon on the South Coast of the UK. The population is about 13,000. It has never done anything more contentious than hold a yearly folk festival when a few thousand crusties descend on the town for a week of music, cider, decent ale and country dancing. In other words, the least likely people on the planet to be hornswoggled into using pesky things like wipes.

This is a picture of idyllic Sidmouth, host to a record-breaking fatberg. Thanks to Creative Commons for the photograph.

So if little old Sidmouth can produce a gigantic fatberg, WTF is lurking under us all right now?

Who pays?

The taxpayer. You and me, baby. You are paying for the wipes, and then you’re paying a specialist company to get rid of it, lump by festering lump. They are massive health hazards. Do you want waste water full of poo flooding into your gardens. Can you imagine the health hazard to EVERYTHING in the area? You, your family, your pets, your neighbours, the wildlife…

About 300,000 fatbergs have to be removed in the UK every year. This costs the country about £100m. I think you will agree that this money could be put to much better use elsewhere, don’t you?

Add this thought – because people can’t be bothered to wash their cleaning cloths – it’s so much easier to chuck ’em! – some poor devils have to clean all this hellish detritus away.

Compostable?

Ho hum. Compostable claims are deeply debatable. Even the company Natracare, which aims to provide personal hygiene products without any damaging ingredients, admits on its website that you shouldn’t flush compostable wipes down the lavvy. This is because the wipe isn’t going to decompose quickly enough to avoid attracting all that fat and poop and thus help create another fatberg and start the whole revolting cycle all over again.

And search as I might, I cannot find any evidence of genuinely compostable wipes, because the packaging always seems to be made of plastic. If they weren’t kept inside some sort of plastic packaging, they would dry out which would entirely negate the point of the ruddy wipes in the first place.

So it’s all very well making the wipes biodegradable, but if the packaging is plastic another problem is created. Because you CANNOT divorce the contents from the packaging.

Chemicals

Moist wipes are impregnated with all sorts of chemicals which I’m not going to go into now because each brand of wipes is different and it would take me till the end of eternity to research them all. And you would hate me for boring you.

But these are chemicals over which you have no control. And you are wiping your baby’s bum/your face/your hands/your arse with these chemicals. All extremely sensitive areas. There are strong links between baby wipes in part contributing to food allergies in children, and allergic skin reactions and dermatitis caused by other sorts of wipes. I myself broke out in a horrible rash when I foolishly used some cleansing wipes some years ago.

And if you’re still not convinced, even the well-meaning company, Water Wipes, which prides itself on making the purest baby wipes going and aims to make a 100% biodegradable wipe by 2023 (!!!), advises that you should NOT use wipes on newborns and young infants… So why do they make them then, if they think it’s wrong to use them?

Instead…

You could purchase a pile of cheap towelling flannels, and then use the creams, unguents or solvents you actually need – not all the other chemicals they need to keep the little rags stable and moist. Then you can throw them in the wash after use. And then use them again.

What you will save

  • The planet.
  • Quite a lot of money, depending on the number and type of wipes you are in the habit of purchasing.
  • Your sensitive skin

And finally, a Piper story…

Her ladyship in the bath, feeling very sorry for herself.

I might as well fess up. I once used three small packets of wipes in one hit.

It was in Sheffield, where I was gigging at the Lyceum. Piper, my Patterdale terrier, was on tour with me and I took her for a walk in the nearest open space I could find, which was the other side of the railway. The dear little minx rewarded me by rolling in some freshly plopped fox poo.

The whiff you get off fox poo is unspeakably mephitic. Think dead rat mixed with asparagus wee with some notes of rancid ham and cheese. It was the smelliest smell I’d ever smelt.

Walking back throught the station was mortifying. People jumped in alarm as their schnozzles were suddenly assaulted by the sudden stench. They checked the soles of their shoes. They clasped their hands to their mouths in wide-eyed horror, they staggered back and reeled hither and yon. Unfortunately, light brown fox poo shows up beautifully on a long, black, curly coat so it was pretty easy to identify the culprit. Normally, Miss Pips elicits coos and clucks as she’s a pretty little thing, but folk recoiled as if they’d seen Beelzebub by the news stand.

I did the only thing I could think of. I purchased three packets of wipes and sat by the Sheaf Square fountains and wiped her down as best as I could. Then I took her to the theatre and we both had a shower.

So I do understand that there are times when only a wipe will do. I hadn’t set out to disgust Sheffield, after all.

A CASHLESS SOCIETY

I said to the teller when I collected my new bank card: “If you see it used for tap ‘n’ go payments, consider that my card has been stolen and cancel it immediately. I will only use it with my pin.”

She clearly thought I was a geriatric technophobe. “Don’t worry,” she said, brightly. “You can use it easily. Just tap where you see the sign and it’ll register payment.”

“You misunderstand me,” I replied. “I don’t want to use it that way. I know I have to have one of these cards, but I will not use it without identification. You can easily register suspicious change of use – so if it’s used for tap and go, please assume it has been nicked.”

She nodded in a vague, humouring sort of way, and I now realise I should have written to the bank to reinforce my instructions because they took no bloody notice. When an over-enthusiastic waitress at Côte Brasserie took my card and tapped it for me (naughty) before I could shout, “STOP!”, the card was not only accepted but the bank failed to cancel it. Grr.

I find the prospect of a cashless society deeply sinister. Yes, I use my Visa card and my bank card, both regularly. But I am still wedded to cash. And I hate the idea of a future without it.

Without cash, you will never, ever make an un-tracked purchase again. Every store, every coffee bar, every train operator, every website you use will know who you are, what branch you shopped at last and what your preferences and regular habits are.

Without cash, you’ll never have a jar on the dressing table where you throw your loose change of an evening. Mine mounts up surprisingly quickly and softens the financial hammering that Christmas brings.

Without cash, some joys will be forever lost. You will never be able to slip a twenty pound note into your goddaughter’s birthday card, or see a child empty out his piggy bank and have all that fun piling coins and counting his loot – learning basic numeracy and the point of saving at the same time. Heck, even the tooth fairy will die for lack of employment.

Without cash, you will never again be able to make sure the wait staff get their tips because you’ll be forced to put the gratuity on the card. We all know that there are publicans and restaurant owners who don’t pass the tips on to the people who earned them, God rot their hornswoggling arses.

Without cash, you will always have to pay VAT where applicable, and the tax man will know every transaction you ever make. You’ll never be able to bung fifteen quid to Jobless Dave Down-The-Road for mowing your lawn, or buy a shirt off a friend in a quick easy exchange – here’s your shirt, here’s my tenner. Neighbour Molly won’t be able to supplement her paltry pension by giving friends occasional lifts to the airport.

Without cash, the Government will know ALL your spending habits. Do you trust the Government?

Without cash, we are sleepwalking into financial enslavement.

Poor Piggywig. Off to the dump with the broken stand, the defunct spray and the old grill mesh.

Convenience

Sure, the tap ‘n’ go system is quick and convenient. Who hasn’t fumed and chafed behind one of those infuriating old biddies whose arthritic fingers struggle to retrieve 5p coins from her purse?

But how convenient is it really? If you know you have a certain amount of spending money per week, it’s much easier to go over the limit when you’re not handling the actual moolah because it doesn’t feel like spending!

Skinny vanilla spice latte grande plus a ham and cheddar croissant? That’s £6.54. Purchase that 5 days a week, 49 weeks a year, and you’ve lashed out £1,602.30. Did you really mean to spend all that? Did you know it’ll get you two weeks all inclusive in a pretty 4* hotel in Turkey with nearly £300 spending money left over?

Business loves contactless payment, because you are so much more likely to make those kind of small, unnecessary, spontaneous purchases you never did when you had to use your last tenner. Those spontaneous purchases nibble away at your income while businesses thrive on them.

Enough for a latté and a muffin… but you’re less likely to bother if you had to count this lot. Put it in your piggy bank instead, and watch it mount up.

Safety

“You could have your wallet stolen!” cry the devotees of a No Cash Life. Of course. And you can have your card or phone stolen too. Tap ‘n’ Go means you don’t have to sign or provide a thumbprint. No ID required.

Come on, how safe is that when you can spend up to £30 a go? Yes, you might have all your cash stolen, but the most that any of us can usually take out in one go is £250. A pickpocket could spend £250 on St Pancras Station concourse in twenty minutes. A nonchalant reliance on the card’s reliability is woefully misplaced – research has shown conclusively that not all cards refuse payments larger than £30 – a payment over £100 was accepted in one case. Now do you feel secure?

A criminal can take payment from your card when you’re distracted by something else – an accomplice who drops their bag, perhaps. All they need is their own mobile payments machine. Yes, they would have to use a different terminal to avoid the bank’s fraud detection, but clever fraudsters will know how to get round that. Now do you feel secure?

Or perhaps they might use a mobile phone to take a payment reading from a credit card. They can send the data to another phone and make a payment on that second device. All that’s needed is proximity – the fraudster needs to be near the victim. Now do you feel secure?

Or the criminal might nick your card, load it onto their iPhone and use Apple Pay to spend spend spend and in much larger amounts than the £30 per transaction limit. How much do you really trust your bank to check verification and monitor the possibilities of fraud at every level? It transpires that Apple Pay is by no means as safe as you thought, and an efficient crook can do terrible damage to your finances.

Now do you feel secure?

A cash box! Darling, that’s SO last century…!

Who benefits?

Business, government and hygiene fanatics.

The advantages for government are obvious.

  • Minting coins and notes is expensive
  • Money can be forged
  • Money can’t be tracked
  • Your every transaction – in or out – can’t be tracked

Similarly, the pluses for business are clear. Sales increase when consumers pay with a card. People are less likely to make small purchases if they don’t have much actual dosh in their pocket.

Businesses love going cash free because the accounting is infinitely simpler when the software does all the hard work. Yea, I say unto thee, go cashless, ye businesses, sack thy bookkeeper and minimise on staff costs! Tough if you’re the bookkeeper, of course…

You can’t blame them. Who wants to trek to the bank with bags of money and cheques every day? But that’s their problem. I’m concerned about the rights of the individual.

The future

We are only at the beginning of the technological revolution. Yet already giant companies know far too much about us. Have you watched “The Great Hack” on Netflix? You should. It describes how a political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, harvested deeply personal data through Facebook and manipulated enough of the population to change their mind about their vote through targeted “advertising”. Targeted lies, more like.

If companies such as Facebook already know so much about us that they can focus advertising on an entirely personal level, just wait until governments have the same information.

Governments know too much about us already. We are a watched society. Already, there is approximately one surveillance camera for every eleven people in this country.

In the Uighur autonomous region of Xinjiang, China, a new form of Big Brother is being trialled with chilling success. The Uighurs are Muslim, you see, and apparently some governments think that all Muslims are potential terrorists who need constant monitoring. Facial recognition technique, biometric information, patterns of behaviour – all these are used to build up profiles to identify potentially restive citizens.

It’s estimated that there may be as many as a million Uighur people in detention camps. For what? Not turning up for flag-waving ceremonies, or being a little too fervent at Friday prayers, perhaps. Even having a relative abroad brings suspicion.

So think of the Uighur region as being the first really enormous laboratory for complete population control, This is achieved by means of behavioural prediction and algorithmically-assisted surveillance.

Remember this: we are only at the beginning of the technological revolution.

Bye bye, wallets…

But I only bought a book…!

Ah, but what kind of book? Or books? History books covering the rise of the labour movement? The purchases are registered in your history. Dangerous.

Never mind that, we’re not quite there yet. Where we have already arrived at is what has been described as “surveillance capitalism” by Shoshana Zuboff, the Harvard scholar and writer.

Basically, every time we do anything online, whether we’re buying towels from John Lewis or playing “What Your Colour Choice Says About You” on Facebook, those companies log everything they can glean:

  • preferences
  • likes
  • dislikes
  • habits
  • fears
  • family
  • friends
  • looser connections
  • political leanings or lack thereof
  • purchase records
  • magazine subscriptions

Everything that constitutes our lives, in other words. How? Because we handed over the information free of charge.

Think of those Amazon emails you get… “Based on your last purchase of orthotic insoles, you might be interested in these bunion correctors.” Amazon aren’t interested in your wellbeing, your flat feet or your painful hammer toe, they just want to sell you stuff. They remind you when you didn’t buy something, and they remind you of what you looked at last. It’s not to help you, it’s to train you into buying from them without you realising what they are doing.

Shoshana Zuboff sums it up. “It is no longer enough to automate information flows about us; the goal now is to automate us. These processes are meticulously designed to produce ignorance by circumventing individual awareness and thus eliminate any possibility of self-determination.”

In other words, commerce wishes to control and direct your desires and your spending. Commerce doesn’t care if you get horribly into debt. Commerce yearns for you to buy that extra pair of shoes, or that miraculous sticky tape that makes power tools adhere to walls, or that set of cheerily coloured storage boxes that mean you can stash yet more unnecessary purchases away in your overcrowded home.

And commerce uses third party trackers

It is scary stuff. And when Governments get their act together, as in the Uighur province of China, we will be little more than completely controlled cogs in a rapaciously capitalist society.

Who’s watching you today?
Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

Cash is freedom

We have to go on using cash. All of us.

Mind you, there is no guarantee that the demand for cash will ensure its preservation. Governments around the world are beginning to move against cash in a big way.

The moment we become entirely cashless is the moment governments have as much, perhaps even more, access to our life profile than Facebook, Google and Amazon. Government will monitor everything its citizens do, and by abandoning cash we are sleepwalking towards totalitarianism. God help us.

80% of all Sweden’s financial transactions are now cashless.

Hong Kong’s Octopus card, once merely an RFID (Radio Frequency ID) transport payment card like the London Oyster card, can be used to pay for:

  • The MTR (Hong Kong’s subway system)
  • Vending machines
  • 7-Eleven (and its competitor, Circle K)
  • Trams
  • Ferries
  • Buses
  • Starbucks
  • Fast food outlets 
  • Taxis 
  • Bakeries
  • Car parks
  • Supermarkets

It is predicted that Australia will be entirely cash free by 2022. (Ironic, really, when you consider that Australia produced Pat Cash.)

The cashless society is coming and we must resist it.

Cash is our last freedom. Let’s not give it up without a fight.

And if you are stuck behind me in a queue in a few years time and you cluck in annoyance because my arthritic fingers can’t fish out that tiny coin, don’t curse. Thank me for sticking with the inconvenience.

Cash is freedom. I cannot emphasise it enough.

What you will save…

  • The last scraps of your privacy from predatory commercialism.
  • A noggin of freedom from government surveillance.
  • Your ability to earn a buck on the side.
Thanks for the tip. Photo by Sam Truong Dan on Unsplash

End note

These pieces are of necessity a great deal shorter than they could be, because I’m trying to distil a ton of information into a fairly brief piece. So I sometimes skim over certain subjects and try to avoid tangents wherever possible. I can address these in the comments section afterwards if they’re raised by readers.

But I thought it worth mentioning that I’m obviously in favour of some degree of underground economy and when I was preparing this piece, I wrote a long defence of it. In the end, I cut it, for your sake as much as mine. So I will say just this; I know that the underground economy diminishes the Revenue’s tax intake. However, I believe it is a necessary freedom from control, and this has to be balanced against the social obligation of the tax system.

In addition, I don’t think cashlessness will stop racketeers, extortioners, pimps, drug peddlers or any other kind of felons from going about their vile business. They’ll extort your property instead of your money, and they’ll store their ill-gotten gains in gold and other valuables, like crypto currencies. Viz; Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s astonishing act of state overreach when he recalled India’s two top banknotes, giving that mammoth population just 50 days to cash in their notes. He was convinced that a vast proportion (33%) of the notes would never be returned because they were being hoarded by criminals and cartels. In fact, 99.3% of the notes were returned, proving that criminals are smarter than he thought.

Follow me

The irony is that I am now going to ask you to follow me (!!!) if you’re enjoying these pieces. All you have to do is enter your email in the box at the top of the page and click the follow button. You will then receive an email every time I publish a new piece (every two weeks). Nothing more. No targeted advertising. I won’t try to sell you anything. And I don’t make any money from this at all.

But without Piper…

… life would be a good deal drearier. She sits in my office all day, my little pal. What would I do without her?

The best dog in the world.

AVOCADOS…

I love avocados. I’ve loved them ever since they were the exotic luxury food of my teenage years when Mum served them with prawn cocktail at her fancy schmancy dinner parties. I loved them even better when there was a sudden avocado glut in 1975 and I was working as a secretary in Shoe Lane, you could get four for 12p at Leather Lane street market. Bliss!

And, oh glory, they are so GOOD for you! No wonder demand has skyrocketed in recent years. Most fruits are chocabloc with carbs in the form of fructose, but avos are brimming with the best kind of fats – monounsaturated fat being its principal fat. Not only that, they’re high in Vitamin C, sodium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, vitamins E, B1, B2 and D, And they contain a shit-load of fibre too!

And so adaptable!

  • Smash it on toast for a simply spiffing breakfast!
  • Pulp it with honey, oatmeal or yoghurt and spread it on your face for super glowing skin. What’s that if not a win win, a face mask you can eat afterwards? (Perhaps not…)
  • Whizz it in the blender with cocoa powder and maple syrup and lo! You have yummy scrummy chocolate icing for your vegan cake…
  • Mums listen up – the delicately flavoured, creamy avocado is perfect for baby’s first solid food!

All hail, the mighty avocado, the superfood’s superfood!

Except I think we should think about them a little harder because they’re currently not very good for the planet.

OMG, dahling, it’s sooooo healthy!!! Photo by Mariana Medvedeva on Unsplash

A quick digression

Some people will be disappointed that I’m not addressing the issue of meat. This is for a couple of reasons, but mainly because I’m reluctant to bore you with the obvious. Perhaps I assume too much but I think enough is widely known about the horrors of the meat industry and the methane emissions from cattle. People are turning to vegetarianism – a good thing – in droves without my help. What this blog is for is to raise awareness of other issues that might not be so well known.

Secondly, I’m a meat eater myself. I eat less meat than I did, which is an improvement, but I’m not going to preach what I don’t practice. I admire people who give up meat for ethical reasons, and maybe I’ll join them one day, but like St. Augustine, I say to myself, ‘Lord make me pure, but not yet…”

Finally, I don’t believe there’s a moral high ground anywhere, least of all a moral high ground with Yours Truly standing proudly atop it, but I’ll come back to this point later.

Back to avos

Avocado trees evolved in rainforests, so they have relatively shallow roots. Most of their moisture intake comes from the top 30cm of soil. They don’t have ultra fine roots which can seek out tiny water droplets which are bound tightly to the soil. So they need a lot of water. Various figures are quoted: 2,000 litres per kilo, according to the Water Footprint Network. In very dry areas, much more than that is needed. To grow one single fruit, it takes about 320 litres of applied water – i.e. not rainfall or moisture naturally occurring in the soil.

I’ll repeat that. THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY LITRES of applied water to grow just ONE fruit. Try that with a watering can!

And yet it’s being grown in large quantities in incredibly dry areas. California, for instance. Yes, California, which suffered more than 7 years of drought from 2011-2018. They’re grown from Monterey down to San Diego County, in spite of the latter being identified as “abnormally dry” by drought.gov. Unsurprisingly, the current California crop is the smallest in more than ten years.

They’re commercially grown in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Chile, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and Peru. Not all the areas are suitable for large scale fruit farming and it can have a devastating effect on surrounding areas.

Take Petorca, Chile, where the situation can only be described as desperate. Aquifers have been raided to extinction. Where there was a river, there is now a dry bed. Small farmers in the area can no longer keep animals or cultivate their land. Locals have to use water brought in on trucks. This water is frequently contaminated and has to be boiled before they can drink it. Many people are moving away, especially the young, thus unravelling the social fabric of the area.

But heaven forfend that the hipsters and health nuts should forgo their smashed avocado on toast for breakfast!

So healthy and so artistic! Photo by Brenda Godinez on Unsplash

It’s not just in Petorca that things are bad. The demand for avocados – particularly in the US – is now so huge that farmers in Mexico are turning away from traditional crops like cucumbers and melons (which need much less water than you’d think) towards avocados – yes, avocados are the new green gold! In the state of Michoacán, Mexico, avocado plantations have increased by 200%. In fact, in 2017, the avocado business was worth $2.9 billion dollars to Mexico. That’s BILLION.

And that kind of money makes people do all sorts of terrible things, even if they don’t mean to do harm.

Wanna be an avocado farmer?

It’s cheap to start an avocado plantation. The start up costs are extremely low. All you have to do is chop down a bit more of the forest. Hipsters, come on down – they’re turning the forests into guacamole!

The trees prefer medium and sandy soil – the kind of soil that loses its nutrients easily. So lots of chemical fertilisers tend to get applied. Nitrogen, phosphorous and potash. In alkaline soil, iron needs to be added.

They’re prone to attacks from insects. Fruit-spotting bugs, mealybugs, mites, helopeltis, Queensland fruit fly, red-banded thrips, swarming leaf beetles and red-shouldered leaf beetle (doncha love the on-trend touch of those red shoulders!)

Oh, and they get diseases too. Root rot, bacterial soft rot, stem-end rot, cercospora spot, black spot, pepper spot, anthracnose…

Bring on the chemical sprays! Cue more environmental degradation…

According to Greenpeace Mexico, “the lack of coherence between the public policies linked to land use and forest resources is allowing the transformation of the area’s ecosystems into avocado monocultures.”

Farmers are rapidly thinning out the pine forests to plant avocados trees. This is potentially disastrous. Is there anyone on the planet who doesn’t know that large scale deforestation is a calamity in the making?

Abandoned house, Kansas, April 1941. It appears we have learned nothing from the Dust Bowl, when 100.000,000 acres of America were rendered unliveable.

Blood avocados

The kind of profits that avocados can generate have attracted the attention of the cartels. In Mexico, a drug cartel known as los Caballeros Templarios, (the Knights Templar) have obtained full and detailed information on every avocado farmer in Michaocán through their State Committee of Vegetable Health. Civil servants can just as easily terrorised into compliance as farmers or pushers. So the Templarios know exactly how much land the farmers have and how much fruit they produce.

The farmers get a phone call. There’s a price: 10¢ per kilo produced, $115 per hectare of land. Exporters must pay more – $250 per hectare. Those who refuse to pay face kidnapping and death.

Packaging and transport

Consider too, how the avocado arrives on your plate.

They’re harvested unripe, and when they get to the packing house, they have to be hydro-cooled in their bins to remove any residual heat. Then they’re washed with sanitiser and polished, and once they’ve been sorted, weighed and individually labelled, they’re packed in single layers in trays, crates, or cartons which are loaded onto pallets and taken to the cooler until the transport is ready.

The avocado is a sensitive bugger. They need a very particular temperature and the humidity must be just right, or they’ll spoil. So their stowage space must be cool, dry and well ventilated. It’s an awfully long way from Peru to the fashionable cafés of Seattle and Toronto and London – and that means a lot of cooling, a lot of electricity. And a lot of pallets and crating and packaging materials which have to come from somewhere – more waste.

Rights?

We really don’t know enough about how avocado workers are treated, but I don’t suppose the cartels in Mexico care about them all that much. In Chile, water rights are available to be bought and resold to the highest bidder, so you can happily ruin the lives of your citizens by drying out the land.

And you wouldn’t want to be a trade union leader in Guatemala. In the last 12 years, 68 trade union leaders and representatives have been killed. Murdered, to be precise. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Factor in the attempted murders, kidnappings, death threats and instances of torture and you really wouldn’t want to stick your head above the parapet to fight for better conditions and pay.

Simply irresistible? Photo by Wimber Cancho on Unsplash

Moral high ground

So you see where I’m going. Is it better for me to eat an avocado from South America which has

  • drunk 320 litres of water
  • contributed to pollution, deforestation and aridification
  • contributed to human misery on an impressive scale
  • earned a shitload of airmiles
  • created a lot of packaging waste

… or a pheasant shot here on the farm? Or a lamb raised by our pal, a good and caring farmer up the road and whose land is better suited to raising sheep than growing corn?

And shouldn’t all these be occasional luxury foods and not daily staples?

The choice isn’t ever that simple, I know, and it’s not a particularly fair comparison. But it’s one of the reasons I’m unlikely to become a vegetarian this side of Christmas.

Dinner? Photo by Jack Seeds on Unsplash

If you must…

… buy fewer or buy Spanish. Spain is the only European country which produces avos for export. It would be sad never to taste an avocado again, so try and find out where they come from.

And yes, it’s very healthy – but you can get all those nutrients elsewhere.

Mercifully, I gather that in the hippest millennial circles, avocados are now considered SO last year – thus demand is slipping slightly. OMG, can you IMAGINE the SHAME of eating something unfashionable?

Just in case you feel a little relieved at this news, it appears that the Chinese middle class have discovered the delights of what they call the alligator pear and imports to China are rising. God help the poor old planet if the masses start demanding them too.

Credits

Many thanks to Malachy O’Neill for his excellent research.

Photo of avocados at the top by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

The photo of the Kansas house is from Shutterstock.

Note: I prefer the spelling of chocabloc to the uglier chockablock.

And finally…

My darling Miss P, who cannot fathom why people eat green food in the first place. Avocados? Pah!

GOB SHITE

No, not gobshite, Gob Shite. Terrible stuff for wonderful teeth.

It’s a comfort, surely, to know that when Armageddon comes, we will greet the inferno with marvellous teeth. No tombstones needed; each grimacing skull will reveal 36 of our own home grown ones in splendid condition.

We’re dog-whistled into being neurotic about our teeth. Fear of not being kissably perfect is the Stuff Of Nightmares! Our hygienist gives us grief about careless brushing. Adverts for whiter teeth, veneers and crowns abound. Experts at distinguished institutions such as the Mayo Clinic assure us that oral health is essential for our general health. So far so good.

It’s the racks of gizmos and products for advanced tooth-cleaning that greet us at the supermarket and the pharmacy that I have issue with. If plastic straws and plastic Q-tips can be banned, why aren’t people hollering about these babies?

My last dental picks.

To my shame, I have a lot of Gob Shite. Look, here’s more.

My last green picky things.

I have been buying these unthinkingly all these years and God alone knows how much stuff is gone into the dump from my dental care routine alone.

The recent report in the Telegraph revealing that all our careful recycling is almost pointless should scare us into really re-thinking our use of ALL plastics. Yes, folks, much of our patiently sorted and recyclable waste is going to landfill and incinerators.

I feel particularly bad about the number of vibrating toothbrushes I’ve binned. Especially as until relatively recently, I never thought about taking the battery out first… (See my piece on why this is BAAAAAD practice!)

My last pulsar.

Mind you, I can’t really blame anyone who does bin these without thinking. WTF do these recycling symbols on the back of the packet mean?

  • The wheelie-bin with the cross through it is the symbol of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive of the EU. I read the Wikipedia page on the subject and it’s bloody confusing. But I think it means it has to be recycled properly – in other words, the battery has to be removed before binning it. This instruction should be in big black capital letters on the packet!
  • The initials CE apparently stand for Conformité Européene, which is French for European Conformity and means the gadget has passed certain tests expected in its category.
  • The third symbol is the most confusing of all, because a lot of people think it signifies that it means “recycle this”. Nope. This is called the Green Dot. (I know, it’s not green in the picture, another source of confusion…) This does not mean that the packaging can be recycled, will be recycled or has been recycled. It is merely a symbol used on packaging in some European countries and it shows that the producer has made a financial contribution towards the recovery and recycling of packaging in Europe. And no, we don’t have any idea how large this financial contribution might be, or whether they are taking steps to change their packaging. In other words, it’s meaningless. It’s just a feelgood symbol for the manufacturers, akin to the squillionaire banker who tosses 50p to a beggar and feels he has done his charitable best.

So what can we do?

Don’t worry, you won’t end up with teeth like this…
Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash

Ironic Toothbrushes

It’s sobering to think that every single toothbrush you have ever used is still out there somewhere, buried in landfill or bobbing about in the ocean.

We have to start buying bamboo toothbrushes. However, the ironic bit about these marvels is that the truly compostable ones are made with pig bristles, which is an anathema for vegetarians and vegans. Personally, I wouldn’t have a problem, but reports are mixed on their effectiveness. You can buy them here at www.lifewithoutplastic.com.

So the most effective brushes have nylon bristles. One make – Eco-Bru – actually recommends that we remove the bristles (recyclable BPA-free nylon) when the brush has passed its best and pop them in the recycling prior to chucking the brush. Oh Lordy, another task. I suppose they mean well and at least the handle won’t be around to haunt future generations.

Another irony – makers of sustainable toothbrushes got very excited about using Nylon-4 for the bristles. Nylon-4 is a petroleum based plastic that biodegrades in months. However, there are only a few manufacturers of nylon-4 around so ethical toothbrush makers are forced to use less friendly plastics. Brush With Bamboo uses only 38% nylon, the rest is made from castor bean oil. All hail, the humble castor bean! Who knew?

And a final irony – they’re not yet in all the shops so you may have to order them online – more packaging waste! However, although our local Boots doesn’t sell them, I found two in Superdrug yesterday. Only two, but it’s a start. I bought them both. Which I guess means that Bicester is out of bamboo toothbrushes.

These toothbrushes were found on Midway Atoll, a wildlife refuge in the N Pacific Ocean, approx 1,300 miles from the nearest city. Convinced yet?
Picture from Green Eco Services, awaiting permission.

The other truly organic way to clean your teeth is either with a neem stick or a miswak stick (pictured). Both are types of twigs that apparently contain hygienic properties ; you nibble off the bark, then chew the interior to loosen the fibres, and finally you brush your teeth. Sounds like an awful faff and I’m not sure I’m ready for them. You can buy them on Amazon, but most seem to come from abroad. More postage, more packaging.

I also came across something called a toothwak… it comes with replacement bristles which screw in and seems to be the only truly biodegradable brush. But I’m not sure I like the look of that see-through panel of film… looks like plastic to me!

You can buy the toothwak here – a knowledge of Turkish will help.

Toothpaste

Yep, we have to stop buying conventional toothpaste. Last year, leading brands in America alone sold 423,500,000 units of toothpaste. That’s 423,500,000 plastic tubes heading for the bellies of sea creatures.

This albatross died because its belly was full of our plastic waste. We have to change.
Picture from the Midway Film project, awaiting permission.

There are plenty of alternatives – all you have to do is search for “plastic free toothpaste” and a host of options will appear on your screen. I’m not going to list them all, but you could try Denttabs for instance. And Lush sell something called Toothy Tabs. Click on the links to purchase. And no, I’m not making money on your clicks.

Toothpicks

When I finally finish my stack of shaming plastic picks, I shall move on to these brilliant yokes which are made mainly from corn starch and are vegan-friendly.

I nicked this pic from The Humble Co. but since the link will take you to their shop, I don’t think they will mind too much.

Dental Floss

Yes, an awful lot of dental floss is made using plastics. It’s so depressing, really it is. And it comes in plastic containers. So we have to change. There are many options out there, however. Try The White Teeth Box; their floss is 100% biodegradable, and the little bottles are glass and metal.

Mouthwash

Entirely unnecessary if you clean your teeth properly. It kills the good bacteria in your mouth as well as the bad. And where does the bottle go afterwards?

An even better plan

Keep asking for these products in your local chemist and supermarket because at the moment, you can only get many these items by post. More bloody packaging! If they haven’t started stocking them, ask when they plan to do so. Ask if you can go on a list to be informed when they do start stocking the items you want. Nudge, niggle and nag.

What you will save

Um, probably nothing much financially. But the planet will be awfully grateful.

And finally…

Sorry there has been such a long gap since my last blog. I’ve been writing my musical and these pieces take a LONG time to research and write. And then there are two dogs to be walked… so to sign off, here’s a picture of the photogenic Miss Pips and her glorious plastic-free teeth. Meanwhile, do please keep sharing the blog, I’m hugely grateful for all help.

Piper: A Dentist’s Dream

Credit – photo at the top of a perfect smile by iamSherise on Unsplash and heavily cropped by me. Sorry!

THE CHINA ARGUMENT

If I hear this again, I’ll scream. “Your blog is all very well, but it’s pointless trying to do anything to save the planet until China and India go green.”

Three people have said this to me, and I’m already sick of it. It’s a cop out. A bloody cop out. We all have to try. All of us. Every day. Of course India and China need to get on board, but that doesn’t give us the excuse to go on polluting. It’s like defending the fact that you poop in your front garden because your neighbours have 100 lodgers who poop in their front garden.

Just roll this thought around your mind. James Anderson, Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry at Harvard, says that we have five years left. In those five years, we have to transform industry as rapidly as possible – it’s not just a matter of cutting carbon emissions, its a matter of removing it from the atmosphere completely.

Five years. (And we all thought we had the luxury of a decade…!)

Here’s another thought to mull over. Anderson says, “The chance that there will be any permanent ice left in the Arctic after 2022 is essentially zero.”

So don’t mull too long, or that five year period of grace will be over and the world we live in will become a very uncomfortable place.

GAIA

James Lovelock, the eminent scientist and long a hero of mine, originally earned his fame when he came up with the Gaia hypothesis. This posits the theory that the Earth – which he calls Gaia – is a single self-regulating super-organism, and that we are a just part of it, much in the way that the bacteria on our skin is a part of us. That’s a very inadequate little explanation of a great big theory but it will have to do for now.

Lovelock believes that we human beings have multiplied too much and that Gaia is now trying to get rid of us. Catastrophic weather changes, storms, typhoons, desertification etc., and the heating up of vast areas of the world, thus making it uninhabitable are becoming the norm.

So can we do anything personally? He thinks not, and I don’t know if we can, but I passionately believe we should try. We in the West are largely the architects of the Armageddon to come, so we bloody well have to try. Here are some suggestions.

  • Fly less
  • Drive less
  • Eat less meat
  • Eat more locally produced food
  • Waste less
  • Buy less
  • Protest more
  • Have fewer children
  • Heat our homes less
  • Write letters – to government and companies and councils and anyone else you feel needs a nudge.

Note that I don’t proscribe anything completely. I believe that to be unrealistic. Changing the habits of a lifetime is hard work.

And gestures towards greenness are often just that – gestures. For instance, I own a diesel car, and I can’t do without the car as I live in a country village with a lousy bus service. I could get rid of it and replace it with an electric car instead. But it would be a pointless gesture, because it would mean that someone else would then own that car while I polished my halo. Much better for me to own that car and drive it as little as possible. If I’m running errands, I try to get them all done in one trip every few days. If I have to go anywhere farther than our local town, I go by train if at all possible. This means I’ve got my mileage down by several thousand miles per year. No, not perfect, but trying hard.

So don’t come to me with the China argument again, because it’s an excuse of the flabbiest kind. An excuse to go on living our indulgent, destructive lives, and that is true Shit You Don’t Need.

Oh, and by the way…

Letters can work. Proper letters, mind you, not emails and armchair clicktivism. A letter is counted as FAR more significant than an email. That’s because it’s a bother to write the letter, find the correct address, buy a stamp and walk to the postbox. It’s estimated that every letter of protest represents up to 10,000 similar opinions. So imagine if 1,000 of us wrote the following to our outgoing Prime Minister…

Dear Mrs. May,

Whilst I welcome the fact that you have committed the UK to a legally binding “net zero” emissions target by 2050, I believe this is not ambitious enough and we should be “net zero” by 2025.

Yours sincerely, A Person.

That would represent ten million opinions. It might make a difference. And at least when Armageddon comes, you can say you tried.

And no, buying a bag-for-life isn’t enough. Try harder.

Here endeth the rant. And here is a picture of Piper who emits a tiny amount of methane, but counters this by eating our leftovers with a will. She is very fond of my cooking and does not tolerate waste.

Yes, I agree that’s a very unattractively coloured throw, but it was all I could get in the market that day. Unfortunately, Miss P thinks that sitting on the sofa is the Divine Right of Dogs and thus unattractive throws are an essential feature of my life.

Unfortunately, she does not tolerate my tapestry cushions either. She believes them to be woefully old-fashioned, and thus they need to be destroyed.

Little tyke.

Meanwhile, please keep passing this on!

THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT

Yes, I mean it – the Houses of Parliament are shit we don’t need. Nothing we can do about it individually… yet. And no, I’m not suggesting that we don’t have a House of Commons and an Upper House – I mean the building itself is

  • no longer fit for the job
  • engenders the wrong kind of politics and therefore
  • breeds the wrong kind of politicians.

We need politicians. But just look at the shower of twazzocks representing us at the moment! Before you bombard me with protest, I know there are some excellent LOCAL MPs who serve their constituencies well. This isn’t a rant about particular politicians, nor is it a party political broadcast on behalf of a particular. But our politics is not healthy at the moment, and a fresh start might be a wonderful way to start the healing process.

The building itself

It was about to lash down the other day, so I couldn’t be bothered to get any nearer. But how symbolic is Big Ben under wraps, not to mention those storm clouds over Westminster!

The whole Palace of Westminster has to close – and soon – because it needs a vast overhaul. It’s infested with rats and mice, and there are regular sewage leaks in the basements. Serious water erosion has damaged the building, and as recently as 4th April of this year, business was suspended in the House of Commons when water started leaking through the ceiling.

All this is merely cosmetic. The real danger is that the mechanical and electrical systems are old, and the patch-and-mend regime that has kept the place going for decades is no longer enough. The wiring is so ancient that the whole place could go up in flames any day.

The only way this Victorian masterpiece can be restored is by a total evacuation of the building for at least six years, and it will happen soon.

In the meantime, both Houses and all the personnel must find another home. Why not a new PERMANENT home?????

Space

There is seating for 427 in the House of Commons, but there are 650 MPs. The House of Lords can sit 400 peers, but there are about 800 of the blighters. The bloody chambers are simply not big enough, and that’s not going to change with new wiring, is it?

Aggression

The two-sided chambers are built for confrontation, not consensus. In fact, the House of Commons has two red lines down the length of the floor and these were designed to be two sword lengths apart so that an enraged member of HM Opposition couldn’t plunge his epée into the Minister for Transport on hearing, for instance, that said Minister had spent £13.8m on an imaginary fleet of ferries. (Though who could imagine such a thing in real life?)

See those red lines? John Kerry, John Bercow and William Hague in the Commons. Note the Bearer of Ye Olde Lanyard & Lamynayte at the back. Image by David Mark from Pixabay 

MPs shout, boo, catcall, and behave like deranged schoolkids denied their Ritalin. A circular chamber wouldn’t guarantee decent, grown-up behaviour, but it would help take the heat out of room if they weren’t always glowering at one another across two sword-lengths of floor.

Tradition

A place can have too much history. When the House of Commons sits, the Speaker proceeds in wearing a black and gold robe, his train held up by a flunkey in ruffles and pantaloons, and in front of them both is another flunkey carrying the 5-foot mace. (I’m sure the flunkeys have fancy titles with outdated spellings, like Ayncient Searjeant of Ye Olde Mayce, and Seynyor Toadye of Ye Goldeyn Robe, but I can’t be arsed to look them up.)

You can’t see the pantaloons in this photo (which I snuck from the Independent) but I assure you they are there.

Oh, and if you ever touch the mace, which is a long, fancy golden stick, your buttons are torn off and you are forced to eat your chop alone in the Members Dynyng Roome for 13 days. All right, I made that up, but it is taboo to touch the mace and the Speaker will throw you out for being in contempt of Parliament. Cromwell called it a “fool’s bauble” and whilst I don’t often agree with the Butcher of Drogheda, it’s a fair description.

Aggrandisement

The trouble with the Palace of Westminster is there is too much bloody history; nearly 1000 years in fact – Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the building dates from 1097. It’s an 8 acre warren of inexplicable complexity and arcane rules dating from the Flood. There are more than a thousand rooms, over three miles of passages, 100 staircases, and about 30 bars. (One of those bars is for bishops…) Oh, and the bars are heavily subsidised by you and me…

New MPs spend their first months lost and confused about where to go, what to do, and wondering whether it’s okay to go into one room or another or if they’ve trespassed into forbidden areas … I’m not the first person to point out that the Palace of Westminster is more like a very exclusive private members club than the seat of Government. (Mhairi Black, the youngest ever MP, caused uproar when she refused to eat in a segregated part of one of the canteens where kitchen staff and MPs were not allowed to sit together. Bless her!)

The trouble is that once you start accepting these kinds of rules, and you buy the idea that MPs are too grand to eat with dinner ladies, it eats into the soul, a canker of aggrandisement. MPs learn the obscure rules and bone up on Erskine May (the guide to parliamentary procedure). It’s as though they become members of a secret society, developing a Kremlin mentality where the only thing that matters is Parliament itself.

When you go to work in a place like this, you may get a lofty idea of your own importancePhoto of Westminster Hall by Jase Ess on Unsplash

Move

Given that the whole lot of ’em have to move out for a £5bn refurb, why not move them to a new, purpose-built parliament with circular debating chambers and enough seats for the bums of both houses?

Build it in Birmingham

Why not? It’s in the centre of the country, it’s cheaper than London and it’s our second city. Easier to reach for almost all many MPs too – even Penzance is 14 miles closer to Brum! It’s also a brilliant city, and it would take a good deal of the pressure off London. Many other countries have their “capital cities” away from their main cities – Australia, South Africa, USA…

And then…

… when the £5bn refurbishment has happened (and it’ll probably be £8bn and take 3 years longer than anticipated…) it can be reopened for tourism, history tours by schoolkids, office space, weddings, barmitzvahs, and it can earn a living for the nation. And it could possibly host the odd State Occasion, if we allow it.

It is ours, after all.

Thanks to Michael D Beckwith on Unsplash for the photo at the top.

Piper in her favourite chair, imitating a Member of the British Parliament.

Note

I’ve gone fortnightly. I published these weekly to get the blog off the ground, but being bombarded with my thoughts every two weeks is probably quite enough for most of you.

USE BY DATES (and all that garbage)

If I had a regular radio show, I’d call it “What Would You Un-Invent” and I’d invite guests on to suggest things they think humankind was better without. Okay, it’s not a snappy title, but it’s a flipping brilliant idea.

I’d interview myself first, of course.

“So, I’ve got Dillie Keane here. Dillie is an ecobloggista who sits at her desk and frets about the future of the planet. Dillie, what would you un-invent?”

Thanks Dillie. Excellent question, but not easy to answer because there are so many candidates, wet wipes being high on the list. However, as it’s my own programme and I shall be back next week to interview me again, I’m going to plump for sell-by dates.”

“Super! And when were sell-by dates first used?”

“In the 1950s, actually. A bright spark at Marks & Spencer dreamt it up…”

“Ha, bright spark, Marks & Sparks! Very good.”

“Do try to be serious. As I was saying, it was introduced for foodstuffs in their storerooms, but it had to wait for another 20 years before it made it to the supermarket shelves. Now food dating is everywhere, and it scares people into binning perfectly good food every day. For instance, that Pret a Manger pasta salad dated yesterday which is in the bin beside you.”

“Er…”

“Had you remembered to put it in the fridge overnight after you decided you weren’t hungry after all, you could have happily eaten it today.”

“Yes, I…”

And when that salad, along with all the other mountains of unused food that people can’t be arsed to eat, rots quietly away in landfills, it emits loads and loads of methane which as we all know is a major contributor to Climate Change. And now, of course, food dating is mandatory in Europe.”

“Right! So, given that food dating is mandatory in Europe, is this a good thing, Dillie?”

“A highly questionable law, in my humble opinion, Dillie! But it’s also widely adopted outside the EU – entirely voluntarily! So you don’t just have to be an EU Quangocrat to be a meddling twat.

“Oh dear, we’ll have to cut that. Can’t allow use of the word “twat”. The phone will be red hot with listeners from the Home Counties who don’t give a damn about Climate Change but who DO hate bad language.”

Food dating = food waste

According to WRAP, a UK based charity which aims to reduce waste (amongst other equally noble aims), we throw out £20 billion worth of food waste every year in the UK alone. That amounts to a staggering £810 per family per year. This is food classified as “edible“, as opposed to bones, pips, rind, etc., which is defined as “inedible”. (Incidentally, if you give your leftover steak to your dog, that’s not counted as food waste.)

Barney, our lab, so HATES food waste, he’s happy to do the washing up himself.

It’s even worse in the USA. According to Climate Central, an extremely respectable independent organization of leading scientists and journalists, 40% of food produced for consumption in America is chucked out every year. This is equivalent of $165 billion dollars worth of food each year. Blow me down, but that’s an awful lot of greenhouse gas being created.

Nowadays you hear a lot about how cattle are poisoning the planet with their farts. In fact, food waste produces 34% of all methane emissions in the USA, which is not far off equalling the methane emissions from ruminant livestock (42%) – cows, sheep and buffalo – which are the chief flatulent culprits. Worldwide, the figure is much lower – ruminants contribute between 14-18% of methane. And Methane heats the planet WAAAAAY faster than CO2, though to be fair, CO2 hangs round a lot longer.

This isn’t an argument that we can relax about meat-eating, but it shows there is no moral high-ground. Rotting vegetables and fruit are every bit as pernicious as rotting meat.

What’s more, this habit of chucking good food is making us poor and the supermarkets very rich.

And then there’s all that plastic wrapping…Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Who to blame?

Simple. All of us in the super-wealthy “West”. We should be ashamed.

  • We plan badly; instead of organising our meals in advance, we impulse buy and guzzle as our whims dictate.
  • We’re visually tricked into buying food we don’t need. Supermarket psychologists know exactly where to place yummy treats that aren’t on our list. “Whoops, did I really need those choccy puddings?”
  • Supermarkets simply ADORE selling us too much food – that big bag of carrots, for instance. Too often we only use a portion of it and the rest turns to mush in the bottom drawer of the fridge.
  • Some of us (me for instance) have terrible food anxiety. I am genuinely paranoid about not being able to feed the family. Who knows, six years of the Irish famine may have imprinted in the family genes? This isn’t just fantastic speculation – there is a growing theory that cultural trauma can be transmitted down the generations. Luckily, my anxiety over food waste is even greater than my fear of starvation.
  • And just because I think this point is worth repeating over and over again, we chuck food because we are BAMBOOZLED into doing so by the bloody date on the bloody package.

So let’s just note the difference between the various terms, because these can be confusing.

Sell-by (or display until)

This just means the the shop has to sell the item by a certain date. It doesn’t mean the food has gone off. It does NOT mean you have to get rid of it if it’s in your fridge. But it’s confusing. As a result, garbage bins get another helping of food, glorious food. This is from Business Insider.

  • Here’s a little secret about those “sell-by date” labels you see on food packages… consumers should know they’re not safety dates, according to the US department of Agriculture.”

Not only that, they are not required by law – not in the UK, anyhow. They are added for stock control only.

Best By (or Best Before)

Again, this doesn’t mean the food has gone off by the date on the carton. It just means that it’s at its optimum on that day. Do remember, however, that prepared foods have so many preservatives in them that the “best by” dates might not apply.

Use by

This is the most unsettling of all. You’ll see it on tins of food, packets of dried lentils and all sorts of other comestibles that have an incredibly long shelf life. The not-so-subtle message is “Use by… or else!”

One splendid way to ignore food dates is to look at them upside down without your reading glasses.

A great mystery…?

So how come people didn’t all die of food poisoning before packaging was stamped with proscriptive dates, and before refridgeration? Time for some bullet points. (I’m very fond of a list, as you have probably already divined.)

  • People bought fresh on an almost daily basis.
  • Everything was cooked from scratch.
  • People had noses, eyes and tongues in those days. We seem to have lost ours.

Whoops, not only was that a lovely short list, but I have just looked at my face in the mirror and I DO have a nose, two eyes and a tongue! So do you!

A few ideas for avoiding waste!

Another list, oh joy! (You may be thoroughly waste-savvy already, in which case, don’t read on. But I’m constantly surprised at how unconfident people are about food… and I’m covering my back so that no-one can accuse me of encouraging them to give their family salmonella…)

  • Use your eyes. If it’s a funny colour, or is growing a grey, green and bubbly coating, don’t risk it. Scrape that bit off and taste the underneath part. If it tastes ok, it’s ok. (The only thing I share with Teresa May is that I scrape mould off jam and eat it. All right, I have also run through fields of wheat but I did a lot more while I was in the field than she ever did, I’ll wager.)
  • If it has separated or curdled, it’s probably off. Before pasteurisation, our grannies used sour milk or cream to make soda bread and stroganoff. However, since pasteurisation and homogenisation, milk doesn’t go sour like it used to – scientists can tell you why, but I can’t, and sour milk these days is horrid. (Note for no reason – this soda bread recipe is the dogs’ bollocks and it uses fresh milk!)
  • Use your nose. If it smells wrong, chuck it.
  • Still not sure? Use your tongue. A tiny taste won’t poison you. If it’s sour when it shouldn’t be, bin it.
  • Oddly fizzy? Bin it.
  • Tinned food lasts a lot longer than the date. Because of food labelling laws, (grr), manufacturers have to pluck a date out of the air to give a rough guideline but that’s all it is. We have all found a tin of beans or whatever at the back of the cupboard dating from prehistory. So open the can, have a gander, if it looks ok, stick yer finger in it and have a lick. Does it taste like it should? It’s fine.
  • Dried foods – pulses etc – last really well. Ignore the dates. If you see tiny crawly insects, these are weevils and you must chuck ’em.
  • Cheese gone hard isn’t bad. It’s just not as nice as it was. If it’s Cheddar or another hard cheese, grate it on top of pasta. If it’s a soft cheese, melt it on toast under the grill. If it’s got a greenish tinge, cut that bit off and eat the rest. (Pregnant women – check all cheeses on the internet for safety. The NHS website, for instance.)
  • Leftovers are fine. Don’t chuck ’em unless you have a labrador. If you don’t have a greedy mutt and are in doubt over how to use leftovers, consult Jack Monroe’s brilliant website, Cooking on a Bootstrap. You’ll find some excellent ideas for leftovers. And check Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall too – he’s very excercised about food waste.
Barney’s brekkie this morning: proper dog biscuits, Friday’s mashed potato, some chicken skin and a small piece of toast. Barney is our 11 year old puppy, the most gorgeous Lab in the world, and he prospers very well on the occasional leftover.
  • Is the food squidgy when it should be firm? Wrinkled when it needs to be plump? Soft when it should be crispy or brittle? Probably edible, in spite of being not especially appetising.
  • Leftover rice? Bacteria (B. cereus, which sounds ridiculous when you say it) goes bonkers in cooked rice left out in the open. Refrigerate or regret! And if you haven’t used it the next day, don’t risk it on day two.
  • Can you see lots of wriggling white things? OMG, you should have chucked it LONG ago! Unless, of course, you are partial to Casu Marzu, a now illegal Sardinian pecorino cheese that’s deliberately infected and only eaten when crawling with maggots. I’ve got a fairly strong stomach, but the very thought of this makes me giddy with revulsion. Still, each to his own…
  • If your loaf of bread has gone a bit stale, spritz it lightly with water and toast it. Or keep it in the freezer and bring it out slice by slice because it freezes really well. Stale bread makes yummy croutons, bread & butter pud, and breadcrumbs. If it’s gone green, sing Goodnight Irene and chuck it. And buy less.
Our rescue chookies – L-R Baldie, Brownie and Berniece – are delighted with a few crusts which will soften once they soak up the early morning dew.

We all fail. When I send the Beloved to do the shopping with a list, he comes back with cheddar when I wanted mozzarella, more dips than you can shake a stick at. Honestly, he has no idea of how much hummus two people can get through in a week. Then I’ll rush to the shops without warning him, come home with a bag of fruit, only to find he’s bought two melons, a mango, a punnet of blueberries, a box of nardicots and a bunch of bananas.

(Note: nardicot was my favourite new word of 2014. I’d never noticed the word before but suddenly it seemed to be everywhere. I’d always called them easy peelers.)

My friend Margaret (frequently mentioned here) tells me that following recipes can be a recipe for food waste, because you buy special ingredients that you don’t use again. So it’s great to read that some of the more responsible food writers are keen to help you use your leftovers wisely.

European food markets are a terrible temptation for me. I come home with a suitcase FULL of things I’m never going to eat.

Foods you can safely eat after the use-by date

  1. Biscuits.
  2. Hard cheese.
  3. Chocolate.
  4. Crisps and packeted snacks.
  5. Bread.
  6. Cake (especially made with butter rather than margarine).
  7. Dried pulses – lentils, barley etc.
  8. Canned food.
  9. Goat’s milk (you won’t believe how long it lasts).
  10. Cow’s milk.
  11. Eggs. Older eggs make better hardboiled eggs – much easier to peel. Worried about them? Try the float test – if they sink to the bottom of a bowl of water and stand on their end, they’re super fresh. If the sink and like on their side, they’re a bit older, but still fine. If they float, they’re bad bad bad. Another method is to crack them open one by one into a cup before using – it’s very frustrating to have to throw your cake mixture out because you dropped a stinky old egg into the batter. And yes, you will DEFINITELY know a bad egg when you see it and smell it. Black, and smelling like the entire congregation has just blown off.
  12. Vegetables of any sort. You can rescue slightly wilted leaves, or tired cauliflower/asparagus/celery etc by popping them into a bowl of cold water in the fridge. The transformation will astonish you.

The Three Grand Exceptions

  1. Never mess with chicken. Salmonella in chicken develops quickly and will make you VERY sick. Use all meats quickly, and follow guidelines on the packet. Best of all, don’t buy it at all unless you intend to use it by its recommended date.
  2. Never mess with seafood. Only cook from fresh.
  3. Never mess with ordinary pork. Ham keeps, bacon keeps for ages. That’s because cured pork products are, er, cured. Preserved, in other words. Fresh pork isn’t.
We all fail. This is what happens when the Beloved goes mad in the Dip Section of the supermarket.

The best rule of all…?

IF YOU DON’T NEED IT, DON’T BUY IT!

To help yourself stick to this rule, always go the to supermarket with a list. Do not deviate from it. Do not buy that tempting tub of mackerel paté, or that bumper packet of drumsticks you just trollied past – it’s not on your list! Plan your meals, and buy what you need. Resist the lure of BOGOF offers. This doesn’t have to exclude treats, but it’ll keep your bills down and your food waste to a minimum.

Better still, if we ALL do this, it’ll make the supermarkets slightly less obscenely wealthy. Don’t forget – it is not in their interest to make you buy less or waste less. And you will start to trust your own judgement on whether your food is good or not.

Isn’t that something to aim for?

What you’ll save

£810 a year?

Taking a pic with my right hand of Dolly the Donkey eating a wrinkled old apple out of my left hand proved surprisingly tricky. She has it down her gullet in nanoseconds.

Post script

Testing my theory to the max, I tried an experiment a couple of weeks ago. I found a tub of taramasalata in the fridge which was 34 days out of date. Yes, THIRTY FOUR DAYS!!!! The seal on the tub was perfect, and when I opened it, there was not the faintest hint of a “wrong” smell – and it looked scrummy. Taking my life in my hands, I ate two large teaspoons of the stuff. It struck me that if anything was going to make me ill, it would be processed cod’s roe. It was delicious.

The next day, undisturbed by any digestive cataclysm, I ate two more large teaspoons.

I’m still here. No sickness. Which makes me wonder… what the hell do they do to our food??????

Piper is convinced she can levitate matter. Here she is, willing my loaf of bread to fall off the breadboard. Perhaps she will succeed one day?