My Plastic-Free Month that might have worked out for an Orang Utan

Inspired by the news around plastic pollution I answered the rallying cry of the Story of Stuff to forego plastic this July.

Not all my friends agreed with the decision. There are the Whats-The-Point crew who argue the simplicity of arguments are misleading. Their views are echoed here. The Go-For-It crew however say that everything is worth trying. Encouraged by their enthusiasm, I went for it.  As its 31st July, I thought I might reflect and share  how I got on.

As a starting point, I bought milk in glass bottles. This is pleasing, but no easy matter. In my case it involved buying a lot of vegetables – all delicious – from Farm Drop.  I got very excited reading that Waitrose had organic jersey milk in bottles. After an exuberant cycle over to a shop I found the bottle was plastic! What???

Farm Drop calls itself the greenest supermarket. I’m not sure. Most of the veg comes plastic free with some mad exceptions, like baking potatoes! I was disappointed to discover that meat is all plastic wrapped so after a first attempt I decided not to buy it. Apparently the issue is regulation re health and safety. So we will all drown in the dying earth, but at least we won’t have food poisoning which is a comfort. The service is great and prices OK given the small producers and  provided you take advantage of special offers.  And yes, before you comment, I know dairy is a questionable industry but I am not there yet.

I am fortunate in Clapham Junction having two great plastic free shops nearby: Hetu is small, friendly and well stocked and even has “alternative” milk in glass bottles; The Source is part of a larger group and feels like it. This has meant for pasta, flour, pulses and oils everything is easy and its amazing how all those cloth bags that are now the rage as freebies come in handy for purchase and storage.  On a recent trip to France I was surprised at how much more widespread plastic free shopping seems to be.

It is easy to wash and clean the house without plastic. Soap Nuts are generally miraculous, plastic-free shampoo bars and homemade cleaning  products are pretty straightforward.

Overall I have thrown away significantly less trash – I haven’t yet filled a bin this month, and only a very small proportion has been plastic. I have also realised how much plastic there is on things when you are thinking about it. Supposedly this is keeping our food fresher, but, while a cucumber might last for two weeks in plastic, does this makes us so much less likely to waste it that the plastic is justified?

And what about the Orang Utan? I hear you ask. Half way through the month  I was talking about plastic free and bemoaning the loss of cracker biscuits, as a result of having to avoid the wrapping. A kind companion pointed out that these should be out of bounds anyway as they contain palm-oil. This led to further research that showed: first, that this oil – or rather its cultivation and harvesting – is probably speeding us towards our doom faster than plastic and is in everything. It often masquerades as “vegetable oil”.  You can also download a PalmOilScan App to help you check.  This conversation led to the marvellous discovery that cracker biscuits take less time to make than to go and buy. Who knew? This  is fast becoming a favourite recipe with a full range of mad flavours possible. Hard not to eat them in one go right out of the oven.

So the upshot of the month? I have cooked more from scratch and enjoyed this. I am not a telly person so cooking bread, biscuits, all those veggies, and  other delights is done with the radio or a spotify selection.  A glass of wine helps too. Making enough to last several meals gets around the extra time and serves my need to fill pans. I have challenged myself to find things to do with the very last veg in the fridge even though it was begging for freedom. I will continue.

And of course as I consider beauty products I have to remember the palm oil: because the Orang Utan is worth it.

Credit: The picture is from Cartoon Brew, produced by Amid Amidi for Greenpeace



Pull the other one

Performance assessment of stand-up comedians is swift and can be harsh. You have to want to do it.

In a moment of madness, I once signed up for a part-time course to learn to be a comedienne. As I paid for the course I felt slightly nauseous. It wasn’t that it was very expensive, rather that, having paid, I knew I would have to go through with it and this was going to take me into a painful place, optimistically called the “stretch zone”. The gods smiled on me when the course was cancelled. They probably smiled on the many who were saved my future performances! I smiled back.  

Nevertheless, at the end of 2018, with family and friends, we paused to consider what we were most grateful for in the year. It was skilful, sharp-witted, satirical, edgy and sometimes rude comedians. Shining lights on the dark places and the taboos, comedians challenge our assumptions and distract our troubled minds from our daily worries. In making us laugh they release endorphins and reduce our stress. We raised our glasses and said thank you!

Stand-Up comedian Nish Kumar in a recent BBC Front Row reflected on the harsh apprenticeship towards fully functioning stand up. He described 5 or 6 years of grim exposure in front of often deeply unforgiving audiences. This is a brutal form of performance management that is a far cry from what most of us experience. The success indicators are uncomplicated: keep their attention; make them laugh; deal with the odd moron effectively; get asked back; get new venues. Like a ski jumper – definitely a question for another blog – you know pretty quickly if you have what it takes.

And, in spite of the brutality, it is a growing sector. There is no shortage of new talent emerging, fuelled from the new hopefuls applying to take to the free slots at comedy clubs and pub venues. What is the attraction? Perhaps for some it is exactly the ‘lion’s pit’ feel that is attractive. For others perhaps it’s a strong vision of the role of comedy in society to make a difference to be used at the edge of political activism. Still others may be doing it for fun and take no heed of whether they are profitable as a result. Except for a wealthy few, it cannot be the money that attracts them as there are surely easier ways to make a living. 

All these brave men and women of stand-up have made an explicit and personal choice to do this work and succeed at it. It is a personal choice and the immediacy of the feedback on the performance is part of the gig. Seems more liberating than the placid annual reviews and unclear messaging that many attempt to improve their performance against.