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Friday, 30 December 2016

Looking forward to a less packaged 2017

It isn't just me, is it? People are generally coming to the realisation that packaging is a big problem for the environment.

I was recently asked my opinion on what I thought was the worst case of packaging that I had seen. That's a tough one for me as I don't see a lot of packaging these days as, since my year of no single use plastic in 2015, I have totally changed the way I shop.

These days I buy all my meat from my local butcher where I take my own containers and the meat is put straight into those. I buy vegetables and fruit from a green grocer in my nearest town. Most of their produce is unpackaged and loose so I buy the exact quantity I need. They do sometimes "package up" some things, usually if there are items they need to sell quickly. I have sometimes bought these but I undo the bag carefully and reuse it and these clear plastic bags are recyclable in my area.

I buy dry goods from SESI Oxford  where I refill my own containers and I also know that I am getting fairly traded, ethically sourced produce too as that's the ethos of the shop.

I buy in charity shops too, where there's no packaging either.

But I had a feeling I might find some over packaging at Christmas, especially with six nieces  and nephew's visiting. To my surprise there was nowhere near the amount of packaging I usually see. It was pretty much all recyclable too. Things are looking up.

I thing the worst packaging to be seen was actually this.

This is surprising in that it seems to be a product aimed at people who want to reduce their use of resources. The idea of it is that you don't need cling film as these discs of plastic fit over your cut fruit and veg and help it last longer by stopping the cut edge from coming into contact with air. For decay to take place air, water and warmth are required for bacteria to grow. The cut edge of fruit and veg is usually moist whereas a whole piece of fruit or veg with its skin in tact is dry on the outside. That's the point of the skin. This is why people use cling film to block in the moisture and block the air out. That's also what the fruit huggers are designed to do. They are a reusable version of cling film. I am all in favour of that.

So what is wrong with this packaging? I will start by saying it is not awful. I can see that the card is separated from the plastic, which means it can easily be removed so the card and plastic can be recycled. The worst thing about it is that I can't get in it without taking scissors to it. That means I can't use the packaging to keep the unused bits together and clean for when I want to use them.

I think for something like this a better quality reusable form of packaging would be far more suitable.

Maybe a tin or sturdy plastic box like these pastry cutters I was given for previous Christmases would be too expensive to produce, but what about a clear zip lock bag. The cardboard insert can go in just the same.

Whenever I buy anything I always consider the packaging and I won't buy things knowingly that I feel are over packaged or are packaged in non recyclable material. I think there are more and more people who think like this these days. So I say I am looking forward to a less packaged 2017 because I feel that by the end of the year we may well reach the packaging tipping point. Mainstream media are getting the bee in their bonnets about it just like me. That will get more people talking about it and it WILL get manufacturers running scared and thinking of better ways to package their produce. That thought makes me very happy.

Happy New Year!

Friday, 9 December 2016

The Food Rush - Start-ups Christmas Fair

Yesterday I went along to a tasty Christmas Fair organised by The Food Rush.  All the stall holders were food related start-up companies and they all had great stories to share.  The event was a sell out, which was very encouraging as it shows there's a growing community of people who care about the ethics and provenance of their food.

We were welcomed with wine from a company in Bristol called Vin2o. They have teamed up with Vineyard Toutigeac in Bordeaux and Bristol-based charity Frank Water, turning wine into clean water for communities in Gambia.  Vin2o donate 25p from every bottle of wine they sell to Frank Water. Here's their story.

Vin2o - About our business from Vin2o on Vimeo.

Plenty of other tasty treats were available to sample and with opportunities to do a bit of Christmas shopping.

Spare Fruit are a company who are making apple crisps and soon pear crisps from surplus and "mis-shape" fruit.  The fruit is air-dryed and there are no added ingredients so they are a low calorie snack.  You can read their story here.  They taste great.  I'm not a fan of dried apple rings, but these have a different taste and texture, which I really like. They are crisp and yummy.
I always ask that awkward question about packaging.  At the moment the packaging is not recyclable, but they have been researching options and they have talked to Snact, who make fruit jerky from surplus produce. Snact recently changed over to 100% home compostable packaging.. For now, though, cost is prohibitive, but it is on their radar for the future,which is good to know. Sometimes my self-imposed no packaging rule is annoying. I could just eat some apple crisps right now.  I think it is the sound of crinkling packets and munching next to me that is making me hungry.

Spare Fruit is available in various shops and cafes in London and will soon be available for online ordering.  I can't wait to try their Pear Crisps too.

Tasty Misfits is a veg box scheme with a difference. Based in South London, every Saturday morning  they deliver a weekly box of vegetables or fruit and vegetables that have been collected from mostly local farms that have mis-shapen produce and from markets that have surplus stock.

Onist make delicious avocado chocolate pot deserts blended from Fair Trade ingredients.  For each pot purchased, Onist funds a healthy breakfast for a child in need.  These chocolate pots are gluten-free and vegan (and so delicious - I have to mention that bit again).

The next stop on my tour round the Christmas Fair was another vegan option.  More Than Meat make plant based protein dishes for people wanting to reduce or replace meat in their diet.  The lamb casserole was very tasty and I wouldn't have realised that it wasn't meat. Plant-based sausage roll anyone? These are available to order online.

The Tabl table was so  crowded I didn't manage to snap a pic. Tabl provide an online outlet for independent producers and organise foodie events in London and Brighton.  Check out their website for lots of Christmas hamper ideas and "experience" gifts.

Time for another drink, I feel. This time we stopped by at the Kentish Pip table for a taste of their Skylark cider.  This is definitely on my Christmas shopping list as Senior Daughter particularly will love it. We then tasted the non alcoholic drink options from Thor.  I love talking about the inspiration behind a product and Thor are aiming to create a "grown-up alternative to an alcoholic drink" for people who are driving.  I really like that and would definitely be part of that demographic on occasions. I almost felt bad when I bought one of their gift packs for someone who I am pretty sure will love it with gin. I couldn't help myself but say this and they recommended 55 Above Raspberry Gin which they said was lovely with the Mint Apple Spritz.  On the way home today we stopped off at the Oxford Wine Company and realising I have a packed week ahead, decided to strike while the iron was hot and in the absence of 55 Above, I bought The Pinkster Gin to go with the Apple Mint Spritz and that is a Christmas gift to be excited about.

Last but not least we sampled some insect protein from Eat Grub. This is a food source I have long been fascinated by, given that insects are pretty prolific. I first tasted meal worms in the Natural History Museum in Halifax,Canada in 2000 and I remember eating some very tasty crickets at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford a few years ago, but insects as a deliberate food source has yet to take off, I feel, but is surely a sustainable food for the future?  The insect snack bars were on offer to taste and very tasty they were too.  I didn't get to ask about the packaging, but I would definitely tuck into one of these if it was on offer in the post half marathon goody bag next March. How about it #BathHalf?

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Anyone else going upcycling this Christmas?

To me, Black Friday means  I go into hibernation and spend nothing until the craziness has passed over and sanity is restored.
I've heard it said that "Everyone loves a bargain."  But actually what a 'bargain' makes me think of is more the profit made the rest of the time and whether it is a fair one -benefitting all the people and communities involved in the production of said bargain item.  Most of the time, when it comes to conventional shopping I don't know whether that is the case or not.

So, as a result, I have pretty much given up conventional shopping and instead I turn to small businesses, craft fairs and charity shops, particularly the lovely "community shop" in my village that has recently re-opened after a relocation to larger premises.  I paid a visit there last Saturday to take a bag of books and DVDs.  One of the DVDs was on its second visit already as I took it there a couple of years ago, and then when Junior Daughter decided to take German A Level, I bought it back along with a few others as it had a German language option on the soundtrack.  But that's another story!
Back to Christmas presents...

I have nieces and nephews to shop for and I do like to find them something that they can make, do or read.  This year I have ordered these lovely Postage Stamp Art Kits from a local upcycling business (but they are available online, I believe).

I think these will be fun to make and nice to keep (or give away if they don't want to keep them once they are done).  They will provide a bit of creative r&r that children often need during the Christmas holidays, especially with the limited day light for playing outside.
Earlier in the year I "commissioned" some jewellery pieces to be made from a huge collection of broken strings of pearls from my grandmother. She liked the idea of them being reused.  I am sure she must have thought about reusing them herself but didn't get round to it. So she was delighted when I suggested they could be made into something.  Now, this does sound a bit posh and expensive, doesn't it?  Commissioning art, hey?  Well, all I can say is that if you know people who love making stuff, then why not ask them if you have something specific in mind with materials you already have. You can judge roughly how much something might cost by comparing your idea to the artist's existing work. Give plenty of time, but it is always worth asking. This way, you get gifts that are truly unique, meaningful and "green".
In addition to this, I will be on the look out for storage jars, baskets, or pretty trays and plates in my community shop for some home-made treats and local produce.
The best thing... I won't need to go anywhere near a crowed High Street, I won't have to queue for a car parking space or at a check out and no traffic jams. What's not to love?  Merry Christmas.