Saturday, 6 December 2008

Let's Localise

The interaction between ‘Westerners’ and the rest of the world is making me increasingly uncomfortable.

I’m not primarily talking about politics (although we elect the politicians we deserve) but about the ‘man in the street’.

Despite the fact that we westerners have invaded, colonised, emigrated to and otherwise populated more countries than you can shake a stick at, we seem to be passionately against immigrants to our own countries. We resent them, victimise them, generally put them down and seek ways to exclude or banish them without a second thought. Not only that, when we travel to other countries, whether for commerce or holiday, we expect other populations to fall in with our plans, speak our language, adopt our ways and philosophies (George Bush’s “freedom’n’democracy” being a case in point) and allow us to plunder their resources at will.

The results of our attitude are there for all of us to see – although very often we don’t connect the results to the attitude.

This was brought home to me when I listened to the voices of western tourists marooned at Bangkok airport. Such phrases as ‘cockamamie dispute’ and ‘irresponsible youth’ were being bandied about, with no thoughts about the reasons for the demonstration. Thailand has many problems, with the Government being one of them and religious conflict being another. We in the west pride ourselves on being allowed to demonstrate for or against things we feel strongly about – such as bad government. Imagine how we would have felt if, say, Japanese tourists, caught up in the massive demonstration in London against the war in Iraq, simply complained at the disruption, without considering the cause. (As a matter of fact, I can’t imagine Japanese being so impolite!)

This western approach to other nations has clearly been the cause of many unfortunate consequences over the decades, whether it be terrorism, high oil prices, bad cooking or simply the ‘MacDonaldisation’ of attractive holiday destinations.

So I believe that we in the west will be doing the world a favour if we spend a lot less time travelling abroad, and a lot more time appreciating our own homelands. One thing our current financial grief is doing is forcing us all to become less self-indulgent and materialistic, and this can only be good. In three or four years time, when we start feeling the effects of Peak Oil, we are likely to have a permanently shrinking economy, and we are going to have to find a way of living with that.

Perhaps that will result in a welcome diminution of our desire to influence the way that other people live, and a broadening interest in how to live a more stress-free, economical and satisfying life ourselves.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Risk-Free Potato Preparation

I went shopping in Sainsbury’s today.

There is a section amongst the vegetables which I have walked past with a snigger several times now, but this time I thought I would look more carefully – in fact I happened to have a pen in my pocket, so I wrote on the back of my shopping list a list of the items in the section. The items are pre-packed in plastic trays, with film covering and a label. Here is the list:

Carrots and Swede Potato Mash
Baby Potatoes with Herbs and Mint Butter
Mini Baked Potatoes with Herb and Mint Butter
Roast Potatoes with Rosemary and Garlic
Ready to Roast Potatoes with Thyme
Crispy Potato Slices
Mini Baked Potatoes with Roasted Garlic Butter
Peeled Maris Piper Potatoes

Now I have to admit that they looked pretty appetising.

But if you think about their star celeb advertiser, Jamie Oliver, and his superhuman efforts to get the nation cooking and eating proper food (which I very much applaud, by the way, as in the words of Mr Tesco, ‘Every little helps...’) you can hardly miss the irony of Mr Sainsbury doing everything but eat the potatoes for you, whilst piling on the packaging and at the same time demotivating their customers from doing anything but flicking the buttons on a microwave!

If I turned out a tray of homemade carrot and swede potato mash, wrapped it in cling-film and left it in their veg. section, I wonder how long it would be before it turned brown or went mouldy? What do they put into it to stop theirs going the same way? I am deeply suspicious of that classic ingredient found in most products in supermarkets, ‘preservative’; and I didn’t read the label on these products; but I expect that ‘preservative’ is there!

Many of us worry about the side effects of eating GM crops, but how many of us think about what ‘preservatives’ might be doing to us?

But then, if you peel and cook your own potatoes in your own kitchen, Health and Safety might have some unnerving things to say in a risk assessment!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Thoughts at Christmas

This is a copy of an e-mail I have sent to all my friends and family. It is not my intention to be a kill-joy, or a grumpy old man, but I just can't escape the thought that our commercialism has taken us too far down the wrong road...


In UK, we send about 1 billion Christmas cards each year, equating to more than 300,000 trees.

We use ½ billion drink cans, 3000 tonnes of aluminium foil, 83 of wrapping paper, 8 million Christmas trees which generate 12,000 tonnes of rubbish, 125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging....

I am conscious that most of this high volume of consumption is brought about by commercial interests and associated advertising, and increasingly I have the feeling that I am a statistic being manipulated by marketing organisations which, if we are honest, are responsible for our current economical stress.

I hope therefore that you will all understand my decision to jump off this particular merry-go-round. I propose to send no cards or presents to any adults this year (and probably subsequent years as well!). Children may well get a token offering, because I certainly don’t want to hurt tender feelings.

Anyone who chooses to send me a card (which I would discourage) can be assured that it will be recycled, and the good wishes implied will be gratefully received and treasured. Presents are definitely not expected!

Everyone to whom I might have sent Christmas cards will of course be in my thoughts – as they are for the rest of the year. My good wishes go to everyone, because I value family and friendship above everything, and this doesn’t alter even if you don’t hear from me in December!

So have a great Christmas, everyone, and may your life be good!!


PS It seems I am not alone in this line of thinking!