Friday, 25 September 2009

Plums rot in the ground, but not the packaging

British plums
There has been some progress in reducing the amount of plastic encasing most of the fruit in UK supermarkets. Sainsbury’s new, lighter packaging for soft fruit including plums, cherries and strawberries has a film lid instead of the more rigid clip on lids, which is claimed to reduce the weight of the packaging by up to 87 per cent. I went to buy some a couple of weeks ago but could only find the old packaging, pictured here on the top of the photo. I popped in again a few days later and found some plums in the new packaging, see the photo below in comparison. The packaging is certainly less substantial, though nothing like an 87 per cent reduction. The label says that it is recyclable at larger Sainsbury’s stores, but I prefer to buy fruit in brown paper bags. Even soft fruit, ripe and soft, need not get squashed if you are careful with it and the paper can add some much needed fibrous matter for the compost. There is even plastic packaging for fruit and veg at farmers’ market these days, like the plums in the other photo, which I bought at Rye in Sussex.

The bigger picture of the UK plum harvest is not as positive as the NFU (National Farmers Union) recently predicted that tonnes of UK plums would be left to rot as major supermarkets including Tesco favour imported ones. Imported plums are usually picked unripe so tend to be rock hard. The UK government has called for more domestic production of fruit and vegetables, noting dramatic reductions in growing of many types of produce including cauliflowers (another type of produce which has also often left to rot and be ploughed back into the ground when supermarkets source from overseas or the veg does not meet some superficial cosmetic appearance or uniformity standard), tomatoes, lettuce and plums. Boosting domestic production is not enough if there is not action all along the supply chain so we can actually buy it, and if the major supermarkets, which sell most of the fruit and veg consumed in the UK, do make local sourcing a higher priority.

Friday, 11 September 2009

History etching into Sicily's landscape

Sicily, marketed as ‘an island a continent’ to tourists has a varied and beautiful landscape of mountains, farmland, coast and caves. Going there does not feel not too detached from reality, as the island is too small too hide gigantic infrastructure projects like the petrochemical complex seen from the train to Siracuse and quarries gouging out whole hills. The island is criss-crossed with a gigantic road network with enormous flyovers on huge pillars and tunnels through the hills. Hurtling down one of these I fleetingly saw a sign to a place called something like ‘Five Bridges’ a town living in the shade of enormous pillars, with the little arches overarched by the new motorway. With its fertile land and geographical position as a strategic trading point Sicily’s history is dominated by successive waves of invasion by the Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Normans etc... This is a photo of a map of Sicily from Roman times. It is ‘upside down’ as Rome was regarded as the centre of the world.

It was not just the sea ports that were fought over. Enna is a town high on a 1000m ridge in the centre of the island that was repeatedly fortified as a strategic base. Now, if a monster new infrastructure project takes place, it will not just be the A19 motorway passing through. A delegation from China has visited with a view to investing in and constructing an airport and logistics hub for exports to Europe and an expanding affluent population in Northern Africa. This is a map of Enna,
View Larger Map if the development takes place the new 500km runway will be longer than the town. The Sicilians have a formidable reputation for holding up or even halting developments that trash the landscape. Residents near the Zingaro nature reserve campaigned successfully for a road planned to cut through the area to be routed underground through a tunnel. I wonder if this, if it comes to anything, will cause a stir.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Bargain booze and label confusion

For a long time, when you entered a big supermarket, the entrance would be the aisles full of fresh fruit and vegetables, cut flowers and other ornamental plants. More recently, the entrance is often piled high with crates of bargain booze. This discounted booze is partly responsible increasing rates of alcoholism and British pubs going bust. Below cost selling of booze by supermarkets is outrageous, recently Tesco in Hexham, Northumberland had a customer offer of 15 cans of lager for £5 if they spent £30 on other goods. The Publican website is running the Make it the Minimum petition for a miminum cost of 50p per unit of alcohol.

Once you have navigated round the cheap alcohol to the fruit and vegetables and nauseating neon cut flowers, the distinction between fresh and processed foods is blurring. In amidst the vegetables there are little plastic packages of gloopy stuff that is, apparently, salad dressing, and there is a whole section of prepared fruit and vegetables, encased in plastic with little plastic spoons like an aeroplane meal. The labelling of the ‘ready to eat’ fruit salads and sliced and diced vegetables has changed. For a while many of the labels read ‘produce of more than one country’, not just on mixed fruit salads and prepared combinations of veg such as for stir fries, this uninformative label appeared on some single ingredient products like diced or sliced pineapple. Now the labels on the prepared fresh fruit and veg in Sainsbury’s, like this sliced melon, says ‘produced in the UK’, or ‘produced in Ghana’ or wherever, i.e. where the last bit of processing was done, so as with traditionally processed food like tinned stuff, the provenance of the actual ingredients is a complete mystery.
 



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