Tuesday, April 01, 2008

No prizes for points

Once upon a time I had my weekly supermarket shop down to a fine art. Not any more. In an ever warming world, not even the purchase of a sausage is a simple process. Today I stand over the frozen food counter holding my usual selection of pre- cooked Weight Watchers meals. But something is stopping me putting them in the trolley. My Personal Carbon Counter. And no it’s not Carbonlite. And no I’m not having an affair. I curse under my breath and put the boxes back. Then I pick them up again. Then I put them down. Unable to make up my mind, I shuffle around the counter. Now I look like I need the toilet. It used to be so clear cut. In the past I could dash around with a trolley in half an hour, buying everything the Carboncopies need to keep them alive and healthy, and everything I need to keep me under ten stone in weight. Having ‘found’ my thinner self after three lots of childbirth, I’ve been obsessive about counting points.

But that was before I visited Booths with a carbon footprint specialist. Now carbohydrates are no longer the enemy. I’m now resolved to count a different kind of carbs; the carbon emissions clocked up by the manufacture, processing and delivery of our food. That’s a whole other set of points from the ones clocked up by eating too many crisps, and not quite so easy to calculate either. A Weight Watchers Chicken Tikka packaged meal used to put six points on the fridge door chart. Simple, easy to calculate and written on the box. But tot the same dish up in carbon points and it’s… a lot of points. For a start it’s been packaged twice, once with plastic, then with cardboard. Then it’s been cooked twice, or it will have been by the time I get it into my stomach. And there’s not very much food in it, which means you have to eat other things with it to feel satisfied. Or I do anyway. It’s not exactly locally produced. And it’s meat, which means the animal will have had to be fed and kept in a warm place before meeting its’ fate at the hands of a Weight Watcher butcher.

I try to calculate how many carbon points that might be and fail. So I abandon the dinner. Fruit and vegetables you would think would be more simple. But they’re not. I know where each fruit is coming from, but if it isn’t grown locally I have no idea whether it’s been air freighted or got here by ship. And as its winter, there aren’t many local fruits available. For the further flung foods my adviser told me to opt for fair trade wherever possible, so I pile some bananas into the trolley. I move to the lettuce. The words of my friendly carbon adviser ring in my ears, “Now that could be a disaster area,” he said as I reached out to grab a bag of the ready washed stuff. “It’s processed more than it needs to be and packaged unnecessarily. You might get some vitamins, but practically no calories. Just consider where it’s come from and how much you’d have to eat to sustain yourself.” I put the bag back on the shelf. Until that moment, the activity of lettuce consuming seemed a thoroughly happy, healthy, green thing to do. But evidently it isn’t always. “There’s a good chance it’s been flown from Florida,” my fellow shopper pointed out, “Air freighting lettuce has surely got to be the world’s most pointless activity.”

These days as I move around the supermarket, I’m much more aware of how much things are packaged. Why is cereal both bagged and boxed? Why are cakes individually wrapped then boxed as well? Why are so few brand of toilet paper recycled? Why isn’t more washing powder eco friendly? “Have you brought your own bags?” asks the checkout assistant when I finally make it to the till. Have I brought my own bags? Like Russian dolls the Bags for Life tumble out of a holdall.

At home I tell Carbonlite how confusing it all is. I’m also ashamed that my desire to be thin is still outstripping my desire to be green. “Why do I do?” I ask him. “Actually, I think I might be able to help,” he says, producing a manual from the shelf. “Grow our own food?” I read from the cover. “But we haven’t got a garden.” “We don’t need one,” he replies. He opens the book at a square of earth, only four foot by four foot, growing sixteen different vegetables. “…only thing is, you’ll have to pop back to the supermarket to buy a trowel.”