Lock-Down and Mental Health Treatment

People with significant mental health issues are having their health sacrificed to the welfare of a different group of people, and they are unlikely to be given the help they need when the emergency is over.

Ultimately, with the exception of a few details relating to my Christian world view, I refuse to judge whether or not the UK government has been right to place its population under virtual house arrest (it is only legal to leave your home for a few very specific purposes like buying food) in response to Corvid-19.  I am glad I am not having to make the decisions.

However, as someone with long term depression and traumatic disorder problems, it cannot be avoided that I am being made seriously ill by the consequences to me of the restrictions.  And while this is slightly qualified by the fact that those of us for whom this is the case are still vulnerable to the collapse of infrastructure, as someone who is at very little risk from the disease itself, I am being made significantly ill by policies enacted primarily for the sake of the health and well-being of a different group of vulnerable people.

People often seem to underestimate depression – or rather, I think they confuse the minor forms with the severe, and assume that all depression is a matter of a bit of low mood which could do with a little bit of counselling and self-help.  It is quite right those things should be provided, but on the other hand, the fact that some people only need a bit of cream for their skin rash does not mean that all skin cancer is dismissed as a minor illness for which only minor measures are needed!

Given my tendencies, I have reached a point where I am desperately trying to process my emotions enough for the situation not to result in further traumatic disorder, but to keep them calm enough that the depression does not put me in hospital.  Though I’ve been out walking every day, I am concerned that I’m starting to develop a real (and potentially persistent) fear of going out, and I’m really struggling with my self-care, to the point that social services is having to step in to assist.  I am too fragile to communicate with people much, and this is particularly frustrating as it cuts me off from a lot of online things that would be helpful if I was well enough to access them.  And though I am doing my best, and hoping it may be possible to find ways of coping, the chances are that my health is only going to get worse the longer the restrictions continue.

The fact that it is like this for me may be a result of idiosyncrasies in brain structure that result from hypermobility disorder, though I am not sure how well established that suggestion is.  In any case, it is an illness like any other, not a matter of wilful weakness or simple ineptitude.  It can be responded to badly – in much the same way as a diabetic can choose to try to be careful with food or not – but it isn’t a choice or a failure merely to suffer from it.

At the present moment, I have excellent medical care (without which I would be much worse) in managing the immediate symptoms, from my GP, to whom I am extremely grateful.

However, there is a reasonable likelihood that I will develop long term problems – problems that do not ease with the easing of pressure – damage that will go on crippling and harming my life indefinitely, and this is not the province of a GP.  Even if I personally don’t develop long term issues, it is a reasonable assumption that there will be people who do.

What has been done has been done in an emergency situation, and as I say, I refuse to judge whether they are right or wrong to do it.  But the fact remains that there is a population of people whose health and wellbeing are being sacrificed primarily for the sake of the health and wellbeing of a different group of people.

When the emergency is over, will those who find that long-term damage has been done to their mental health by the precautions, receive prompt, automatic, adequate, expert care?  Or will there be no resources for them?  When they have suffered horribly in order that the health service may care for others with what is perceived to be a more urgent need, will they find, when that urgent need lessens, that they are the priority and that they will, without having to fight for it, receive the same care?  Will the health service then set up “field” mental health units and take on more staff to deal with the illnesses of trauma and depression and any others caused by what has been done by the government to deal with corvid-19?

From my previous experience, it is reasonable to project that the answer will be “no”.  We will probably be left to our ongoing suffering, perhaps with a little bit of very limited, non-expert counselling, and such as our GPs can do with medication.  Having been made ill by the precautions taken for others, we are likely to be abandoned to suffer from that illness.

Seriously, whatever else is right or wrong here, not regarding the serious mental health illnesses caused by precautions against the coronavirus as being due the same weight of medical assistance, is not right.

Cherry Foster

 

A letter to a hospital

Non-judgmentalism includes not judging when the issue is moral standards we believe in.

[I wish to raise a concern] about policy stated in a notice in the waiting room which I felt raises legitimate concerns about whether the paramount priority of patient care is being maintained.

The notice said that the hospital would not allow patients to refuse treatment from a particular member of staff on racist grounds, and that any refusal of treatment on such grounds could be considered refusal of treatment altogether.

I was horrified to find that any patient of yours refuses to be treated by a particular person for such reasons. Racism is very wrong, and its ongoing presence in our communities is rightly a deep concern.

However, I was more horrified that a hospital would consider responding to the problem in this particular way. Granted, patient care requires politeness and mutual respect, and I think it is quite reasonable to insist that no one responsible for their actions uses certain types of language within the hospital. But this is different from removing the patient’s autonomy to ask for a different doctor irrespective of whether their reason is good or bad.

For one thing, it creates a practical problem, at the minimum being a cover for incompetence, and at the worst, an abusers’ charter. Suppose a woman (or a man) believes that a doctor (or other member of staff) is using medical access to her body as a cover for groping her sexually, and that doctor is of a different race.

Such a policy puts her in a situation where if she requests to be transferred, but cannot prove a complaint, she is liable to be accused of racism if she requests to be treated by someone else. This may prevent her receiving treatment or trap her in a situation where the price of treatment is submitting to abuse. In cases where a person is not happy with the doctor’s competence, playing the race card to block their access to another doctor is likely to be even easier, as such concerns are often instinctive rather than analytical. The only way of preventing this is not to regard the patient’s possible reasons for making the request as a relevant factor.

I would also ask whether refusing someone treatment because they are being racist is really any different, in theory, from refusing a pregnant woman treatment because she refuses to marry the father of the child. The precise similarities and differences of the two cases are interesting, but the question is worth asking. It is usually argued that it is right for medical practice to aim to be non-judgemental about moral issues.

I appreciate the awfulness of racism, and the fact that the policy is a natural reaction to it. However, I think in the case of a hospital, it is necessary to stop at insisting that people must not be verbally or physically abusive, and not to reduce the autonomy of patients to make choices about who treats them.

 

Any thoughts, further arguments for this position, counter-arguments to it, or experiences of (probable or indisputable) racism in such circumstances, or of being accused of racism, or being unwilling to make a request for a different reason for fear of being accused?  It is hardly a simple question.

Cherry Foster

On Healthy Eating from a “Picky” Eater

Some practical and theoretical comments

800px-Basil_and_Organic_Tomato_Soup wikimedia commons copyright to attribution
Tomato Soup. Source: Wikimedia Commons

As a child I was taught I was morally depraved because of the way my body reacts to food.

And while I am sure there is plenty of excellent scientific advice in something like the NHS’s dietary advice, the overarching approach drives me crazy because, ultimately, the human body is not a machine, but a complex, living, dynamic, organic aspect of the human person. I don’t need to know that it is generally more ideal to eat vegetables whole than pureed. I need to know what to do given that I mostly can’t.

“Don’t listen to your body”* is surely the worst food rule of all. The human body, which is an integral part of the person, deserves respect. Brother or sister ass should not be force-fed and cursed for not acting exactly as wanted, but gently and respectfully trained, with empathy and kindness and acceptance of real limitations of whatever kind.

It isn’t clear exactly what my physical difficulties are – probably sensory defensiveness (it is likely I have sensory processing disorder of some type; certainly I have dyspraxia), and possibly also some sort of mild swallowing difficulty and/or general digestive sensitivity**.

The worst problem I have with eating an adequate diet is that I am pretty much literally incapable of eating most cooked vegetables, at least in any quantity, and I don’t find it comfortable to eat raw fruit either. I also have a lot of difficulty with new foods. Texture seems to be the most significant issue, in that I can eat soft mashed potato quite happily, but cannot eat more than a few mouthfuls of the firmer sort without my body reacting as if I was trying to eat soil or cloth. I also over-react to strong or strange flavours and odd flavour/texture combinations.

I’d emphasise that I’m not a nutritionist and what follows is not intended to be scientific dietary advice: it is a set of things I’ve found work for me personally on the vexed question of fruit and veg, which I hope may be a useful starting point for others with similar issues with this food group.

 

Small portions of new foods; avoiding creating an acquired dislike by pushing it to a bad physical reaction.

Eating slowly; and keeping a glass of water or other drink by while eating.

Coleslaw – particularly bland coleslaws with a lot of dressing and finely shredded carrot and cabbage. I can’t cope with carrots and raisins together, though. Try cheese coleslaw if lack of protein is a problem too.

Salad leaves with dressing – I find most dressings fine, so long as they change the texture. Salad cream is my personal favourite. Squeezy mayonnaises tend to have a better texture than those that come in jars.

Red onions with salad cream.

Cream of tomato soup. I’ve had varying success with other cream-of soups. I am more tolerant of tomatoes and onions than I am of most vegetables.

I’ve had a certain amount of success taking tinned soups with whole vegetables, that I couldn’t eat as they were, and putting them through a blender until completely pureed.

Eating soup with bread greatly increases my tolerance of the texture of the vegetables in the soup. Dryish, crusty bread works best for this.

Strained vegetable broth. Cook vegetables to death so all the nutrients end up in the water, and then strain them out of the water and either use the water in further cooking, e.g. gravy, or eat as soup. (Search for vegetarian alternatives to bone broth for recipes. Bone broth may be worth trying too, given it is supposed to be nutritious, though strictly speaking it isn’t part of the vegetable hegemony! Be cautious with it, though – it made me quite sick when I took in too much too soon, and that’s apparently not unusual, even among those who find it helpful long term).

Fruit/fruit and vegetable smoothies. Typically, I use banana and other fruit blended in milk and yoghurt, with ground flax and chia seeds, and added cereal or wheat bran for fibre. And a spoonful of cocoa and/or spices. This is one of my favourite approaches, as the texture and nutrition can be varied a lot. It’s also possible add raw eggs (check they are safe in your area), and/or nut butters, if extra protein would be useful.

Smoothie bread pudding. Instead of using raisins etc. among the bread, blend bananas and strawberries, cocoa and spices, with the milk and eggs, pour over the bread, and bake as normal. This gives a very smooth texture. It makes a good frozen dessert too, though it needs to be allowed to soften for a few minutes out of the freezer before eating.

Brown bread, wholegrains, wheat bran, and other cereal sources of fibre.

Baked beans.

Most tinned beans, chickpeas, and lentils, in moderation and mixed with other foods. Pureeing beans and using them in a sauce or coating on meat works quite well. I can’t take green beans or peas at all, except for pureed peas in soup. Rice and meat/fish salads tend to be quite good with beans or lentils.

Small portions of fresh fruit – however much can be eaten without discomfort. I tend to assume that eating one segment of orange, one slice of apple, half an apricot, two grapes, is better than not eating any. I don’t do this much at present because I live on my own and it would run to a lot of waste, but it may work within a family setting.

I find fresh pulpy fruits, such as mango or banana, easier to take in than fresh juicy fruits like apples.

Real fruit yoghurt. Puree fresh or frozen fruit with plain yoghurt – and spices/cocoa/vanilla essence/instant coffee/honey etc. if desired. Using fruit that’s currently frozen and eating straight away gives a different texture. In theory using pureed fruit should work with frozen yoghurt and ice cream as well.

Relishes and pickles. Again, probably not ideal. But sandwich pickle and sandwich spread and burger relish do generally contain real vegetables, and the way they are prepared and eaten tends to be relatively friendly to texture problems. I usually eat chips with relish rather than ketchup.

Vegetables combined with bread and meat or bread and cheese. I can eat a lot of fresh salad in a burger that I would have no hope of eating on its own. Similarly, I can eat peppers and tomatoes and onion in unusual quantity on pizza, or in a sandwich with bread and cheese. I also get on quite well with things like chopped onion in tuna mayonnaise sandwiches, though I find it tends to be necessary to chop vegetables quite small (use a food processor). I’ve found that the trick with this is to add the size of portion I can eat comfortably and no more, even if all the textbooks are screaming at me that I must, must, MUST eat a larger portion.

Stewed fruit, and stewed fruit desserts such as crumbles.

Tinned peaches and apricots. These generally have a softer texture than fresh.

Dried fruit, such as raisins and apricots. I like eating dried fruit in tart, plain, Greek-style yoghurt. Raisins and dark chocolate drops in yoghurt are one of my favourite desserts.

 

Cherry Foster

 

*Clarification: I mean listen to the body as a whole, not gratify immediate sensual preference without thought. There is a difference between the mind behaving like a slave-driver towards the body, and its behaving like a group leader towards a valued colleague. Interestingly, I am using the same underlying structural reasoning in my approach to food and healthy eating (i.e.: respect the body as part of the person) as I do in relation to chastity (sexual ethics), and I think that is probably correct.

**It is possible to have a physical difficulty without the explanation being clear! The explanation explains the causes of the pre-existing physical difficulty, rather than the difficulty being brought into being by the explanation. Our social culture has a strong tendency to treat disability as if it was the explanation and not the thing explained, and to treat anything unexplained as if it was unreal.

Choose love – true love that is deeper than involuntary inclination

Why I don’t think that the current catchphrase “you can’t choose who you fall in love with” is an argument for same-sex marriage or the morality of sexual acts between people of the same sex.

Disclaimers: I am not saying in what follows that to have homosexual inclinations is a choice. I am conscious of – and deeply troubled by – the inconsistency within my church institution, in sanctioning things that are against the New Testament standard of chastity for people who are heterosexual, while being strict (in theory at least) about them in people who are homosexual. Granted, I want consistency restored in the direction of restoring New Testament standards of chastity for heterosexuals at the institutional level, but I do recognise the real grievance and the real inequality in upholding these standards for one group of people and throwing them out for another.

I am not not NOT saying that sexual activity between two consenting adults, no matter how unethical I’d argue it is, is evil on the level of rape, particularly of the rape of the most vulnerable and the most entitled to protection and respect – i.e. children. And I do not, in any context, argue that something should be illegal merely because it is unethical. Moreover, I appreciate the historical need certain groups of people had to disassociate themselves vigorously from those who were trying to argue not for the legality of non-violent sexual acts between consenting adults in private, but for the removal of necessary and legitimate protections from children, and the cultural inconsistency I’m pointing out may partly result from that.

Now I shall proceed regarding what this post is actually about!

 

The current catchword for the liberal agenda on homosexuality seems to be, “choose love”. “You can’t help who you fall in love with, how you feel about sex, therefore, same-sex marriage and sexual acts between people of the same sex etc. must be good and right between people who are that way inclined”.

What I wish to argue is that this “therefore” is not actually correct. (That is, that the premise is true but that the conclusion does not follow).

It is a fundamental – and I believe quite correct – insistence of the agenda that uses the “choose love” type catchword, that people are not responsible for their romantic or sexual inclination: therefore, that this should not be subject to moral judgement, and I feel they tend to imply that it must follow that this means it must be good and right to indulge that inclination.

But one cannot then consistently say, as I feel our society tends to: “homosexuals and heterosexuals merely develop differently; this is completely involuntary,” and “paedophiles are inherently disgusting”, as if people with that sexuality are making the moral choice to have that inclination.

That is, if we assume that the development of a sexuality is not voluntary, and should always be respected and acknowledged as part of the person, we have to assume that this is so for everyone, including those whom we currently still condemn merely for being what they are, and who, it is a reasonable guess to say, are probably made to find it more difficult to be virtuous by the social disgust for their natural inclination (given that this seems to be what it has been like for people who are homosexual in the recent past). Acceptance of their experience and support in acting rightly towards children would be a far better response from society than condemning people because they are tempted to misuse children.

I don’t need to argue the case that it is evil to actually use children sexually – that is now mutually accepted on every side of this debate – however much some people on either side have failed to live it, or have wrongly condoned those failing to live it. (Our guilt as Christians is greater because we ought to be upholding a higher standard).

However, the fact of paedophilia, and the fact that it is agreed in the case of people who are paedophiles, that they must be celibate, means that it can never follow merely from the fact of a romantic or sexual inclination that it is right to act upon it. We cannot define doing what we are inclined to do as “love”, regardless of other considerations. Of course, this is not an argument for the whole of traditional Christian chastity ethics, but it is one of the main reasons why I feel that the “choose love” argument is not merely inconclusive, but actually false. It isn’t an argument for the things it purports to be an argument for. I find it deeply frustrating to be continuously bombarded with it as though it obviously ought to change my mind!

However, while I don’t think “you can’t help who you fall in love with” offers any moral conclusion about what it is right to do sexually or romantically, it does dictate certain things about the right pastoral approach. That is, we should not be saying to our young people “trust God and he will make you straight” – that does not seem to be true – but “trust God and he will help you find chastity and true flourishing – as he does all those of us who experience these things differently from you”. And this should be what is said to a teenager who is developing paedophilia as much as it is to anyone else. In fact, I get the impression that a lot of people who are heterosexual, particularly those from certain places and certain church cultures, have also been taught to regard their involuntary sexual desires as wrong in themselves. It is important to make sure it is understood that sins of thought in this matter are what we deliberately do (like consciously indulging a fantasy of being in bed with the last attractive person we met in the street), not what we involuntarily think or feel (such as a picture of that person undressed coming randomly and disconcertingly into our heads).

 

As a philosopher and a Christian I would of course say to people who are homosexual, as to all others, “choose love”. But the set of actions which I think constitute choosing love are not those of the liberal agenda. What I would say in this context is: “choose love. Be physically celibate*. Choose the love which goes deeper than involuntary feeling, and respects the fact that the bodies of two people of the same sex are neither adapted nor designed for sexual activity with each other.”

The body in Christianity is part of the person, a good part of the person, and its biological and personal nature should be thoroughly and completely respected in the context of any sexual act. I am always frustrated, actually, by the similar argument in the context of Ellis Peters’ work, where Brother Cadfael justifies his (heterosexual) affairs with statements along the lines of “it would be an insult to repent of loving a woman like Mariam”**. It is not of loving her that you are bidden repent, but of the fact that you did not treat her with the fullness of love, to either not receive her body, or to commit your whole person utterly to her in marriage until the death of one of you***.

I am not, in saying that true love is deeper than involuntary emotion opposing “true love” and “involuntary emotion” in any black/white way. True love often encompasses involuntary emotion, or is built thereon. Despite the fact that I don’t believe marriage is about “two people in love”, I wouldn’t recommend a man and a woman marry without affection of that type, as the level of spiritual maturity it would take in this culture and in these circumstances to come to “true love” within a marriage without building its practical side partly on “in love” and on long term friendship, seems to me to be astronomical. But true love, love that really seeks the good of the other, can also sometimes mean overcoming our involuntary preferences, as when a mother or father lets their infant child attempt to climb up the climbing frame without assistance for the first time, despite the fact that they’d rather keep them completely safe and not let them acquire the probable bruises!

To those who would say to me frustratedly “you just don’t understand”, I know that this is quite true. I am heterosexual, and I am, more fundamentally, not you. The only way I can understand your experience of these things is by trying to hear what you are saying about it. And that is very necessary for moral enabling and practical support. We do need to build Church communities that support and encourage people in living the demands of the Gospel, rather than ones that lay heavy burdens on people and will not move to lift them themselves.

However, it does not seem to me that “you don’t understand the experience” is an argument for a change of principle. This is partly because the arguments I am making as to what it is right to do or not do are based on the dignity and nature of the body as part of the human person. I think that to argue that we can change the dignity and nature of the body by what we think or experience is to argue that the body is a possession of the mind, rather than equally a part of the person, and I think that to be incorrect. Mental and emotional experience matter, but they aren’t things that can logically overturn principles based on the nature of the body, because these principles are based on things which in this context necessarily take precedence over mental and emotional experience if the body is also to be truly regarded with honour. (This argument potentially works in an atheist/secular context, in that it does not rely directly on theology, though the emphasis I put on the human body as part of the person is undoubtedly shaped by the Christian tradition).

Primarily, though, within Christianity, the principle is based on the idea that God loves us, and he therefore gives difficult commands only because it is truly better for us, not because he is out to get us. There is no way it is consistent with the scriptural narrative to say “because I find this difficult, because it will lead to suffering, because it isn’t what I want, it can’t be God’s will”. Gethsemane alone would rule that out. On the other hand, there is also no way that we should be indifferent to human suffering or struggling. If one part of the body suffers, all others suffer with them. It is important that the approach within the church be pastoral, not in the sense of changing the principles, but in the sense of acknowledging the real extent and nature of people’s challenges in living the Gospel.

Ultimately, I would argue that this whole issue of how one behaves sexually and romantically, for anyone regardless of their sexual/romantic inclination, is not about choosing love or not choosing love, but about coming to understand what it truly means to love.

 

 

* I oppose same-sex marriage because it would be illogical in the context of what I think marriage is, but I have no strong opinion either way on romantic but physically celibate relationships between two people of the same sex.

** I have not the book at present, so while I believe the attribution correct, this may not be a precise quote. The argument I am making does not rely on its source.

***See also 1 Corinthians 6:18, and the following verses.

 

People are welcome to comment. However, I suggest reading at least the disclaimers at the beginning again first (make sure you understand more or less what I’m really saying – or ask if I haven’t been clear), assume the goodwill of anyone who disagrees with you, and use arguments (“I think X because…”) rather than trying to shout others down.

You are worth more…

Towards a positive view of Christian Chastity

In 2014 there was a scandal when private “naked pictures” taken of various celebrities were leaked to the press.

One of the women involved said: “I started to write an apology, but I don’t have anything to say I’m sorry for. I was in a loving, healthy, great relationship for four years. It was long distance, and either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you.”*

If it is possible for someone to say of a relationship which only lasted four years, and in which the woman felt her boyfriend would look at porn unless she made a substitute for him out of pictures of herself, that it was “healthy”, “great”, and “loving” what does that say about what Western culture now means by those words? And how it is possible to communicate a different set of values across such a language barrier?

I think Christian ethics, including chastity (that is, sexual activity within marriage only, where marriage is between one man and one woman, and is a commitment for life) is partly about God’s care for human worth and human dignity**. An understanding of this aim can be seen very plainly in what is said about social justice***, but it doesn’t seem to be as quickly applied to sex.

You, and your living body, made in God’s image and destined for resurrection and eternal joy, are worth more than this. They are worth more than to be reduced to a matter of casual enjoyment for yourself or another, worth more than to be used against their biological nature and physical potential****, worth more, even, than to be given in any situation other than an absolute commitment for life to you and to any children you may have together*****. You are worth having another commit their life completely to you, and the intimacy of your body should not be given or received at any lesser value.

Wedding_ring_Louvre_AC924 Byzantium 7th c AD Wikimedia com no copyright
Byzantium wedding ring, 7th century AD, showing Christ uniting the bride and groom. Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

*Jennifer Laurence, https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2014/10/jennifer-lawrence-photo-hacking-privacy. Though I oppose the attitude to relationships expressed, my sympathies are entirely with her regarding the wrongful violation of her privacy.

**See previous post: “On the nature of God’s commands”.

*** For example, when people talk about the dignity of labour and the fact that the person should be paid a living wage.

**** It is impossible to write on this issue in modern times, and completely avoid the issue of sexual activity between people of the same sex: I appreciate the issue is both complex and sensitive, and what I wanted to say touches on it obliquely rather than being about it, which in some ways I feel is not ideal. However, I think it is better to be immediately open about what I mean and where I’m coming from, as confusion about what different people are really saying is a serious problem in this debate. I believe God’s love is unconditional and is given freely to all people regardless of their inclinations, sexual or otherwise. I have no strong opinion either way on the question of romantic and physically celibate same-sex relationships, though in accord with traditional Christianity I oppose same-sex marriage (I will write on why I don’t think same-sex marriage makes sense in detail sometime: it is one of the most interesting academic debates I’ve ever been involved in). I also think that non-violent sex between consenting adults should be legal.

However, I do in all honesty believe that sexual activity is always unethical between people of the same sex, (a) because it doesn’t make sense to set aside the scriptural standard and replace it with one of our own, and (b) because part of using our bodies to love others is to respect the reality of the potential and nature of the human body, and the bodies of people of the same sex are not adapted or created for sexual relationships with each other. It is worth noting that I would apply (a) to a lot of similar issues, including cohabitation and our approach to divorce and remarriage.

[N.B. I will be interested to read and publish comments of the form “I don’t agree because”, whatever you have to say, but I will not publish anything along the lines of “these dreadful people who…” whether referring to people who are homosexual or people who don’t agree with the liberal agenda.]

*****This is not to condemn every sexually active relationship between two people who are not conjugally married as evil in every way. From the academic point of view, it is possible to admire the commitment a business owner has to their workers, while wishing they would not go in for sharp practice on the stock exchange or dodge their taxes. Similarly, it is possible to admire the good things about a relationship, while believing it would be even better – meet more fully the plans God has for our joy – if it were also chaste (i.e. if the couple abstained from sexual relations unless and until marriage was appropriate). From the personal point of view, I am also a sinner, and have no right to judge.

Cherry Foster

Eliminating the Freezer Bag

Some thoughts on making an aspect of ecological living work

I suppose it’s compulsory to mention human caused climate change in any article on ecology – so I will say I’m highly sceptical of it!  This is mostly due to seeing most of what is put in front of us as bad science from the methodological point of view: misused statistics, dubious chains of proxy data, tiny samples, lack of falsification conditions, insufficient data for the conclusion drawn, lack of attention to the extent and nature of pre-human natural shifts in temperature and sea level, over-reliance on models, insufficient attention to and research on other possible theories*.

However, there are plenty of excellent reasons for believing in ecological living.  Human-caused climate change or not, an ongoing lack of sustainability can reasonably be expected to ultimately destroy our habitat in some way – which is not exactly a good idea.  We are supposed, according to Christian theology, to be the stewards of creation, which means using and not abusing it.  Overuse of things isn’t really good for us as people (Emily Smucker puts it well here, when she talks about wanting to refuse consumerism on the grounds that it is a form of greed).

On the other hand, it is necessary to accept that people aren’t automatons, and cannot just do this or that, without thinking about the practical implications.  Precisely what percentage of the washing up I do by hand is recycling is difficult to judge, but I have enough physical difficulties that it is quite a substantial task.  And I suspect it would be or is found to be by a lot of other people in a variety of situations.  It’s true that I think the question of “do you have to be this busy?” is a legitimate one, but I also think that the answer would probably be some variety of “yes”** for enough people, that it is necessary to look at the practicalities of ecology too, and look for ecological ways of doing things which are not a massive burden.  After all, the more easily any single ecological thing can be done, the more effort someone will have to spare for another thing of the same type.

So, finally, to the specific freezer bag problem.  I live alone in a rural place without a car.  I generally have a shopping delivery once a month.  This means I don’t eat very much fresh food, but tend to live out of my freezer.  I’ll buy a packet of sausages or mince, or a joint, and divide and freeze it.  I also cook more than one portion of things at once to freeze, or freeze a cooked portion of something that takes longer to cook, such as lentils, or of things that go off and can be frozen like bananas (for cooking – they aren’t a food that returns to its fresh state after thawing).  And I often take a packed lunch with me on Sundays or festival days when the service is at 11 and it is usually rather late for lunch by the time I get back.  I initially did pretty much all my freezing in bags, which was a lot of bags.  And having mostly got on top of washing the recycling, I decided single use plastic was a good thing to target, because it is a major source of straightforward environmental pollution and damage, and I think it is very unlikely that the alternative I’m trying to use – plastic boxes – is actually worse for the environment***.

My aim was to eliminate the single-use freezer bag, as used by myself in my own kitchen.  I’m not trying to do anything about single-use plastic packaging that comes with products, nor am I particularly concerned about, for example, the freezer bag I’ve been carrying my books in every day for the last few months.  It might be good to find an alternative, but it could not be justly described as “single use plastic”.  I haven’t yet tried to tackle shopping bags, except for reusing them when I can, though I’m getting to a point where I probably could.

DSCN0620
My freezer at present – moving towards boxes rather than plastic bags. (N.B. I don’t normally freeze bananas like that. They were about to go off so I thought there was nothing to lose).

The first problem I encountered was the sheer expense of purchasing that number of boxes.  It may be cheaper overall – I can’t tell at this stage – but buying another packet of plastic bags every month at a small regular cost is very different from trying to lay out a few hundred pounds in an appropriate variety of sizes of freezer box.  And (second problem) it is necessary to have a variety of sizes because rigid boxes take up more space in the freezer anyway.  Adding a lot of wasted space because the boxes are bigger than they need to be isn’t practical.  I’m still working on both these issues, and am gradually building up a stock of boxes.  In some ways doing this over a year or two is better anyway because it’s becoming clearer exactly what I need.  Optimising use of freezer space is still a bit of a fog – I’m still puzzling that one out – but square boxes of the same size do at least stack quite nicely in a chest freezer.  I tried folding silicone boxes, which squash down, and those I have have been useful, mostly for fruit, but they are more expensive and in some ways harder to handle.

The third problem is where on earth do I store that number of boxes and lids between uses?  And for a further complexity, they need to be stored in an organised way which actually makes it easy to get them out and use them.  I made sure I got a lot of duplicates of the same type of box, which are easier to store together and recognise as being of a particular size.  I’m in the process of adding on-worktop storage, having carefully put the same size of little box in things like ice cream tubs on the top shelf of my cupboard until I ran out of space.  On worktop storage is likely to be fine because the under cupboard worktop space in this house isn’t really useable anyway due to the cupboards being low.  Putting all the boxes of the same size together with the lids with them is, I think, probably essential, but apart from that, how to do it would probably need to be worked out separately for each kitchen/house.

The fourth problem was the problem of labelling the food.  I’m hoping to find reusable labels, which could just be stuck on the box and left, though at the moment I’m using paper stick on labels.  I hope the extra environmental burden of a square of sticky paper per use is less than that of a plastic bag, but this is the sort of hidden environmental cost that tends to throw me when trying to work out what to focus on.

I found that having rigid boxes was an advantage when it came to rewarming food in the microwave, because the box can be heated whereas the bags can’t.  And it is easier to scoop liquid food out of a box than of a bag.

The main picnic problem proved to be that most of the rectangular boxes haven’t got sufficiently secure or liquid tight lids to be used on their own in a bag.  Granted it is easier to put coleslaw in a box, but I then ended up putting the box in a freezer bag to prevent it leaking – and it needed it.  I had more success with screw-top yogurt pots on this point.  And I got to packing the different boxes into an old ice cream tub rather than a bag, which works up to a point, but again, takes up more space.  On the other hand it is more protection for the food.

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A screw-top yoghurt pot and a baker’s box with clip-on lid, for carrying picnic food without freezer bags.

I haven’t completely succeeded yet.  The baked potatoes in my freezer are still in bags rather than boxes.  On average, I probably use one freezer bag, and sometimes some clingfilm, per picnic – less than I used to.  What I’m expecting to find with this one, is that having once solved the problems, the practical (not merely the environmental) advantages to using boxes rather than bags will outweigh the difficulties.

So, to summarise, the problems I had were:

1: the start-up cost of boxes v.s. bags

2: the fact that freezer boxes take up more space in the freezer

3: the need to find and organise easy-to-access storage for the boxes between uses

4: labelling

5: lids too insecure for enclosing carried food on their own.

Solutions, such as I’ve found them, have involved:

1: buying boxes of the same type one set at a time, and accepting that in the meantime I will run out of boxes sometimes and need to supplement with freezer bags.  Reusing brought boxes: e.g. ice cream tubs.

2: studying the best size and shape of box for what I typically have to store in the freezer (in my case, I have a lot of 200ml boxes, and even more 400ml ones).  Using some folding silicone boxes.

3: choosing duplicate sets of the same size and shape of box, choosing boxes which will fit inside each other when out of use, having boxes to put each type of box and their lids in together, extending storage onto unused worktop space

4: No completely satisfactory solution yet; using disposable stick on freezer labels

5: Using screw-top yoghurt pots or boxes with clips on the lids when important

Disposables have their place.  But I am glad to be on the way to eliminating this particular not-really-necessary-in-my circumstances disposable from normal use in my kitchen.

I hope, some time, that I meet a turtle that’s alive because I did it.

Cherry Foster

Chelonia_mydas source wikimedia commons photo credit Brocken Inaglory copyright to attribution
Chelonia mydas. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Photo credit: Brocken Inaglory

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Most of this comes from dinner conversations with family members who are physicists, and cite things like actually trying to get the hockey stick curve from the published numbers.  However, the “lack of falsification conditions” is more of a philosophical comment.

**This is a question that fascinates me in a lot of situations.  I wrote on “have to” in as far as it seems to me to be a linguistic moral problem here.  “Have to” in domestic life seems to refer to a very wide degree of pressures from “realistically we wouldn’t be able to eat,” through a range of things which matter but aren’t essential to life such as “we’d never be able to travel to see our parents,” “we’d never have any sort of holiday,” “we would lose the house which we have made our home,” “our teenagers wouldn’t all be able to have their own room,” to a completely different set of things such as “my vocation demands full time work,” “the needs of young children really do require this much attention”, to things which really can’t be considered “have to” issues such as “we would only be able to go on two luxury holidays abroad per year rather than three”.  The thing I would emphasise is, again, the fact that we do still have a choice to some degree despite the pressures on us to choose in a particular direction.

***The main risk, I think, in replacing disposables with reusables is the possibility that either the ultimate waste product or what’s needed for effective cleaning – hot water and chemicals – is actually worse for the environment than the disposable was.  However, it is at least a reasonable assumption that one needs less energy and chemical to wash a plastic box than one does to make a plastic bag, and that the waste product is not worse and probably better.  If anyone has specialist knowledge to confirm or deny this, I’d be very interested to hear.

 

 

The Improbable Policy of Ebenezer Scrounge

On the difficulties of reducing all claims to property to “greater need”.

Bob Crouch shivered nervously as he waited for his boss. Ebenezer crashed in and slammed the door, tearing a hole in his ancient suit.

“Bother,” he said. Then he looked at Bob. “What is it? I’ve only got half an hour – then I need to go and join the trustees of the fisherman’s fund.”

Bob swallowed. “I’ve been with you now for twelve years,” he said.

“And very good work you do too,” said Ebenezer, who valued Bob, and never hesitated to praise him.

“And I feel that it is fair I ask you to increase my wages, which have not been increased in that time. I have a large family, as you know, and my son Tom is disabled.”

“Oh, come on, Bob,” Ebenezer said. “If I raise your wages, I’ll have to decrease the donation to the East African Famine Fund. At least your family are in no danger of starving. Their children have a greater need than yours.”

Bob had known he would probably get an answer of this type. He felt momentarily ashamed of himself, wondering what right he had to money that was preventing others starving. Then he wondered if Ebenezer thought he should give the money he, Bob, spent on food for his children to charity, until his children were in a greater state of malnutrition than any other children in the world. Probably not. Ebenezer did eat enough, if not a crumb more – and he never expected anything of others he didn’t do himself. Remembering his son’s unhappiness, his daughter’s probable illness, and his wife’s worried face, he pressed on.

“Yes, but that isn’t the point…” he began.

At that moment there was a knock on the door. “Oh bother,” said Ebenezer. “It’s the soldiers’ orphans’ missionary charity rep. I must see what he wants.”

Bob sighed, and went to his work. He’d known he was probably wasting his time. Even huddled in his coat, he felt cold. The allowance of coal was minimal. Ebenezer didn’t seem to suffer much from it, rushing about as he did, but Bob did. He was glad when it was time to go home. Not that home was much warmer.

His wife Martha met him at the door. All his children were in the tiny living room clustered around Tom, talking eagerly to him of their day at school. Martha could teach him herself, but never had there been a child less well suited to being taught at home rather than going to school. His half-wistful, half-angry eyes followed their neighbours’ daughter, born without legs, being whirled home from school in her wheelchair by a laughing crowd of brothers and friends. Bob had applied to the same charity for one for Tom, but Ebenezer being the chair of trustees, he had been told that as Tom could walk a few steps, they must save their grants for those who could not walk at all, who thereby had a greater need. Had Bob been earning a fair wage for his work, he could easily have purchased a wheelchair for his son himself, but as things stood, they could pay for little but food and shelter and essential clothing, and as Tom could not walk the mile to school and back, he could not go.

The children were cheerful enough most of the time with their rag dolls and hand-me-down clothes, but he knew his youngest daughter had wept all the last night at not being able to go to her friend’s birthday party for want of a gift and a dress. She was thin and pale, and coughed frequently. Bob and Martha both feared she was becoming seriously ill. Ebenezer would undoubtedly pay thousands for her to be treated, but probably not until it was too late.

“Did you get anywhere?” Martha asked him anxiously?

Bob shook his head, his worried eyes passing over his children.

“Oh, it isn’t fair,” she said passionately, “I wish you could find work other than for that old miser.”

“Oh come,” said Bob, who had a fair amount of affection and respect for his employer, “you know he means what he says. He probably lives on a poorer diet than us. And all to give the money to people who are in need.”

“If he wants to live like that himself,” said Martha, “then I respect, yes, admire it immensely. But he has no business imposing it on our children by refusing to pay you what you earn. That money isn’t his to give to other people.”

“Well, there’s nothing we can do except plod on,” said Bob. “There’s no-one else to work for here, and…”

There was a knock on the door, and one of the neighbours’ children poked their head around.

“Letter for you, Mr. Crouch. Got left with us by mistake this morning.”

Bob looked at the letter and slowly broke the seal. Martha looked up to see his face transformed.

“This is from an old schoolfriend of mine. He’s inherited an estate – not sure I quite get who from – and wants a manager, and he says the job’s mine if I want it. Twice the salary I’m earning now, and a cottage provided.”

“Oh wonderful,” cried all the children together.

“Yes,” said Bob, half to himself, as he tried to realise that their current problems, at least, were over. “I’ll never hear the words ‘greater need’ again.”

Crysanthemums photo credit Ramon F Velasquez no copyright source wikamedia commons
Photo Credit: Ramon F. Velasque; Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Cherry Foster