Packaged In Plastic

Packaged in Plastic: A Manmade Natural Future

Recently a Whole Foods store in California came under fire for selling ready peeled oranges in plastic containers. Following an internet-based backlash they pulled the product. The whole thing was somewhat absurd: Whole Foods, a company which prides itself on ‘sustainability’ and providing ‘organic’ products and only used paper bags was taking the skin, nature’s packaging, off of oranges and repackaging them in plastic.

Not only did this increase the amount of effort required in production, to get an orange from where it grows into someone’s hand or fruit bowl, it also upped the environmental damage and excess packaging of consuming the fruit.

This is nothing new. Walk down the aisle of any supermarket and you will find meat, fish and vegetables packaged up in cans, tins and plastic. You will see cuts of meat which in no way resemble the animal they have come from, chopped up fruit in tins preserved in juice and, even, entire meals in plastic trays that you could be forgiven for thinking just popped out of a machine somewhere fully formed.

In supermarkets and grocery stores what we are presented with as consumers is a product. Something which has come off of a sterile production line, even if it started its life in the ground.

We often don’t stop to think about it when we pick up the neat, clean and purposeful vacuum-packed packages from refrigerated cabinets and put them into our plastic baskets but if you do, stop and look, it’s almost surreal:

Fish, skinned, descaled and filleted that don’t look like fish at all.

Garlic, peeled, chopped and tinned.

A pineapple plant takes around 24 months to bear fruit.

Coffee beans, ground and artificially vacuumed for ‘freshness.’

Did you know cashew nuts come from a flowering fruit?

Chicken breasts, boned and plucked, which look nothing like a bird.

Steak, neatly sliced, that looks nothing like a cow.

Did you know pepper grows above the ground? On leafy, green stalks.

Absurd, perhaps. And, certainly, there has been a backlash against the ‘unnatural’, the ‘processed’ and the ‘manufactured’ in recent years. ‘Natural’ as a word, a descriptor, has itself become a buzzword, a marketing tool even. It sells things, if it’s ‘natural’ – organic - you should buy it over something that’s not ‘natural’. ‘Natural’, today, is a lifestyle choice which encourages us to ‘get back to nature’ and reject all of the awful, modern inventions, chemicals, poisons and stresses which are ruining our lives and the world we live in.

‘Natural’ living is healthy, manmade manufacturing the enemy.

‘Eat what cavemen ate’ we are told, ‘Go Paleo’. How many of us are going to venture out, truly ‘paleo’ and catch our own food, though? How many of us would like to risk being eaten by a sabre toothed tiger to make sure we don’t starve? Is styling ourselves on cavemen really such a great idea?

Is manmade modernity really all that bad? We hear all to regularly about the destructive effects of humankind’s divorce from nature both on nature itself, with the destruction of rainforests and effects of global warming, and on the human psyche itself, on our stability as a species who, fundamentally, are hunter gatherers. And yet, with it has come progression: advances in technology, travel and medicine which have improved people’s quality of life and experiences of living.

Next time you’re in the supermarket stop to think and look at what you are picking up, read the label and spare a moment to consider where what you’re about to consume has come from. Feel the chill of the cabinets and the heat above the electric sliding doors as you exit.

On consideration, perhaps, there’s a balance to be found – a way of cohabiting with nature and embracing progression without rejecting modernity entirely. What would a future that managed that look like?

‘You have your way’, said the German philosopher Nietzsche, ‘and I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.’