I needed to buy a kettle at short notice a few weeks back. It was for a trip to a foreign hotel where, I had been reliably informed, there was no kettle in the room (heavens forbid)*. A travel kettle would have been better, but, well there wasn't time to track one down, so instead I got a cheap, lightweight full-sized one from Tesco.
When I say cheap, I mean cheap: under a fiver. I can't remember exactly how much, maybe £4.49.
And it got me thinking. What does it mean for our consumer society when you can buy a kettle for about the same price as cod and chips, or a trashy paperback, or a couple of packets of organic vegetable seed?
I am still musing on the answer to that one.
My fear is that it devalues the worth of material goods in our minds, making us think little or nothing of throwing away perfectly functional items just because we want to upgrade to the newest flashy model.
I'm always striving - and not always succeeding, as the kettle incident clearly shows - to resist the temptation of pointless purchases, and attempting to reduce, reuse and recycle everything I possibly can. I know I get much more of a buzz from finding a brilliant retro item or design classic from a secondhand shop, eBay auction or charity shop than I do from buying something on the high street.
It's the same with the food I eat: I value the crops I grow on my allotment far more than shop-bought food, in large part because I know its precise provenance. The latest catalogue from ethically and environmentally conscious clothing firm Howies, which included the page pictured above, musing on the true cost of the cheap apples that weigh down the supermarket shelves. It concludes:
The supermarkets don't have to answer to the land. To the rivers. To the farmers. to the environment. To the local community. They answer to their shareholders. Our food chain is for the most part in our own hands. And their business is all about profit maximisation. We have to accept that. Or change it. Which brings us back to the original question: can we afford cheap? Go local, go organic, or even better - go local organic.
And, folks, you don't get more local organic than fruit and veg from your own organic allotment.
*Non-English readers may not understand the necessity for access to boiling water at all times, but trust me, I need access to hot tea, wherever in the world I am.