Saturday, 22 August 2009

Plastic or Chemicals?

I’ve got a terrible sweet tooth. Chocolate, cake, you name it, I’d probably eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if I could.

Chocolate-free plastic is fairly easy to come across. More and more confectioners are packaging their chocolate bars in plastic ‘stay-fresh’ wrapping (err, why? It’s not exactly as if chocolate goes off, after all, is it?), but if I avoid snack bars like Mars and go straight for the proper slabs of chocolate I’m pretty safe. The paper-clad brands are usually more expensive, but they’re also usually the organic or fair trade brands, so although it costs me a little more, I feel better for buying it, and better for eating it too.

Sugar for home baking, though, is a different story.

Sugar Sweet
I am standing in the baking goods aisle, one bag of sugar in one hand, one bag in the other hand.

Bron just looks at me. I think he’s really starting to get fed up with my whole indecisive nature, although you’d think he’d have gotten used to it by now.

‘It’s supposed to be about plastic,’ I say to him. ‘So I should get this one. Right?’ I hold up my left hand. The bag I’m holding is made of paper. Perfect. Right?

‘But do you really want to be eating the chemicals?’ he asks.

‘Well, I always have white sugar in my tea at work, don’t I? So what difference is it really going to make?’

He raises his eyebrows at me.

I’m starting to feel a bit self conscious; I’m sure that all the customers around me have been listening to my little rant and are now skirting their trolleys in as wide a berth as they can manage.

‘I’m not even sure that they do add bleach to it,’ I say, lifting up the paper bag again. ‘It’s just that that’s what I’ve always thought. Raw sugar’s got to be better for you, hasn’t it? Because it hasn’t been processed.’ I’m going over old ground again. What I really wish is that Bron would make the choice for me, but I’ve learnt by this point in our relationship that that probably isn’t going to happen. At least, not unless he gets really pissed off at me. I wonder how far I can push it? But the supermarket on a Friday evening probably isn’t the best time to test that.

A pound of golden, copper-coloured raw cane sugar in my right hand, packaged in plastic; a pound of white caster sugar in my left hand, packaged in paper. They are both fair trade, so we’re on equal ground as far as that goes. Raw, or unrefined sugar, means that it contains more of its natural minerals, and that it hasn’t got any of the extra chemicals that get added to it during the refining process, such as phosphoric acid. Or the dreaded plastic bag.

I am koo-keed down, knees bent, balancing on my toes, literally weighing up the pros and cons of each sugar both in my head and in my hands. I want raw cane sugar in a paper bag. But, of course, I can’t have that. That would be too simple. So which is it going to be?

Plastic or chemicals?
It seems so unfair that I have to choose between the two – why can’t I have my unrefined sugar in a paper bag? Obviously it’s possible to supply sugar in paper, because of this other brand that’s on the shelf.

In the end, I choose the unrefined sugar in the plastic bag, and it was a choice I really didn’t like to have to make. But it’s set me a new challenge for the coming days: source the right sugar in the right packaging from another store. Even if Sainsbury’s doesn’t do it, hopefully one of my local health stores will.

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