JOHN HUMPHRYS: The carrot crisis that shows we're dicing with disaster!  | Daily Mail Online

2022-04-25 07:27:31 By : Mr. Damon zhou

By John Humphrys For The Daily Mail

Published: 17:02 EDT, 15 January 2021 | Updated: 17:51 EDT, 15 January 2021

The warning came — as life-changing warnings so often do — completely out of the blue. I simply wasn’t ready for it and, anyway, life is scary enough as it is. 

Ocado has warned that prepared carrots are out of stock. Tesco has issued a similar warning in relation to packs of cauliflower.

The significance of this cannot be overstated. It means that if we want to eat carrots in the foreseeable future we might very well have to scrub them in water to remove any dirt, or even peel them. 

As for cauliflowers, how can we be sure what they are if they don’t come in a plastic pack with ‘cauliflower’ printed on the label?

It means that if we want to eat carrots in the foreseeable future we might very well have to scrub them in water to remove any dirt, or even peel them [File photo]

OK, enough of the clumsy sarcasm. There is an important point here. The story appeared in a perfectly serious report on these pages about the problems the food industry is facing because of a combination of Covid and Brexit.

When I’d finished reading it, I got on my bike, cycled to my local market and stocked up with a week’s fruit and veg from the same packed stall I’ve used for 40 years. It’s run by John, but his mother Sylvia still helps out even though she’s well into her 80s.

John’s father set up the stall after the War when the government was giving small grants to demobbed servicemen who were coming home to no jobs and no prospect of getting one. They wanted to encourage the spread of local markets and they succeeded. John has been working on the stall since he left school.

You can buy just about anything in Shepherd’s Bush market — from fresh fish to food for your goldfish and from showy dresses to suitcases to carry them home in.

Anything except, that is, prepared carrots. John is about as likely to offer them to his loyal customers as I would be to buy them.

As for cauliflowers, how can we be sure what they are if they don’t come in a plastic pack with ‘cauliflower’ printed on the label?

I struggle to understand why anybody has ever needed a prepared carrot. Maybe it’s because they look clean, but I bet most people wash them anyway — even if they’re about to boil them.

As for the bags, surely we’ve all got the message about unnecessary plastic by now. Plastic pollution is doing massive harm to our precious planet — something that this newspaper was campaigning about long before David Attenborough shocked us all by showing a dying turtle struggling to escape from a plastic bag.

I suspect the answer to my bewilderment lies in one of the most misused words in the English language. Convenience.

We became ‘consumers’ back in the 1960s. The marketing geniuses who tell us why we absolutely must have what we didn’t even know we wanted conned us into believing that convenience trumps everything.

As a marketing ploy it’s hard to beat. If you package something as ‘convenient’, it’s a sure sell.

There’s one big reason why this has come to be so. For decades, we have been living lives that came to be described as ‘money rich and time poor’.

That’s to say, we’ve focused on earning the dosh even if it consumes all our time. So the young father never gets home from work in time to bath his baby before bedtime. Not to worry: just think of the pay packet!

In such a world, what is convenient must be desirable simply because it saves us time. We have fallen for that message however ludicrous and even harmful to the planet it may be. Hence prepared carrots.

But something interesting has happened in the past ten months. Covid has turned the message upside down.

Most of us have found ourselves, whether we like it or not, living lives that are time-rich and money- poor. People have found themselves with time on their hands, doing things they didn’t do before.

The supermarkets ran out of flour because we all started making our own bread. DIY took off partly because people didn’t want strangers in their homes doing jobs they could do for themselves.

I confess I wasn’t one of them. My own career in DIY came to an explosive end 35 years ago when I was trying to fix a hole in a flat roof and hired a bitumen burner.

I turned on the gas to melt the stuff, stupidly shoved a match into the combustion chamber and an hour later I was in the local hospital getting treated for rather nasty burns to my hand and arm.

I vividly remember reading the Nine O’Clock news on telly that night with my right arm hidden under the desk. Peeling a carrot is less risky.

My mother eventually got her washing machine but never grasped the concept of leisure. Little did she know that she had a legal right to it

It’s not that convenience is, of itself, a bad thing. But it is when the benefit is trivial, or even non-existent, and the cost is real.

Nor, God forbid, am I suggesting a return to the life that working-class mothers endured in the days before the birth of the convenience culture. My own mother was one of the millions who were both time-poor and cash-poor. She’d have leapt at the chance of a washing machine. But even they have their costs.

A few days ago, a report was published showing that countless trillions of tiny, toxic plastic particles end up in the world’s oceans because we put clothes made from polyester in washing machines. They are a threat to the fish that swallow them and to us because we eat the fish.

The solution is not to abandon washing machines but to do what the French are already doing and fit them with special filters to capture the particles.

My mother eventually got her washing machine but never grasped the concept of leisure. Little did she know that she had a legal right to it. 

The ‘right to rest and leisure’ is provided for in Article 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948 when she was a young woman.

She’d have been attracted to that notion — but not if it meant buying prepared carrots.

There are three possible reactions to the strange story of Stefan Thomas. He is the computer programmer who was paid in bitcoin for making a video about crypto- currency. That was ten years ago.

At the time, bitcoin were worth a few dollars apiece. They have done rather well since then. His are now worth about £200 million. But there’s a snag.

To cash them in, he can’t just pop into the bank. He has to use his password to get into a hugely sophisticated hard drive — and he can’t do that because he’s forgotten it.

He’s made eight guesses. All wrong. He gets two more shots at it. If he’s still wrong, he loses the lot. It may all sound like a proposal from a pretty desperate game show producer — but not if you’re Mr Thomas. So those three reactions, it seems to me, are these:

The first: serves him right for being so careless.

The second: poor chap . . . good luck to him!

The third: what is a bitcoin anyway? I’m prepared to bet you don’t know either.

We’ve all read masses of stuff about the currency but that doesn’t mean we understand it. We know that to ‘mine’ bitcoins, they use unimaginable amounts of computing muscle and burn enough electricity to power an entire city. But do we really know what ‘mining’ means? Or why they’re going to stop mining them in 19 years? Or who invented bitcoin in the first place?

Maybe our ignorance doesn’t matter. There’s lots about the world of finance I don’t begin to understand. But the notion that a coin that doesn’t even exist can be worth a fortune today and virtually nothing tomorrow scares the life out of me.

Why do I keep wanting to shout: ‘The Emperor has no clothes!’

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