It is two and a half years since the introduction in the UK of a 5p levy on plastic carrier bags, and there can be no doubt at all that it has transformed our shopping habits. In that time, plastic carrier bag usage has dropped by over 85%, and most of us now routinely take our own reusable bags when we go shopping.
These figures are a convincing argument that government interventions can and do alter consumer behaviour. Now, surely, it is time to target the excessive packaging that accompanies so much of the food we buy from supermarkets. A new levy, similar to the plastic bag “tax”, added to the price of foods that come with unnecessary or unrecyclable packaging could once again radically transform consumer behaviour, as well as that of supermarkets and producers.
From the supermarkets’ perspective, a key advantage of all this packaging is that it helps protect food which might need to be transported thousands of miles before it reaches our shopping basket. It can also help to prolong the fresh appearance of some foods. In some cases, packaging helps to ramp up sales – a shopper may only want three pears, for example, but has to buy four because they are sold only in plastic packs of four.
None of these “advantages” are in the favour of the consumer, however, still less the environment.
I was heartened, therefore, to see some UK consumers taken direct action this week over this very issue. A group of around 25 customers staged a protest over excessive packaging at a Tesco supermarket in Keynsham, Somerset. Having purchased their shopping they then, en masse, removed all the unnecessary wrapping and left it at the tills. I really hope this gentle protest encourages similar direct consumer action elsewhere.
A levy which encourages less food packaging would in turn help to slow the shocking pace of environmental damage caused by plastic waste.
It would also allow us shoppers more opportunities to purchase only the exact amount of food we want, which in turn would help to reduce domestic food waste.
And it would benefit local producers, whose food requires less packaging because it has less far to travel, and is likely to be much fresher than imported foods that may have taken days to get here.
On to the recipe.
This elegant soup, with its fragrant combination of rosemary, bay and garlic, is surprisingly quick and simple to make.
It would make an elegant starter course for a dinner party, or a healthy lunch, served with good quality, crusty bread.
garlic, white bean and rosemary soup
2 400g cans organic cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
½ tsp sea salt
1 bay leaf
1.2 litres vegetable stock
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1. Pour the olive oil in a pan that has a lid and place over a medium heat. Add the onions and the celery and cook, stirring for 5 minutes or until the onion turns soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add the stock, the beans, the bay leaf and rosemary sprigs plus the sea salt. Bring to a simmer then reduce the heat. Cover with the lid and continue to simmer gently for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and leave to cool for at least ten minutes, then remove the bay leaf and rosemary sprigs.
3. Transfer the soup to a blender and process until smooth and creamy (you will need to do this in batches). Pour the soup into a clean saucepan. Place over a low heat and bring to the edge of a simmer.
4. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and some good quality bread.