I remember the day clearly, when in my early 30’s, I picked up my veg knife and went to chop up a carrot… and I physically couldn’t. It was as if the carrot was made of concrete, I couldn’t understand it. Such a simple task yet I could not complete it. I’d spent the majority of my 20’s in my kitchen with my friends, on my feet for 12 hours or more, music blaring, with a bottle of wine, cooking up a storm for a dinner party for 10 or more guests. Usually, by the time the guests arrived I’d be too exhausted to actually eat anything myself but I could cook and all that goes with it.
That was until I reached my 30’s, then disability really took its toll and slowly but surely, more everyday ‘simple’ activities became unachievable goals. I still knew how to cook. It obviously wasn’t ignorance or lack of education; I hadn’t forgotten. I tried everything. Like most disabled people, I’m exceptionally innovative - we have to be.
I started roasting vegetables, such as sweet potato or butternut squash. After an hour or two you can remove the softened peel from the flesh of the veg with your hands. A couple of hours roasting however is not exactly environmentally nor financially friendly on the energy front. Also, you still need a degree of ability to achieve this now simplified task. A month or two later, even with the aid of my ‘perching stool’ (also made from none recyclable materials), I no longer had that ability either. I then tried eating all veg in ‘shavings’ form - basically I peeled them. For a while that was ok but then I lost that ability too.
This situation may sound ‘alien’ to many of you; something you just cannot empathise with… yet. I assure you all, whether it be through disability, ill health or old age, most, if not all of you will inevitably one day need pre-prepared food. When that day comes you won’t be ready for it, you’ll feel it’s too soon and you’ll feel a multitude of emotions that come with that change. I only hope when that day comes you don’t have people shaming you and calling you lazy for what you are not physically able to do. Please try and remember when you comment on the ‘laziness’ of others that most people, like myself, didn’t arrive at ‘pre-prepared veg’ without working really hard to find an alternative first. We worked hard, we put the time and effort in to both research and practice with alternatives. We did our bit. We did our duty.
The problem is the packaging and that’s firmly on you, the manufacturer and supplier. The problem is not the ease or pre–prepared nature of the food, nor is it the people who require it. We are not lazy. We are unable. We are not the problem. We have physical limitations, time limitations, waste limitations (we also don’t want to waste food, which is another problem with larger portions). We need that food pre-prepared. You do not need to package it in an abundance of plastic.
So, the only party here who doesn’t have an essential need, who has the privilege of choice, is you M&S. You could have chosen to support your customer base and change the packaging to, for example, a paper bag but you didn’t; you chose the easy route and removed the product. You displaced the problem, the blame and the resolution not just onto your customers but onto the most vulnerable of your customers (including but not exclusive to pensioners, the incapacitated and the disabled.)
I Imagine if M&S suddenly released a statement saying they’re no longer selling baby formula as it promotes the use of plastic bottles over the more environmentally friendly option of breastfeeding, the uproar would quite rightly be deafening. The presumption of privilege, evident to many in that example, may not be as apparent with disability but it’s there and our community is suffering greatly because of it. Ultimately, one way or another, most of you will sadly experience this form of ableism first hand, one day.
So I challenge you M&S, to put your customers first and speedily set about resolving this issue by reinstating the existing pre-prepared veg, until you come up with a more environmentally friendly alternative to package it in. I’ve already proposed one alternative. If you’d like a group of disabled customers to aid you and brainstorm, you can contact me in the comments and I’ll be sure to point you in the right direction. Or simply make contact via Twitter, you’ll find thousands of us on there, waiting and ready to engage.