A can of worms (what??)

* Sainsbury’s have finally gotten back to me on this issue. Scroll down to bottom to read end of story.*

No, actually, what it was was a can of Sainsbury’s organic chopped tomatoes. But there was a worm in it. Or so I thought at first. It turned out to be less, eh, organic, namely a shoelace. I was making plain tomato sauce for vegetarian lasagne and so had only a bit of olive oil and minced garlic in the pan before pouring in the tomatoes. Which is why I know with absolute certainty that that’s where it came from. Besides, we’re not much of a shoelace family. Husband prefers loafers & son prefers velcro. As for me, eh, flip flops & slippers?

The next morning, Nov. 17th., I wrote this to Sainsbury’s:

Subject: foreign object in Sainsbury’s So Organic chopped tomatoes
User’s Comments: Last night when making sauce for lasagne I used two cans of your otherwise nice So Organic chopped tomatoes. When stirring contents “black snake” appeared. Since there was only garlic in the pan prior to adding the cans of tomatoes, there really was no other source of this. A LENGTH OF SHOELACE.

Can ID: PRO 1 BIO A 270
B.B.E. SEPT. 2010
Photograph can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nenelabeet/4111313339/in/photostream/

On November 19th I got this reply:
Dear Nene
Thank you for your email regarding the shoelace that you found in the JS SO chopped tomatoes.  I’m sorry that you had the displeasure of finding such an item in your product.

Can I ask you to send this by recorded delivery to our Product Quality department where they will investigate the cause of the shoelace appearing in the tomatoes.  The address is as follows:

Product Quality department
Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd

33 Holborn

Kind regards

Andrew Baillie

Customer Manager

On Monday 23rd I did as requested. Have receipt right here next to me. Enclosed my business card with all details – including Twitter ID – and the query number I’d been issued with. Recorded delivery ensures delivery on the next day before 1 pm. So can assume Sainsbury has received it? But of course, have not heard one word from them since then.

Or, I have. Because I have of course tweeted about it. Both when I just found it with the above picture as Twitpic and later when I still didn’t hear anything. Other tweeters suggested I tweeted directly to @sainsburys, who clearly doesn’t follow their own brand name on Twitter. How amateurish is that???

So I tweeted directly to @sainsburys who then asked for my phone number in DM. They then had this hapless, clueless girl from customer services call me. Without checking my Twitter stream first and certainly without checking whether they had received my complaint and the can & content. As my husband would probably say: W*nkers! I felt so sorry for that girl who called to tell me to do what I’d already done, namely send in the can & lace via registered mail. She wasn’t authorised to do anything else.

Here’s one week worth of Tweeting about shoelace in Sainsburys’ tomatoes. I do realise that you can’t actually read this, so try here (this link is to live search of Twitter for labeet + sainsburys). Sainsburys have access to this same tool, don’t they?

I know that Sainsburys is a huge, huge business and that I’m only one tiny little person (relatively speaking). But I also know that customer services are becoming more and more important as “the little man’s” access to a wider audience becomes easier. Scanning 5-6 hours worth of tweets including the word Sainsburys takes about 5 minutes (I know, I just did it). Most tweets that aren’t just mentioning Sainsburys because they’re either going shopping or orienting themselves via the local Sainsburys are positive or musing over the fact that they are now being followed by @sainsburys. Maybe they should explain to people why they start following them? One tweeter amusingly writes: The whole of Sainsburys is fllowing me? That’s a bit scary if you stop too quickly!

Quite a few of the tweets are recommendations of current in-store offers to others. @sainsburys could really profit from this if they tweeted back with related offers. What they seem to be doing is tweeting recipes and saying thank you to people for following them back. When queried directly, they assured me and @angpang and @EmmaJaneR that they were “listening”, but the above is all that happened? And since that tweet yesterday afternoon, @Sainsburys has sent out 5 tweets altogether, the last one 16 hours ago.

I am clueless as to why a company that large with that amount of resources chooses to do anything as half-hearted as that. I understand that for many smaller businesses it’s impossible to have one single person responsible for these things, but as I’ve just shown, scanning half a day of tweets takes 5 minutes!

I now have to go out, so won’t be here to take delivery of the huge hamper of guaranteed shoelace free cans of tomatoes and other goodies that MUST be on its way from Sainsburys. I hope the neighbours will.

Ah well, just kidding. I’ll keep you posted and will tweet link to this post with annoyingly regular intervals in the meantime. And, Sainsburys, I promise you that I’ll just as eagerly tweet and post when you turn around and “do the right thing”. Until then: @Sainsburys #fail.

Added 5/12:

On December 1st I wrote to Sainsbury’s again, asking if they had actually received the can and if they were going to do anything about it, ever?

And finally, yesterday evening, a woman with a peculiar accent (def. North, but where exactly, she had the funniest expressions and prolonged nouns?) called. She talked non-stop about what they were doing with their suppliers, quality control, etc., etc., and in the end finished her speech by offering me £50 compensation. I accepted. Maybe I should’ve taken the matter further, but £50 seems to be OK, all things considered. And I’m really, really bad at squabbling. Heated discussions make me nervous and get ridiculously high levels of adrenalin flowing – think it’s a leftover from childhood…


The perfect is often the enemy of the good

What will eventuallly become dinner
What will eventuallly become dinner

The above is a quote from this long, thorough and extremely well researched article on Mother Jones about the world’s food crisis and what to do about it.

The article details the problems facing food production in this century. It looks at the alternative farming methods that are not quite organic:

After decades as an unrepentant industrial farmer, the tall 59-year-old realized that his standard practices were promoting erosion so severe that it was robbing him of several tons of soil per acre per year—his most important asset. So in 2000, he began to experiment with a gentler planting method known as no-till. While traditional farmers plow their fields after each harvest, exposing the soil for easy replanting, Fleming leaves his soil and crop residue intact and uses a special machine to poke the seeds through the residue and into the soil.

But he still uses pesticides, only much less than he used to. The organic farmers though, turn their backs to him. And this kind of attitude is all too common in the battle for a sustainable planet. Instead of embracing every attempt to do things differently, better, wars are waged against different ideas as to how to save the planet.

The article also looks at food miles:

Consider our love affair with food miles. In theory, locally grown foods have traveled shorter distances and thus represent less fuel use and lower carbon emissions—their resource footprint is smaller. And yet, for all the benefits of a local diet, eating locally doesn’t always translate into more sustainability. Because the typical farmers market is supplied by dozens of different farms, each transporting its crops in a separate van or truck, a 20-pound shopping basket of locally grown produce might actually represent a larger carbon footprint than the same volume of produce purchased at a chain retailer, which gets its produce en masse, via large trucks.

And at the notion of only eating locally produced food:

Conversely, rural areas with good farm potential will always be able to outproduce local or even regional demand, and will remain dependent on other markets. “One farmer in Oregon with a few hundred acres can grow more pears than the entire state of Oregon eats,” says Scott Exo, executive director of the Portland-based Food Alliance and an expert in the business challenges of sustainability. “Attention to the geographical origins of food is great, but you have to understand its economic limits.”

Finally, about the need for government funding and hitherto unconsidered economic factors:

If we’re going to ask the market to pull in a new direction, we’ll need to give it new rules and incentives. That means our broader food standards, but it also means money—a massive increase in food research. (Today, the fraction of the federal research budget spent on anything remotely resembling alternative agriculture is less than 1 percent—and most of that is sucked up by the organic sector.) And, yes, it means more farm subsidies: The reason federal farm subsidies are regarded as anti-sustainability is mainly because they support the wrong kind of farming. But if we want the right kind of farming, we’re going to have to support those farmers willing to risk trying a new model. For example, one reason farmers prefer labor-saving monoculture is that it frees them to take an off-farm job, which for many is the only way to get health insurance. Thus, the simplest way to encourage sustainable farming might be offering a subsidy for affordable health care.

Discussing whether to buy organic or not, whether to buy Fairtrade or not and whether to look at food miles while shopping or not, mostly produces answers along the line of: “I read an article about how this Fairtrade operation wasn’t fairtrade at all and the workers on the tea plantation were treated awfully and underpaid, so I’m not going to support Fairtrade any longer.” Or “They can’t really check if eggs or flour is produced organically and I don’t really believe it is, so I’m not buying it – I’m not going to be fooled by that label into paying more for my foodstuffs.” Add your own answers. I find this pitiful. These people don’t stop shopping at Tesco’s just because they once in a while get a rotten tomato or meat that’s not tender. And they don’t stop dining at their friends’ house because once they got a dish they didn’t like. And they don’t stop driving their car, because they have a minor accident. But any excuse will do, to do nothing on this count. They also can’t be bothered to sort their rubbish, because so many other people don’t, so why should they?

What do I do and is it enough? To take the last first, NO, of course it’s not enough. I’m such a slave to convenience that there are endless things I could do, but don’t. What I do do, however, is to buy mostly organic – I guess that about 50-65% of what we eat is organic. Everything that can be bought Fairtrade, we buy Fairtrade. When we were in Costa Rica last year, we visited some fair trade coffee farmers and if we hadn’t been convinced before, then that visit convinced us for good. I’m also trying to look at food miles. Oh, but it’s so difficult! Yet, sometimes it’s easy, like when the choice is between American and British apples! And I’ll choose non-organic British apples over organic American apples. We should of course forego our beloved blueberries, when you can’t buy British, but I admit that I still buy them. From Chile or Argentina. And what about coffee? Should you buy African rather than South American, because there are fewer airmiles? I don’t really like African coffee :-(   What I’ve started doing lately, after reading Mark Bittman‘s book Food Matters, is to use less meat. Husband doesn’t favour a lot of no-meat days, so instead I just use less meat and more veg, beans, lentils etc. in each meal. So far it’s worked fine and I’ve found that my “I don’t like beans” standard reply to such recipes, shall now change to “I’m not too keen on kidney beans and I don’t like baked beans”. It was on Mark Bittman’s blog I found a reference to the above article.

I believe, that just because something is not THE ANSWER to a burning question, it doesn’t mean that we have to scrap that notion entirely. Because the Perfect is often the Enemy of the Good!


So so sad and so so frightening

I used to grow these in my garden (echinacea) and they attracted scores of bees and butterflies.
I used to grow these in my garden (echinacea) and they attracted scores of bees and butterflies.

Just read in yesterday’s Times about the plight of the (bumble)bee. I’ve read about the trouble of the bee population diminishing rapidly before, but this article, in such a conservative paper, really spells it out so there’s no misunderstanding it: If nothing is done – and maybe even if something IS done – the bee and the bumble bee will be extinct in Britain 8 years from now. Eight years! In evolutionary terms that in the blink of an eye!

If there was ever a really good and totally tangible reason to buy organic products, this is one. For more reasons than one: To reduce pollution with fertilizers etc. To encourage the exchange of crops from one year to the next. To encourage the re-entry of clover, which is apparently the most important crop to attract honey bees.

So come on now, all you out there. Buy organic! Not just baby food, but everything you can lay your hands on.  It’s not always easy and I myself could do much better. I also realise that for some people it’s not an option for economic reasons. But I know that a lot of my readers could easily afford it if they so chose! Quite a lot of the foodstuffs that we can’t get in the organic versions in the supermarkets, we could buy online if we could be bothered. And here in England we can buy lots of lovely organic stuff at the farmers’ markets. But if we at least start by buying the food basics organically, it’s a start. So organic fruit, veg, bread and flour. And organic chickens, veal, beef and lamb.

And you garden lovers out there! You’ll be first to suffer, because a certain species of bees, specialising in fertilization of so-called deep-throated flowers like foxgloves, irises, red clover etc. are almost already extinct and their southern European brothers, which are being imported to take their place, don’t have long tongues and thus can’t fertilize the above mentioned flowers. So throw your fertilizers in the bin and get out there and do your bit for the bee!

Take out the time and read the article if you think I’m exaggerating!