Tag Archives: AIG

Going green, New York style

It’s probably not unfair to say that – in the past at least – America has shown more collective concern for the result of the Oxford vs Cambridge Boat Race than for the environment. Sure, there’s an occasionally impressive recycling programme in some cities (in New York it’s effectively handled by the homeless, keen to get their hands on the five cents you can receive returning for beer cans and soda bottles), but when it comes to the wider picture, there has traditionally been more enthusiasm for a twenty seven year old repeatrerun of an episode of Diff’rent Strokes.

That’s not to say that Britain is some glorious eco-aware capital which leaves no environmental footprint. Far from it. This is, after all, a country that is currently attempting to expand Heathrow, which is already one of the busiest airports in the world. But, from the outside at least, there seems to be a consistent pattern of measures that are being introduced to significantly reduce the UK’s impact on the environment.

Much of it is down to the European Union, who appear to have given up on attempting to ensure that – say – all bananas sold in the region have to be straight, and are instead attempting to impose sensible environmentally conscious measures. Banning incandescent lightbulbs and forcing people to use long-life energy saving bulbs instead isn’t necessarily going to save the world, but every little helps. Obviously, having a romantic dinner lit by one of the new bulbs is broadly akin to dining under the glare of the Old TraffordYankee Stadium floodlights, but European bureaucrats clearly don’t need artificial lighting to get their partners in the mood for lurve.

For the average man or woman on the British street, the most noticeable change has been the effective abandonment of the disposable plastic carrier bag. Given that 13 billion of the bags have been given away every year, and the majority take around 1000 years to degrade, any move to reduce their distribution has got to be a good thing. Some supermarkets now discourage their use by charging for them, while others reward reusing old bags. And the measures are apparently effective, without any real customer dissatisfaction.

Sounds like a plan that could be introduced in the States, right? Wrong.

While the French took to the streets to bring about the downfall of the Ancien RĂ©gime, and 100,000 people flocked to Tiananmen Square in 1989 to protest the autocratic nature of their government, revolution in America would truly be caused by the removal of shopping bags from US supermarketsgrocery stores.

I should check up on this, given the immigration requirement to pass a US history test, but I believe that the 28th amendment to the US constitution enshrines the rights of the people to use plastic carrier bags to excess. Walmart stores have weird carousels that seem to allow the intellectual giants at the checkout to spit out bags to shoppers at an approximate rate of six per second. And if you happen to go to a supermarket for just one forgotten item, the look you get when you say a bag isn’t necessary suggests you’ve just accidentally accepted responsibility for every unsolved crime within a thirty block radius.

The strange thing is that most of the cheaper supermarkets have worked out that they spend a not-inconsiderable amount of money on bags every year, and have responded to that by making sure the bags are the cheapest they can possibly find. Indeed, so cheap are the bags that scientists have been forced to reassess the size of individual molecules in order to take into account the thinness of these (no doubt) Chinese imports.

Still, at least this means that there’s less plastic being used, and the landfills have less material being placed in them? Sadly not. The thin bags are singularly incapable of holding more than a single tomato without splitting irreparably and dumping all your shopping over the ground. Staff at the checkouts have to double bag everything to give you any chance of getting your groceries home intact.

It’s almost as if environmental policy was being handled by AIG, isn’t it?

###

Regular readers will know that I have a small obsession with the sandwich. My reputation is obviously beginning to precede me, as Toni and Mike at Pond Parleys have asked me to give my view of the American sandwich on this week’s post (which will be posted at some point today). I am my usual fair and reasonable self, as I’m sure you can imagine…

Coming to terms with shame

I’ve been in hiding for a week or so, as you’ll have noticed by the lack of posts on here. It’s not because I’ve lost any of my desire to give you witty, charming and considered tracts on life in New York (one day I hope to deliver on that dream), or because I just don’t get the love or validation that I so desperately need having been a New Yorker for all of 19 months. No reader, it’s not you – it’s me.

Embarrassment, you see, causes me to shrink into the background – to bury my head and not re-emerge until I believe that the coast is clear. Any vague sense of shame essentially leads me to retreat to my metaphorical nuclear bunker, never to return unless I think I can nip down to the shops without having my arm mutate into a three foot proboscis. Or without people pointing and laughing, more to the point.

Such enforced exiles only happen from time to time, it has to be said. Like when I was a thirteen year old and walked into the ladies changing rooms at a department store, much to the open amusement of a gaggle of schoolgirls standing outside it (less amused, it has to be said, was the woman inside wearing only a bra and a frown). Or the time when my baffled friends looked on as I told the Queen that I had two years left at school, despite having only about a week to go. And especially the time when I got so drunk at a Christmas party that I knocked the DJ’s decks off a table, causing the glitterati of London’s media world to turn around and stare. You can only imagine their looks when I did it for the second time a few minutes later.

Now New York has inflicted an embarrassment on me that has had me wanting to disappear under my duvet (or whatever it is that Americans call that thing that you put on top of your bed to keep you warm at night), and only emerge when the house is completely empty. And it’s all the fault of a slice of pizza.

A week last Friday, I decided that some pizza would be the perfect start to the weekend. Ah, the joyous combination of crispy dough, flavoursome tomato sauce and a layer of grilled-to-perfection cheese – excluding the unexpected arrival of Heidi Klum looking for a place to stay, what better way can there be to celebrate the start of two days off?

Sadly my enthusiasm became a little too much for me, and I set about the task with all the indecent haste of an AIG executive banking his bonus. Realising that it was under attack, the pizza instituted emergency procedures and dispatched an area of tomato sauce and cheese (that had clearly been heated through nuclear fission) on a seek-and-destroy mission to the corner of my mouth. Shocked and stunned by the unexpected arrival of a globule of molten lava on my lip, I could barely move – and by the time I had, my mouth suddenly featured a rather fetching crater.

For the last week, I’ve been walking around with what looks like a ridiculously virile cold sore on my bottom lip. Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but I always think that it’s difficult to foster an air of respect when you look like you’ve got an outbreak of herpes on your face. I try to explain that it’s actually a third degree burn that was inflicted by a maverick Italian snack product, but nobody’s having it.

Thankfully the pain and the scarring is slowly receding, but the emotional scars will last a lifetime. I’ll go out in public again one day, but for the moment it’s back to hiding underneath the bedcovers. I’ve got enough food to last me another week. I think I’m going to need every bit of it before the shame finally fades.