On Wednesday, there was a Twitterstorm about cauliflower steak. M&S were selling slices of the vegetable and charging £2 for it. There was uproar, mainly because a) you can buy an entire cauliflower for about 70p in a shop, and b) the individual steaks were wrapped in plastic, and we should be trying to reduce plastic usage as a whole. Eventually, M&S said they would cease selling the cauliflower steaks after the existing stock had sold, and the internet cheered.
Or rather, some of the internet cheered. As the jubilation, smugness and general sneering at anyone lazy enough to purchase pre-prepared vegetables reached its peak, another voice rose – the voice of disabled people pointing out that without products like this, they wouldn’t be able to eat.
The backlash against pre-prepared vegetables has been rumbling on ever since packs of diced red onion and sliced apple appeared on supermarket shelves. More recently, people have been having a go at packages of cauliflower rice or vegetable noodles, and Wholefoods had to pull pre-peeled oranges after they were widely renounced as being exactly the kind of thing that only spoilt, over-privileged people would buy.
But, as many disabled people have been pointing out, they’re a godsend to someone who, perhaps, doesn’t have the physical capabilities to prepare their own fresh produce – whether that’s because they can’t stand up at a counter for long periods of time, hold utensils and sharp knives or even see whether something has gone off or not. My husband has ulcerative colitis, with a side-effect of intermittent arthritis, which means for long periods of time he is totally unable to do basic tasks such as dress himself. When he’s having a bad attack and I’m not around, those packs of pre-prepared produce are the difference between him being able to eat the healthy fruit and vegetables that help him in his recovery, and not. Call me soft-hearted, but personally, I’m fine with a few able-bodied people buying pre-sliced cauliflower out of laziness if it means that someone who can’t physically use a knife gets to eat fresh peppers every now and then.
These products are meeting needs that very much exist. If we looked outside our own able-bodied lives for just a second, we’d understand that
And, while we’re on the subject, can we stop laughing at products shown on cheap infomercials for exactly the same reason? You know the ones – they start off with someone inexplicably being unable to pour their own milk without spilling it everywhere, and end with a product that will automatically pour orange juice or milk for you. So many of us mock these adverts and wonder who on earth they’re meant for – well, they’re meant for the disabled people who need them.
Slankets were originally invented for people in wheelchairs, because it’s really hard to get coats on and off when you’re in a wheelchair. Those gadgets to crack eggs automatically? They’re made for people who don’t have steady enough hands to do it themselves. That aforementioned juice pourer is for someone who can’t necessarily pick up a carton, because they can’t hold the weight in their hands. Those bowls which don’t tip are for people whose hands shake so they knock things over accidentally. These aren’t ridiculous products for stupid or lazy people; they’re helping disabled people live their lives independently. These products, and those pre-prepared vegetables, are meeting needs that very much exist. If we looked outside our own able-bodied lives for just a second, we’d understand that.
The issue of the packaging on these products is a real issue, and not one I want to minimise – we definitely do need to be making every effort to reduce excess packaging on the food we buy. But we shouldn’t be penalising disabled people for it. The pressure shouldn’t be on shops to pull these products, but to improve the way they’re packaged.
Basically, the next time you’re sneering at a product because you think it’s only for lazy people, take a step back, and think for a moment about how it might be a vital addition to the life of someone whose needs are different to your own.