Why Do We Waste So Much Food in the UK?

Why does the average person waste so much food?

See previous post on this topic – Stats on Food Waste in the UK

According to the WRAP (2012) survey two reasons account for 80% of food wasted in the home -

  • Just under half of avoidable food and drink waste (worth £5.6 billion) was classified as ‘not used in time’: thrown away because it had either gone off or passed the date on the packaging. This included large amounts of bread, milk and fresh potatoes.
  • A further 31% (worth £4.1 billion) was classified as ‘cooked, prepared or served too much’: this included food and drink that had been left over after preparation or serving, such as carbonated soft drinks, home-made and pre-prepared meals, and cooked potatoes.
  • The remaining reasons are linked to personal preferences including health reasons and not liking certain foods (£1.9 billion), and accidents, including ‘food dropped on the floor’ and ‘failure of a freezer’ (£560 million).

Of course what the survey fails to look at is what food waste reveals about our culture. Here I’d suggest the following ‘deeper-level’ reasons for there being so much food waste…

  1. ‘Food materialism and choice culture’ – I’m sure many people overbuy during a weekly shop simply because of the attraction of a full-trolley and a well stocked fridge. Then there’s the fear of running out choice – Technically if you shop once a week, say on a Saturday, you would end up with a limited choice of meal on a Friday. We do live in a materialist culture which offers us lots of never ending choices, surely the number one reason for the over-purchasing of food is simply the unconscious replication of a (moneyless) supermarket in your kitchen?

  2. Throw away culture – straight from my current favourite Sociologist – Z. Bauman – argues that the way we distinguish ourselves today is the rapidity with which we can use things up and then discard them – While I don’t think this quite appeals to our approach to food (I’m sure it’s generally regarded as shameful to throw away food), the fact that we are used to generating waste as part of our consumerist norms is hardly going to do anything to put us off throwing away food.

  3. What I call the ‘Masterchef effect’ – Buying particular items to make a particular recipe, not quite using all of the items bought and lacking the ingenuity to innovate around left-overs, resulting in bits of food getting thrown away. The more complex the recipe, the more obscure ingredients to throw away next week.

  4. Occasional ‘top up buying’ in order to satisfy whimsical desires for a particular meal – which means what you’ve already got in the fridge goes off. We do live in a culture of instant-gratification after all, so if I want stir fry tonight and pizza tomorrow and this means throwing away yesterday’s pasta the day after tomorrow, then wtf not?!

  5. Hurried Lives – meaning we either don’t have the time or the energy to cook so we have beans on toast instead, meaning the fresh veg goes off. On the occasion I do waste food, this is my number one reason…

  6. It’s not exactly a causal factor, just a perpetuating one: it’s hardly in the government’s interest to clamp down on food waste. The agri-food sector contributed £97.1 billion or 7.4% to national Gross Value Added in 2012. We may well throw £12 billion of this in the bin every year, but I’m sure it doesn’t cost that much to take it to land fill. If we didn’t throw away this food, then demand would fall and we’d lose 1% of our GVA. That’s a massive chunk of cash. Actually it’s more than the entire International Aid Budget.

What’s above are just a few Sociological meanderings on the matter of Food Waste, comments welcome…

Food Waste in the UK

Food Waste in the United Kingdom

The average person will spend £16 000 over the course of their lifetime on food which they will then throw away. That’s getting on for one year’s worth of wages on the median salary once taxes are taken into account.

In 2012, 15% of edible food and drink purchases were wasted at an estimated cost of £480 per year for an average household. This figure includes domestic shopping and meals out. If you divide this by 2.4 (the average number of people in a household) and multiply by 81.5 (average Life Expectancy) then this means the average person will spend just under £16 000 over the course of their lifetime on food which will be wasted.

Of food brought into the household (excluding waste generated by supermarkets and restaurants etc), £12.5 billion was wasted in 2012.

Avoidable food waste UK

By cost, the largest food groups wasted were:

  • Meat and fish (17%; £2.1 billion).
  • Home-made and pre-prepared meals (17%; £2.1 billion).
  • Fresh vegetables and salad (14%; £1.7 billion).
  • Drink (10%; £1.3 billion).
  • Fresh fruit (7%; £900 million).

Cost of Food Waste UK

On a day to day basis this means in the UK we throw away…

  • 1.4 million bananas
  • 1.5 million tomatoes
  • 1.2 million yogurts
  • 24 million slices of bread

Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the economic inefficiency of our food strategies. Some of the food we eat is effectively wasted because it simply goes towards making us overwight (37% of UK adults) or obese (25% of the UK adults). This then means we spend additional resources on diet regimes and gym memberships in order to lose said weight, or we pay more collectively through the NHS to deal with higher rates of weight-related illnesses.

Finally, one could say that the way we source our food is also inefficient – We only grow 53% of our food supply within the UK (I say only, I actually thought it was nearer to 40%) which means we also bear the cost of international food miles where imports are concerned. (Although in fairness, much of this comes from Europe, parts of which are not much further away than parts of the UK are from each other.)

Related Posts -

Why does the average person waste so much food?

Sources Used

DEFRA – Food Statistics Pocketbook 2013

WRAP – Household food and drink waste in the United Kingdom

Summary of Zygmunt Bauman’s Individualised Society (Part Three: The Way We Act)

Zygmunt Bauman – The Individualised Society – Part Three: The Way We Act

Thirteen – Does Love Need Reason?

Love and Reason will forever fail to communicate… for three reasons.

Reason is about use, love is about value. The world as seen by love is a collection of values, as seen by reason, a collection of useful objects – Value is the quality of a thing, usefuleness an attribute of the things’ user. The usefuleness of an object stems from a sense of lack in the user – to use something to fulfil that lack. Usefuleness, and the use of reason to get what we want, is about using up the other, it is about gratifying ourselves. Love on the other hand is about valuing the other for the sake of the other.

Use is about annihilating the other for the sake of the self, love is about bolstering the other in one’s otherness and protecting them. Love means self-denial.

Secondly, reason has boundaries – it is about closing off the realm of possibilities, limiting, while love is boundless – it is forever open ended and has no limits.

Reason cuts infinity to the level of the finite self, love extends the self to the infinite.

Finally, reason prompts loyalty to the self while love prompts loyalty to the other. Reason tells us how to manipulate the other to fit around my desires, love encourages us to bend to the will of the other.

There is more to love than this – it is like signing a blank cheque – giving oneself to the forever changing uncertainty of what the other might be like in the future.

For Levinas ethics precedes ontology – ethics is better than what is – the starting point is that I put them first – my neighbour – this is the starting point, and from this point forwards there are no rules. Talking, engaging in dialogue, figuring out what is right and what should be the ‘is’ moves on from here. But care for the other should be the starting point!

Also following Logstrup – Together these propose ‘responsibility for the weakness of the other’ as the fundamental human condition – always making the effort to put the other first, and figuring out what this means is the basis of human social life – not just obeying commands and deferring to authority. This means a state of uncertainty.

To love means to be in a state of perpetual uncertainty, but people still need to get by – and reason is necessary for this – And to make things easier we often defer to authorities. However, authorities themselves use reason in the wrong way – take their attitude to the welfare state for example– they put reason first – the starting point is that we cannot afford it and so how can we reduce it – it should be the other way around – how can change society so that we can afford it?

Authorities use reason without love. It is up to us to love first (he doesn’t say this here, but he does elswhere)

Commentary
Bauman seems to be casting an individual or a society which premisis reason as a fundamentally selfish person or society – I’m no philopsher, but I think he’s talking more about cost-benefit analysis than ‘pure reason’ – or instrumental rationality – Whatever, I don’t want to get lost in semantics – I get his point – the society or person which puts the question of ‘how do I use this to ahcieve my goals’ first is selfish – because the logic of use will always end up using the other – bending them to my will.

The logic of what Bauman calls love is the opposite – putting the well-being of the other first. (NB Bauman does mention that there is a danger of becoming a patsy to the other – and all of the above is assuming you don’t yourself end up being manipulated by them….which is something we need to be on our toes about.)

I guess the principle of the welfare state is the first ever in world history where we’ve had this on such a large level. It is interesting to think how little we focus on how many lives have been saved or turned around by the welfare state, while instead we focus on the very few ‘welfare scroungers’. My suspicion is that the reality of welfare is the former, not the later, something I need to look into for sure!

I also like the question rephrasing in this – everyone should get a minimum level of care – how do we change society to make sure this happens? This is what labour should be focusing on in the election, fat chance of course!

Chapter Fourteen – Private Morality, Immoral World

For Levinas, his starting point is the moral party of two – where we are both for the other. This is morality. This is the primal scene in which both are unconditionally responsible for the other. However, when a third party comes into being (society), this necessary and sufficient condition of the moral party does not suffice any more.

Here in society I am confronted with many others and their companions – and the concepts of difference, number, knowledge, time, space, truth and falsity – my intuitive reality is not enough to cope with this anymore. In order to deal with this third other, I must leave my primal realm, and here I encounter social order and justice.

In society, with the third party, we lose our primal connection with the other as a face – and we become individuals who have roles and are governed by laws. To interact with society (following Simmel) is to engage with people who wear masks, engage in fraud, and we must learn the appropriate rituals for dealing with these people. This is far, far removed from original duality.

To return to original morality, if we can, we need to get back to connection with the other with all forms of social status dropped. We need to be reduced to the level of bare humanity given to us at our birth.

Kindness and charity are the two basic human characteristics – naturally, in the moral universe of two, they overflow…brcause we recognise our common humanity. However in society, the concept of violence is introduced through making comparisons – differentiation and then the liberal state wades in to put limits on charity – and justifies these limits through reason.

The basic problem is that there is a gap between micro and macro ethics – because I cannot be limitlessly for many others – it is impossible, so the state, that vehicle which Levinas thought would translate ethics into the social realm, can never be as ethically pure as the original two-person ethical ideal.

Following Jonas, the gap between micro and macro ethics has really come to the fore in the age of globalisation – technology and capitalism have altered the world massively, and not everyone benefits, and it seems that we have a decreasing capacity to know and predict the consequences of our actions. In fact the growing knowledge of the dangers ahead goes hand in hand with our incapacity to deal with them.

Jonas suggests that ethics (normative regulation) needs to catch up with Capitalism and technology – what we need is a sort of categorical imperative mark 2.

Bauman rounds off by pointing out that ethics are under siege mainly because of Free Market Forces being freed from the control of the nation state (and repeats what he’s written elswhere) This process basically polarises.
Can intellectuals provide moral guidance?

A weird end to the section – He basically seems to argue that the current knowledge class by delcaring the end of ideology have effectively become the organic intellectuals of the post-modern era —- They provide no ethical guidance to us. However, it may be immoral to simply lurch from one crisis to the next thinking that there are no better ways to live.

Commentary

In short, I agree with the end points, but not the ‘hypothetical ontology’ the end point rests on.

So in a hypothetical situation in which I am just with one other person (as a face) I cannot help but feel compassion (this is what he is talking about) for that other person, and I am naturally for him.

This sounds like it’s got something in common with the Buddhist concept of one’s true nature that ‘just is’ – Intuitive, overflowing with compassion, but in Levinas’ view this requires a dualism, an other, just one other, to bring all of this out. I’m inclined to say this is utter nonsense – It such a state of overflowing compassion exists it is self-less, and universal, beyond the self, not dependent on one (hypothetical?) other.

I think an ontological flaw (because it’s coming from a hypothetical idea generated by the intellect maybe) is that ‘my’ ability to be a moral being (basically limitless compassion) is dependent on there only being one discrete object – ONE OTHER (which, for clarity presumes that morality depends on a subject (me) and an object (ONE other) – Of course if this is the premise, then universal morality to more than one other is impossible.

There is no necessary reason why the ability to be moral requires one other in particular. I prefer the idea of morality defined around a pure-motive to do good for others which stems from self-transcendence, thus the basis of morality is not self-self it is non-self.

I am aware btw that I may be talking utter nonsense.

However, I do agree that it is much harder to be limitlessly for a range of others rather than one specific other, what I don’t agree with is the necessity of the other as the basis for morality. And the idea of the state as providing normative regulation because of the complexity of this makes sense – although obviously this is a very idealised conception of the state.

I also agree that there is a difference with dealing with ‘people stripped down’ as human beings, compared to dealing with people in society, because in society people take on roles and wear masks, this is something we do need to get over if we are to be more compassionate.

Finally, I also agree with the idea of using ethics to tame Capitalism. I also agree that to abandon ethics to relativism is to provide sustenance to the forces of Capital.

Chapter Fifteen – Democracy on Two Battle Fronts

Democracy requires an active agora, which in turn requires autonomous individuals and an autonomous society – a society in which people are free to form their own opinions and in which agreement around those opinions becomes law.

Democracy is under threat in the sense that the public body finds it more and more difficult to enact what is good and more and more people retreat from the agora.

The professional politicians no longer visit the agora, and for the citizens taking part in it seems increasingly like a waste of time and effort.

But the public space has been filled with private concerns.

Thus we have a Gordian knot that will be difficult to untie.

Comment

This is basically a repetition of what’s already been said in previous chapters.

Chapter Sixteen – Violence Old and New

Terrorism is a form of violence, but it is more than the acts themselves which attract the label – it is only those who lack power who get defined as terrorists by the powerful.

The essence of violence lies in coercing people into doing things they would not otherwise do, it lies in restricting their freedom.

The essence of all power struggles is the right to define with authority and to deny the right of others to define fields of action.

P209 – In all order building enterprises legitimacy (the right to define) is key – in other words the right to coerce, and in such enterprises, fighting (violence) means getting rid of anyone else who might contest your right to categorise….. your right to limit other peoples’ freedoms – thus the fight against violence in such a way is unwinnable.

Modernity has enlisted the fight against violence as one of its major concerns, yet it cannot document much progress – firstly because it is impossible to measure the actual amount of violence suffered by individuals and secondly because the very concept of order building rests on there being enemies to defeat.

However now that our institutional frame is crumbling, coercion is no longer working – people have more power to assert themselves, and violence is one way through which we can push boundaries… hence things like sexism.

At the level of the nation state – for those new nations, ethnic cleansing seems to be the way forwards. This, and making countries accommodate capitalism – both forms of violence.

17 – On Postmodern Uses of Sex

Sex, Eroticism and Love are linked yet separate. They could hardly exist without each other but each exists in an ongoing war for independence, and their boundaries are well-known for being contested.

Sex is simply the biological urge to reproduce – It hasn’t changed much, but eroticisms is cultural experimentation around sex – and lord knows there is enough surplus sexual energy to be inventive with.

In the past society dealt with this surplus sexual energy (the tendency towards eroticism) by either chaining it to sex for reproduction or to love – either people were encouraged to just have sex for reproduction and then any aspect of eroticism was hidden (either repressed or dealt with via porn, prostitution and affairs) OR it was linked to the romantic ideal of love.

Nowadays, however, eroticism is free floating – Why>? It isn’t just market forces manipulating it – There are two main underlying reasons.

Firstly the end of the ‘panoptic model’ of securing social order – which was necessary to turn masses of men into an army of industrial labourers.

However, today, the vast majority of people are integrated through seduction rather than policing, advertising rather than indoctrination, need creation rather than normative regulation. Most of us are trained as sensation seekers and gatherers rather than as producers and soldiers. We have a constant need for every deeper experiences, more intense than the ones before – this is the basis of a society based on seduction. It is not health but fitness which describes this society – being prepared to always be on the move!

There are three problems with the sensation gathering life-strategy in general…

Firstly, Fitness is always on the horizon, and is shot through with anxiety – you can always be fitter!

Second because fitness is solely about the Erlebniss, about sensations, it can never be intersubjectively reported or compared in any meaningful way – sensations remain entirely subjective – thus it breeds loneliness.

Finally – in fitness one is both the subject and the commander – you have to split yourself into two in order to drive yourself on – fitness requires total immersion, yet you also have to stand back and evaluate yourself – this is an impossible task for one person to accomplish.

All three of these lead to uncertainty, an unfocused free-floating anxiety.

Eroticism which ultimately focuses on the most extreme form of pleasure – organism has all of the above features – and thus eroticism is always a project – never complete, rarely fully satisfying.

Secondly sex is the material substratum of the cultural production of immortality and the supreme metaphor for the effort to transcend individual mortality and stretch human existence beyond the lifespan of individual humans. When sex is linked to reproduction or love then it reflects the efforts of humans to make themselves immortal, when it is detached from these then it loses this (?)

PM eroticism is perfect for constructing those PM identities which require Maximal impact and instant obsolescence.

Identities are now free floating, part of this is plastic sexuality – it has nothing to do with gender norms anymore. Parental control over child sexuality used to be regulatory – now we are suspicious of parents – child abuse etc. so we keep our distance. In short – all bonds of identity are being eroded.. This encourages us to rethink everything……

The problem for postmodern sexuality is that it is contradictory! Full of ambivalence!

18 – Is there life after immortality? This is a very obscure final chapter, quite an irritant to read.

Following Heidegger we know that our life means living towards death, and we know that our life is short.

Life appears to us (NB this is merely an assertion) as the only window of opportunity we have to transcend death, and culture is what we have (laughingly) built up to make our existence more permanent, less transient. (NB he’s getting all of this from Ernst Becker).

One way in which culture has convinced us of our immortality is through life after death: in the idea that the soul lives on after the body. He argues that this has not been disproved. However, following Weber, and to Nietzsche – Modern society no longer believes in God – but only because his existence cannot be proved.

In the absence of God, we build two bridges to try to deny our own mortality – individual level bridges, through a legacy of posterity and memory, but these are for the few only that stand the test time, so for the rest of us there are public bridges – two stand out – the family and the nation, both efforts to achieve ‘collective immortality’. There are others, such as football clubs, but none of them are serious competitors compared to the previous two.

However, families and nations have now ceased to be about perpetual duration.

Nations are now powerless compared to capital, and (interestingly) one thing which testifies to this is the ease with which new statehood is granted – smaller nations are easier for TNCs to deal with. Similarly with the family in the age of cohabitation and confluent love, relationships are not expected to outlive the people who make them up.

Given the crumbling of institutions which link the individual to universal values, then for this first time in history counting days and making days count is irrational. The consequences are as follows:

Firstly, the routes to individual immortality become crowded and as a result fame as a strategy is replaced with notoriety – which is results in a situation of maximal impact and immediate obsolesce.

Secondly, because even fame is now no longer a guarantee of immortality, then there is more urgency to enjoy mortal life, hence the moment becomes more precious.

Thirdly, the body, as all we have left (rather than the soul I presume) becomes the focus of our attention.

Fourthly, because the body becomes our temple, but we cannot be sure what effects this or that product has on it, we exist in a state of anxiety.
Ours is the first culture in history to not value the durable, we live to cast off, we live our life in episodes.

We have not been here before – we live in a state of continuous transgression and we do not seem to mind, but it remains to be seen what ‘being here’ and its consequences are like.

How do women’s earnings effect the domestic division of labour?

In this Thinking Allowed Podcast Laurie Taylor interviews Clare Lyonette from the University of Warwick about whether men are more likely to do their fare share of the housework when women earn more.

Laurie starts off by pointing out that the gender pay gap has narrowed significantly in recent years according to the Office for National Statistics Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings. As outlined in the chart below the overall pay gap has fallen from about 27% to 19% since 1997.

Gender Pay Gap 2014

This trend towards increasing gender equality is most stark if you break median full-time earnings down by age – Women in their 20s and 30s actually earn more than men, but this is drastically reversed for older women, which is mainly down to the effect of couples having children and the fact that women are still the primary child carers (in approximately 6/7 couples according to other research I’ve read).

Gender Pay Gap Age

 

However, despite the evidence of this negative gender pay gap, according to a recent Survey for BBC Women’s Hour, women still do, on average, twice as much housework as men, as outlined in the infographic below:

chore wars

Of course the above survey only looks at overall averages, and Clare Lyonette’s research (details here) represents a nice extension of this because she looks at how the domestic division of labour is affected by the relative earnings of men and women in a household, especially timely now that women are the main income earners in 31% of households (up from 18% in 1997).

Some of the main findings of this research include:

  • There was a widespread ideological commitment to the idea that domestic chores should be shared: when asked about attitudes both men and women are very committed to actual sharing.
  • Women earning more than men does make a difference. Women who earned more than their male partners were more likely to contest any inequality in the domestic division of labour, and in these households, men did do a more equal share of housework.
  • However, in such households men did often not clean to as higher standards as women, and they also tended to engage in more visible chores which they could make a performance out of and demonstrate mastery of (cooking for example) rather than the more hidden housework such as ironing.
  • When children came along, the traditional patterns in the DDL reasserted themselves.
  • Very interestingly, men from lower income households did a more equal share of domestic labour and seemed more ideologically committed to it than men from higher income households.
  • In higher income households, men (or couples?) just avoided the issue of who should do the housework with both partners working by hiring domestic help, with mainly the woman doing the bits left over.

Analysis 

It seems that among lover income earners, the lack of ability to afford domestic help means that men and women are having to fall back on those age old face to face to face skills of negotiation and discussion to sort out the injustice of ‘the dual burden’, the result being that men are actually having to change both their attitudes and actions towards domestic labour – by actually doing more of it!

However, with high income earners who just throw money at the the problem of inequality in the domestic division of labour in the context of similar working hours, there is no discussion or adjustment necessary. Men simply don’t need to think about issues of gender equality, they just chuck money at it and the issue disappears and yet remains. This is somewhat worrying when the gender pay gap is significantly larger where high incomes are concerned:

gender pay gap income

It strikes me that this is a feature of the class-divide in the UK that hasn’t been picked up on by that many people – lower down the order we could have genuine steps towards lifeworld equality being taken, while among the top 10% inequality between men and women in terms of attitudes and practices remains greater.

PostScript

As a final note, I’d just like to comment on what I see as the incredible sub-optimality of working long hours and then hiring a cleaner because you don’t have time to clean, which effectively ties you into working long hours. So not only does doing this prevent discussion/ dialogue and progressive adjustment between couples it ties them into the long-work-high-consumption life cycle for years longer than is necessary.

 

 P.S. Americans – It’s ‘labour’ dammit! 

On simplifying my diet – A food strategy for early retirement

Part of my early retirement plan involves simplifying what I eat. What I mean by this is reducing the variety of meals that I eat with each meal fulfilling the following characteristics:

  1. Reasonably cheap
  2. Quick and easy to prepare
  3. A high proportion of it fresh, raw or lightly cooked
  4. Nutritious
  5. Delicious – well, I’ve got to like it!

It’s important to me that this is a middle way strategy – I’ve toyed with the idea of extreme diets in the past, such as raw foodism or extreme budget diets, but I have a suspicion that many of these are at least as much about identity construction in the late-modern age as much as they are about what they claim to be about it – What I mean by this is that while people advertising their healthy diets are obviously keen on the supposed health benefits, and while people on extreme money-saving diets are clearly interested in saving money, it is just as much true that the people on these diets have a psychological need to be recognised as a ‘raw foodist’ or the ‘budget cook’ (ok maybe its less the case with the later).

I’m not claiming to be any different by writing posts like this by the way – I really do want to retire early, and this requires renunciation – but I also like the idea of being (in 7 years time) the guy who managed to (semi-) retire at 48 through employing renunciation as part of of his strategy. Somehow blogging about this now motivates me towards this goal.

Anyhow, my food/ diet plan. (BTW I should make it clear my diet I simply mean ‘food plan’ with a goal to simplifying, being healthy and saving some cash, I am not doing this as a means to weight loss – Lord knows I’m thin enough already!

My meal plan –

Breakfast – Everyday 

  • Muesli or porridge with milk or yoghurt – What can I say, I love porridge and I love muesli!

Second Breakfast 

  • Toast
  • Oatcakes
  • Home-made muffins
  • Home made flapjacks
  • Fruit*

Lunch – Some kind of carb with as much salad as I can stomach

  • Bread and soup with as much salad as I can stomach, basically whatever comes off the allotment
  • Whatever I’ve got available in bread (i.e. a sandwich)
  • Sardines on Toast
  • Last nights dinner with cous cous
  • pancakes with fruit
  • Tuna pasta (especially if running l8r)
  • Fruit*

Dinner – some kind of carb with whatever veg comes off the allotment

  • Potatoes with roast veg
  • Ratatouille with rice
  • Stir fry
  • Dahl with courgette
  • Chili
  • Home made pizza if I’ve got the time
  • Beans and eggs on toast
  • Home made muffin(s) and fruit* for dessert

As far as I see it – there’s sufficient variety above – and every single meal type ticks most of the criteria. Sorted.

Eventually I hope to evolve into ‘man of the forest’ and just graze, but that’ll only happen post-work. This is a pragmatic meantime strategy.

*My fruit strategy involves buying about 15 apples and 10 pears and oranges a week as well as having blueberries, strawberries and raspberries from the allotment for about 3 months of the year.

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Early Retirement April Update

It’s now been nine months since I realised I could realistically (semi-) retire by the time I’m 51, and ambitiously by 48. Here’s my four month in update

 

Reminder of Long Term Financial Goals – Update info in Italics

  • Be mortgage free in 7-10 years (£138k outstanding)
  • Pay over £1000 a month towards the mortgage (15 year term) with a mind to either using savings or ‘trading down’ to pay off early.
  • Save an absolute minimum of £250/ month in additional funds (=£30K after 10 years, without accumulations). Ideally this figure will be significantly higher.
  • Find additional income streams to boost the above figure. Target = £20K in five years. Only just starting – incidentally the reason I’ve stopped blogging here temporarily is because I’m trying to kick start some second income streams
  • Save £200 a month towards a ‘land fund’ – eventually to be used to purchase a van and land on which to establish a forest garden.
  • Continue paying into the Teacher Pension Scheme. NB – Neoliberal shaft 1 (although I new this was coming) – My pension is now effectively split – the bit I’ve got will be worth £7K a year at 60, everything I pay in from now won’t be worth touching until I’m 65. 

April update 1– ‘Spending days compared to non-spending days’

April spending

This is proving to be quite a successful strategy – It prevents me from buying the odd coffee when out or the odd munchie when at work, and makes me think more about buying things.

April update 2 – Summary of average monthly expenditure

  • Frivolities = beer/ coffee/ subscriptions/ transport, (because I only really use transport for ents).
  • Necessities = council tax, services, food, ‘stuff’ (because I’m not a frivolous materialist consumer).
  • Property = mortgage repayments + service charge.
    April exp

It’s not as good as the January update, but then again I guess the novelty has work off. This is a pretty realistic day to day expenditure tally, but it will get slightly worse once I start adding on occasional purchases such as computers and other gadgets which I only buy every few years at most.

Ratio of expenditure to income including mortgage – 30%
Ratio of expenditure to income excluding mortgage – 71%

In summary, after property, my expenditure is actually still only £750 a month. Given that the stress of work causes some of this, once work is ditched I could bring this down a little, say to £700, giving me an annual retirement expenditure of about £8500.

Not bad, I’ll give myself a B grade. Could do better.

Green Crime Animation

Just a quick animation on Green Crime and Green Criminology, mainly adapted from Harlambos and Holborn 8th edition.

NB – IMO this is a confused topic that was slung onto the end of the A2 Crime and Deviance module in 2009. You might think that the main question in Green Criminology is ‘how do we explain crimes against the environment’ – but it’s much more convoluted than that – whether that’s deliberate on the part of the AQA and the text book authors I don’t know.

NB – I will in the future write my own, much clearer guide to Green Crime and Criminology, but for now – this is about as clear as I can summarise the offering from Haralambos:

 

 

Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh (A summary)

This post is just a  summary of this excellent book in which Thich Nhat Hanh does a wonderful job of reminding us just how simple Zen is. This post summarises Part One - Breathe: You Are Alive.


peaceEditor’s introduction

Peace is every step.
The shining red sun is my heart.
Each flower smiles with me.
How green, how fresh all that grows.
How cool the wind blows.
Peace is every step.
It turns the endless path to joy.

Peace is not be sought externally, but in slowing down and enjoying each step, each breath.

Part One – Breath! You are Alive

24 brand new hours

Every new day we have the opportunity to live and spread peace. Peace is already with us, the question is whether we allow ourselves to realise this.

We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We have difficulty remembering to be present in this moment, which is the only moment there is to be alive.

This book is a wake up bell – a reminder that we can only be happy in this present moment.

The Dandelion Has My Smile

You should start the day with a smile, it is the source of all peace and happiness.

If you lose your smile, remember that the dandelion and others, all of those who support you in your efforts to be happy, are keeping it for you. If you remember this, all you need do is breath consciously for a while and your smile will return to you.

Conscious Breathing

Hanh has calligraphed the phrase ‘breath, you are alive’ onto a wall in his meditation room.

Breath unifies mind and body, doing so consciously brings us into this present moment.

Breathing and smiling are two very important things

To breath consciously just say ‘breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out’.

Present Moment, Wonderful Moment

In our busy society, it is a great fortune to be able to breathe consciously. We can take a few moments to do this almost anywhere – at home, at work, commuting. This is a recommended meditation for beginners or someone with 50 years practice.

The basic practice is this – sit and say

Breathing in I calm my body
Breathing out I smile
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment.

Or simply

Calming
Smiling
Present moment
Wonderful moment.

Our appointment with life is with this present moment, if not now, then when?

Thinking Less

Most of the time we think too much, and much of it is useless, as if we had a cassette tape going on in our heads.

Conscious breathing can give us a rest from this, because the above ‘mantra’ is just a tool of concentration, not thought.

After a few minutes CB we should feel quite refreshed because we regain ourselves.

It is important to be in the present moment, because the past in gone and the future not yet here.

Nourishing Awareness in Each Moment

Being in society we often feel harassed, our sense bombarded by all sorts of things. Hanh now has it in for TV –

‘Do you ever find yourself watching a TV program? The raucous noises, the explosions, gunfire are upsetting, and yet you don’t get up and turn it off. Why do you torture yourself in this way? Watching a bad TV program, we become the TV program. We are what we feel and perceive, so why do we open our windows to sensationalist productions made for profit? We are too undemanding of ourselves,, to lonely or bored to create our own lives. By watching TV mindlessly we allow others to guide us, we need to be more careful.

Of course I am not just talking about television, all around us every day there are lures set by our fellows and ourselves – how many times a day do we become lost and scattered by them?

We must be very careful to protect our fate and our peace. It is good to withdraw every now again, close our senses to the world and renew ourselves. (However, many of us find this scary.) At first we might withdraw to nature, or the forest, to escape the chaos of modern life and to clear our senses and this will help us to re-engage with ordinary life in a more controlled manner.

However it is important not to close ourselves off altogether, because there are many miracles outside.

Sitting Anywhere

You can practice conscious breathing anywhere, even just for a few moments.

Sitting Meditation

The lotus or half lotus position is best, if not a chair, or lying down.

We sit to cultivate mindfulness, peace and non violence, not to endure pain, so it is fine to adjust yourself if pain sets in. Occasionally combine sitting with walking meditation – basically whatever feels natural.

Do not use meditation to avoid confronting your problems, they will just return if not dealt with.

Meditation should be practiced gently but steadily throughout our daily life, not wasting a single moment to see into the true nature of life, including our every day problems.

Bells of Mindfulness

Every time you hear a bell, return to yourself, breathing in and out and smiling. Say ‘Listen, listen, this wonderful sound brings me back to my true self.”

Even non-sounds, such as rays of sunlight can return us to this wonderful, present moment.

Cookie of Childhood

This section starts with Hanh relaying how he used to eat Cookies very slowly. Eating slowly and mindfully is a most important practice.

The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.

Tangerine of Mindfulness

If I offer you a freshly picked tangerine to enjoy, I think the degree to which you enjoy it will depend on your mindfulness.

You can see everything in the universe in one tangerine (the tree, the roots, the earth, the blossoms, the wind, the sunlight). When you peel it and smell it, it’s wonderful. You can take your time eating a tangerine and be very happy.

The Eucharist

In a drastic way, Jesus was trying to wake up his disciples – When we eat, we should be mindful, when we see people we should be mindful. If we are mindful life is real in this present moment, if not then people are as ghosts.

Eating Mindfully

The Purpose of Eating is to Eat.

Before eating, set the table, breath and smile at each other. Not many people do this, but it is very important.

We should be appreciative of the food we eat when so many are starving in the world. Eating is a good opportunity to generate compassion.

We can eat silently, or talk, but only positive talk, nothing distracts from the simple pleasure of being in the moment and eating in friendship.

Washing Dishes

The idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can only occur when you are not doing them. The dishes themselves and the fact that I am here washing them are miracles!

If I am incapable of enjoying washing the dishes, I will be incapable of enjoying dessert, forever dragged into the future, never able to live in the present moment.

Each action done in the sunlight of awareness becomes sacred.

We do the dishes, not only to have clean dishes, but to do the dishes.

Walking Meditation

Walking can be very enjoyable. We walk slowly, alone or with friends. If possible in some beautiful place, walking not in order to arrive, but just to walk.

Shake off all worries and anxieties, not thinking about the future or the past, just enjoy the walking in the present moment.

If we walk in a hurried manner, we only sow seeds of anxiety. Instead, we should walk as if we are the happiest person on earth, planting peace and serenity.

While you walk, count your breaths, co-ordinate your breath with your paces, as many as you need, and if you want to stop a while and look around you.

Telephone Meditation

The telephone is very convenient, but we can be tyrannised by it. When we hear the phone ring it often causes some anxiety, and when we talk we often talk of trivial things and forget ourselves. We are victims of our telephone.

(Try replacing the word telephone with Smartphone and this is even more true.)

Next time you hear the phone ring say ‘listen, listen, this wonderful sound brings me back to my true self. Breathe and smile and be in control of yourself, for two rings, and then pick up the phone, in consciousness – then how fortunate for the other person. If you are both doing this, it transforms the whole experience.

Driving Meditation

We often don’t need to use the car, rather we use it as a means of escaping from facing up to ourselves. Hence this poem to help overcome this.

Before starting the car
I know where I am going
The car and I are One
If the car goes fast I go fast.

The message here is – wherever the car goes, my self goes, there is no escape. If we realise this, we may choose not to drive, and go for a meditative walk instead.

The car and I are one – the car is not an instrument which we control, when we drive, we become the car – with all its destructive powers.

We should also aim to be in the present moment rather than thinking about arriving – this way red lights won’t be quite as irritating.

When driving – if stuck in traffic, do not fight this, this is useless. When you see a red light, breathe and smile instead, use it as a chance to practice.

It is not just going for a drive which we use to distract ourselves from ourselves, from the pain of being alone with ourselves which we cannot stand – our culture offers us many things to distract us, to keep us busy.

Decompartmentalisation

Mindfulness should not just be something we do in the meditation hall. We should bring mindfulness into our daily lives, into every moment. We should practice smiling while cutting carrots, and in general be mindful when at work and in our leisure time. We need to discuss among ourselves how best to do this.

Breathing and Scything

Here Thay relays the time he bought a Scythe – he found that if he coordinated his breathing with his movements, and concentrated on what he was doing in an unhurried manner, he could work for long periods, if not he tired quickly.

He then says that he takes care to not tire himself by getting out of breath, he practices non violence on his body because it is just a means to an end.

One day an old man offered to show him how to use a Scythe and although more adept adopted a similar style to what Thay had taught himself. Every time he sees someone cutting grass with a Scythe he knows they are practicing awareness.

Aimlessness

In the West, we are very goal oriented, we know where we want to go, but along the way we often forget to enjoy ourselves along the route.

There is a word in Buddhism that means ‘wishlessness’, or ‘aimlessness’. The idea is that you do not put something in front of you and run after it, because everything you need is right here, in yourself.

Whatever we do we should do in an aimless way. The point of doing anything, is just to do it.

Often we tell ourselves don’t just sit there, do something. But in fact, the opposite may be more useful – don’t just do something, sit there! We need to learn to stop from time to time in order to see clearly.

This basically involves being mindful – which is the foundation of happiness. If we are mindful we can learn to take pleasure in the many miracles that we usually just take for granted.

We should appreciate more what we have – there are so many things in life which we do not appreciate because we are too busy trying to get somewhere else.

Our Life is a Work of Art

We have developed a habit of looking at things with the intention of getting something. However, this is wrong. Instead we should look at things just in order to be with them, with no gaining thought.

The point of meditation is just to be with ourselves and the world. If we are capable of stopping, we will see, and if we can see then we will understand.

When we do not trouble ourselves about living life as a work of art, if we just live each moment fully with no gaining thought, then our life becomes a work of art. When we learn to be peace then our life as art will truly flourish.

Hope as an obstacle

When I think deeply about the nature of hope I see something tragic. We need to abandon hope in order to fully realise the joy in this present moment. Hope is for the future, and although it can help us deal with the present moment, that is all it can do. Instead of focusing on hope for the future we should channel our energies into now.

A.J. Must said – there is no way to peace, peace is the way. Thus it should be with our life, don’t focus on doing something now in order to be happy, learn to focus on the moment and be happiness in what you doing.

Flower insights

Starts with the flower sermon: when someone holds out a flower to you, they want you to see it, but in order to see it you need to be fully yourself, not thinking about the meaning of the flower.

When you are really yourself then you can enjoy life in this present moment.

Breathing Room

We have a room for everything – but not for mindfulness, Every household should have a breathing room, where we can sit and start the day in meditation, or for reconciliation.

Hanh now imagines a scene where a husband and wife have an altercation, but instead of escalating the row, the husband withdraws to the breathing room, and sounds a bell. The wife feels better because she knows her husband is taking time out. The daughter who witnessed the slight altercation feels relieved and also goes into the breathing room, another bell sounds, which reminds the wife she should now go and join her husband and daughter. Now the whole family, by virtue of a bell and a breathing room are sitting in reconciliation.

Hanh rounds off by saying he knows of families where the children start their day with brief meditation sessions and that every household should have a breathing room.

Nice!

Continuing the Journey

This section of the book has been concerned with mindfulness practice, or how to be mindful in a variety of situations. Mindfulness is the cornerstone of a happy life. The next section deals with how to deal with unpleasant emotions.

Explaining the decline in marriage, via sociological perspectives and Plotagon

You may remember a great piece of software called Xtranormal that allowed you produce videos like this….

 

Unfortunately Xtranormal’s been offline for over a year now. In the meantime I’ve been digging around for alternatives – one of which is Plotagon, available on the iPad. It doesn’t have quite the functionality of Xtranormal, but it does the job. Below is a brief video on the decline of marriage….

 

What I like about the Software….

  • Firstly, limited options mean it’s relatively easy to get the hang of.
  • It’s very easy to publish and share.
  • You get a decent selection of settings and characters for free.

 

What I don’t like about the software

  • It’s only available on the iPad.
  • The above means it’s difficult to pre-script in word and cut and paste because you need to keep switching back and forwards between apps.
  • It’s quite ‘clunky’ to use – especially when editing – with several second pauses between touching a part of the script and the key pad popping up, although this might just be my ancient iPad 2
  • You can’t change the camera angles like you could with Xtranormal
  • The characters are (at the moment) a little bland – I really liked the bears (especially the stripey one) from Xtranormal

Still, all in all, not bad for free!

 

How to Revise AS Sociology Efficiently – Focusing on Marriage and Divorce

Riveting title I know, but then again it is ‘revision season’. Basically I’m trying to get the point across that there are 5 stages to effective revision (none of which have got anything to do with ‘learning styles':

1. Know what you need to know!
2. Get your hands on/ make some revision notes – effective teachers would have already got students to do this during the year. Students who haven’t already got these before revision season stand a much higher chance of failing the exam. This is good – this is meritocracy.
3. Refine your notes into mind maps – these are the most effective and efficient way of memorising material
4. Practice short answer questions
5. Practice longer essay questions – planning is more efficient than writing.

More details on all of the above in the Screencast.

NB – A secondary point of this Screencast is to demonstrate what you can do with some software called ‘Explain Everything’ which I’ve been playing around with the last couple of days. It’s great software – you can basically drag any kind of document you want into a ‘slide’ and then point at things, move things around, scribble over things, all while doing a voice over – I ended up with this Screencast. It’s not perfect, and the topic’s awfully dull (but at least timely!) but it does demonstrate what you can do with the software.


 

 

 

A hyperreflexive blog focussing on critical sociology, infographics, Buddhism and extreme early retirement