It all began for me more than a decade ago, with the “mangetout moment”; a passing conversation with my editor at the Guardian about those pangs of consumer guilt that wash over us, but upon which we rarely act.
Ah, consumer guilt. I bet you’re feeling its sting right now.
Those moments when, for example, you pick up a plastic-wrapped packet of mangetout in a supermarket, fleetingly dwell on their food miles or the likely exploitative wage of the Kenyan farmer who grew them, but still pop them into your shopping basket and shuffle towards the next aisle.
Such are the recollections of Mr Leo Hickman, whose ten years of struggling with ethical purity will be known to long-term readers. And who believes that the way to make poor people rich is to not buy their goods.
Our experiment was never framed as anything other than a personal journey. It certainly was never meant to be a finger-wagging sermon – more a fumble and a feel through some of modern life’s most chewy dilemmas.
Yes, Mr Hickman and his equally fretful colleagues shied from any hint of such competitive piety, honest, and instead merely had debates on subjects ranging from ethical sandwich-wrapping and the immorality of fireworks to whether it’s acceptable to employ a cleaner and alternative uses for inherited fur coats – among them, dog bedding and indoors-only fashion. And debates on whether roadkill could be an alternative ethical food source for Guardianistas who “hate waste.” Those “chewy dilemmas” that bedevil us all.
And Mr Hickman’s moral guidance was often reciprocated by his readers:
A woman from Derbyshire wrote to enthusiastically explain how she hung her “washable menstrual products” out to dry from the guy rope when camping.
It’s good to know these things. And such wisdom was not without influence:
We certainly saved money by washing our daughter’s cloth nappies and ditching disposables.
Sadly, this experiment in planetary consciousness wasn’t without its troubles. Among which, the sourcing and cost of ethically tolerable food, and the difficulties of taking a baby on a “guilt-free” holiday to Umbria “without using a plane or a hire car.” Thankfully, Mr Hickman’s readers, like the man himself, are compassionate, forgiving and entirely non-judgmental:
My first thought, looking at the photo, was, “Is three children environmentally sound?”
Other Guardian readers were also distressed by Mr Hickman’s profligate reproduction.
I am rather puzzled by counting heads and seeing that the writer appears to have three children. Guess he is no longer that concerned with ethical living these days.
Having a child is one of the worst things you can do, environmentally speaking.
As long as you have a house, mains power and a vehicle you cannot be living ethically.
It seems the search for moral purity will continue for some time.