Sensory issues and the environment

This is something of a sensitive topic, and isn’t one I had expected to cover so soon. But with a post about oral hygeine coming up, I wanted to talk about something seldom discussed in regards to budget or environmentalism – sensory issues.

In the case of our family, sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a result of an autistic spectrum condition, but many people struggle with certain textures and sounds – even amongst the neurotypical population (nails down a blackboard, anyone? Open-mouthed chewing?). In some cases, a person’s senses can be so hurt by a certain taste, or sound, or feel that all but a handful of foods are considered ‘safe’. I don’t have science at hand to support me on this one, but often, these safe foods are provided via the constant, unchanging recipes of ready-meals and convenience foods.

These tend to be the sorts of food which are heavily packaged in plastic, but if your child/ren or other family members won’t eat anything else, what options do you have?

Honestly – not a lot. In our case, toothpaste and brushing is the issue and we’re not going to get plastic-free in this area without endangering a child’s dental health, so it’s just not happening. What I’m trying to do instead is change my own actions first and explain them, in the hopes that modelling my beliefs and having an open dialogue will help. I’m also going to make alernatives available in case – as it occassionally does – the urge to try something new does occur and my child chooses to attempt the toothpowder/whatever I eventually decide on.

Perhaps it won’t though. And that’s OK too. I keep telling my children that we can only control our own actions – not those of others, and I think it’s important that I adhere to that myself.

But none of this is addressing the issue of food packaging.

Is there anything that can be done about having to buy food that’s heavily wrapped in plastic?

That really depends on where you’re buying your food and just how restrictive a diet the person with sensitivities has. According to Greenpeace, Iceland has the best policy for reducing single use and non-recyclable plastics, with Morrisons coming a close second. If you could swap – for example – brand name fish-fingers for own-brand ones in either of these places, that’s a good start. Though as I say, that does rely on there being a certain degree of culinary flexibility.

And if you can’t make the change? That’s probably ok. Do the best you can with what you’ve got.

I worry that there is a huge degree of ableism inherent in the ideal of a low-plastic lifestyle. I haven’t even begun to touch upon the pre-chopped vegetables that are housed in plastic and the positive impact these products can have on the lives of those who need them. I’m always reminded of the deep joy experienced by a friend with macular degeneracy – who died at 92 – when he discovered packets of prepared veg. Buying diced beef and ready-cut carrots, potatoes and onions meant that he could dump the lot in a slow cooker with a can of beer and feed himself a tasty, hot meal every night. It allowed him to remain in his own home until his eventual death without relying on me or his neighbours to make his food for him. He was a proud man who deeply valued his independence, something that the much maligned packaged vegetables granted him.

It was, literally, life-changing to have the option of these products, just as I’m sure it’s life-changing when one stumbles upon a safe food for a relative with extreme sensory issues.

I genuinely am doing my best to reduce our waste but there are a number of sensory constraints in our household. It makes this all very challenging and ultimately, we are all human and are all learning. I ask that you’re gentle with me when I post things which are less than ideal becuase I promise – I have looked for alternatives and I will continue looking.

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