Zoe Parsons tries to be as ethical as possible in her consumer choices. She covets solar panels as much as the latest Mulberry handbag, has a rain bucket and a compost corner on the rear terrace of her Marylebone town house and abhors mass-produced chemicals. Her beauty products are not just organic, but biodynamic – the ingredients harvested according to lunar cycles – and all household cleaning products are toxin- and pollutant-free.
She applies these principles most rigorously with regards to food. All fruit and vegetables consumed in the Parsons’ household are organic, while Zoe can often be found squinting over the small print of packaged goods, meticulously checking food labels for high-fructose corn syrup, aspartame, mono- and diglycerides and – her absolute horror – hydrogenated fats.
Zoe tries to avoid supermarkets at all costs, relying on organic fruit and vegetable deliveries from Abel & Cole. Fortunately, her career as a decluttering consultant allows her the time to cook from scratch most evenings and to experiment with juicing whatever esoteric ingredient came in that week’s vegetable box (she’s a big fan of beetroot and kale smoothies).
On a Saturday morning she and her husband, Will, the marketing director of a global oil giant (they try not to talk about that), like to shop at a brilliant organic farmers’ market nearby. Will, whose commitment to organic is not so zealous as his wife’s, once joked that it was just a clever ploy to charge a premium for gnarled and slightly substandard produce. After a stern two‑hour lecture, it was a joke he never repeated.
He is used to Zoe quizzing waiters as to the provenance of the poultry and knows that farmed, non-organic salmon (“swimming in antibiotics!”) is a particular bête noire. He is also conscious that his wife would rather eat her organic-cotton shopping tote – conventionally grown cotton, as she likes to point out, is “the world’s dirtiest crop”, responsible for the release of 16 per cent of the world’s pesticides – than eat certain non-organic foods, particularly potatoes, celery, carrots, berries and salad leaves, all of which are susceptible to pesticide contamination. Non-organic peaches and grapes, meanwhile, are at the top of the “banned” fruit list.
Friends’ dinner parties can be an ordeal, but when Zoe and Will bump into their new neighbours, Veronica and Marcus Grafton, raking through the imperfect but pesticide-free produce in the organic-vegetable section of the farmers’ market, Zoe takes it as a good sign and accepts their invitation to lunch the following Sunday. Armed with a bottle of biodynamic burgundy, they head next door.
“This salmon is delicious,” says Zoe, halfway through the main course. “Is it from the farmers’ market fishmonger?”
“Good God, no,” says Marcus. “It’s way too pricey. We just go to look at what they’re charging for such gnarled veg.”
“Then we go to Lidl, and buy non-organic produce,” adds Veronica proudly.
“Yes, organic is just a load of old hype,” says Marcus.
Will notices that his wife has turned the same pale grey as a non-organic chicken fillet. She is too distressed even to deliver her usual speech on how organic produce is “better for the environment, the consumer and the people who grow it”.
As pudding – peach cobbler with “hormone-rich” cream – is served, Zoe declares she might be going down with a bug picked up from one of her clients.
“Now listen, old girl, we need to talk to you about that compost heap of yours,” says Marcus over non-Fairtrade coffee. “You do know it’s going to attract rats?”
Later that evening, Zoe, having eaten so sparingly at lunch, sheepishly suggests an Indian takeaway. As Will sets off to collect the beef curry and chicken korma, he notes wryly that his wife did not enquire as to whether the beef came from a cow allowed to graze freely in organic pasture, or if the chicken was free-range and corn-fed.
As they sit down to their feast of chemical-fed, probably ill-treated animal protein, he concludes that his wife hasn’t looked this happy since he agreed to use a natural crystal deodorant instead of his usual aerosol.