Once I became enlightened by Betty Terry of the blog My Plastic Free Life, I decided that a normal Iowa/Nebraska/Missouri girl like me could act like I’m from Portland.
Because Portlandians are really cool hipster people who recycle and care about the origin of their food and have bird tattoos (check, check and check!) and knit their friends slouchy hats (check!).
So after looking around on the web and saving some cash, I ditched plastic produce bags and got 4 adorable custom-made color-coded bags (brown string for potatoes and mushrooms, pink for fruit, green for leafy veggies) from Grateful Press on Etsy. This way, I’m
1. Not suffocating my apples in wasteful plastic
2. Supporting crafty Americans
3. Sporting adorable produce accessories at Whole Foods
Once I found a sub for plastic bags, I looked around my cabinets for the next food storage culprit. My, oh my, did I find it!
Styrofoam trays, cellophane, milk jugs, sour cream tubs, egg cartons, cheese packages– YIKES! And they’re ALL from animal products. After a single “Taco Tuesday,” I’m filling my trash can halfway with packaging; most of which will sit and stink up landfills for the rest of their immortal lives. This may sound overtly political, but is that kind of recklessness fair to our grandkids, who will eventually have to deal with all this waste?
After deciding where my values stacked up (health + less waste > pinching pennies), I decided to throw in a few more bucks every week and buy milk in glass jars. We are quite blessed to have a local company, Shatto Milk, produce quality dairy in glass. It’s $3 for a 1/2 gallon, but since my husband and I know we’re getting really great milk that traveled fewer than 30 miles and has minimal impact on the environment because of its packaging, we savor every bit of that milk.
So I’m buying half as much milk every week.
AAAAAAND Shatto sells ROOT BEER MILK! I know, probably not the best, but it tastes like a summertime root beer float. Just don’t drink two huge glasses in one sitting. It’ll catch up.
The only thing that bugs me with these bottles is the plastic cap. They can’t be recycled. This quit using plastic thing is definitely a process.
So let’s talk about all the cool jars I got.
I’ve been wanting a glass container for smelly food, and I finally found a small jar from German-made jar company Weck. On the website, they’ve got all sorts of jars. They can be used for canning or storage and all have glass lids which are attached to the base by 2 metal clips. The rubber gasket helps keep food smell from permeating out of the jar and into the refrigerator.
I also found two other jars (you can really find them anywhere) at a huge kitchen store in Kansas City called Pryde’s Old Westport. They’ll even get you a cup of coffee while you shop. The jars are great for scooping oats or really any bulk item into at the grocery store. That’s two weeks worth of oatmeal breakfasts in one container! And when oats are on sale for 99 cents a pound (thank you, Whole Foods!) the grocery bill is lower and my husband’s tummy is happier.
Speaking of happiness, I found the antique JACKPOT in downtown KC (it can take you hours to go through all the vintage and handmade treasures). It was in a little corner of one of these homey, hipster hangouts that THESE were discovered.
In almost perfect condition and a heck of a lot cheaper than buying new, these stainless steel beauties, which I have been searching for now for quite some time, house my flour (one with bread flour– the others I’ll use for wheat and all purpose– so much handier than scooping fluffy gluten from a wimpy tightly-quartered bag). The little steel dandy you see there is a lunch box container that– guilty as charged– wasn’t scored at the antique shop, but I couldn’t resist how great my reflection looked in its top while walking by the check out lane at Whole Foods.
So how long does it take for an average-skilled beginner eco-conscious white girl to get some containers together for a grocery trip? Here’s what I try to do in a smooth, non-distracting way:
1. Figure out what produce items I will need to put in bags
2. Find the bags and get creative– upcycle former nylon orange bags? Sure! Put potatoes in my new steel jar because I have no more bags? Right-o!
3. Figure out what bulk items I need (usually I get oats, almonds/cashews, dried beans, peanut butter WHICH I CAN TOTALLY GRIND BY MYSELF AND IT’S FLIPPING DELICIOUS, some type of seasoning, and flour*)
*Short story: my mom-in-law read an article on how King Arthur brand flour is made in the USA. Did you know other flour may not be from America? Is that strange to anyone else that we import wheat??? So I’m not scooping flour out of bulk bins anymore. All hail King Arthur.
4. Find the many hiding spots of my bulk jars. Put everything in one bag.
Seriously, I get so distracted while fumbling through this process (where are the batteries for the Wii-mote?) that it takes me about 30 minutes to complete it. Normal person = 15 minutes. Five to ten if you have a Type A personality.
When I go to a place like Whole Foods, I stop by customer service and they will write what’s called a tare weight onto my containers. Then at checkout, they’ll subtract the weight of the container from the total weight of the bulk item. Unless they’re idiots and get all butterfingers on me just to end up ringing up cashews three times. (In that case, I politely brought it to customer service dude’s attention and he comped me the price of all my nuts!) But for the most part, employees are used to tare weights so everything is pretty seamless.
I’ve started to really enjoy buying food in glass and reusable containers. It’s like an art project to figure out the puzzle of what I can do with it besides throwing it away or recycling it. Confession time: I have one styrofoam takeout container in the cupboard that I don’t know what to do with. Okay, accompanying the box are two super large foam cups from a restaurant… They’ve been anxiously waiting to get off the shelf. What the blazes am I supposed to do with those?
Actually, the cups would make excellent Daleks…
In the past few months, I’ve noticed the more containers I’ve brought to the store, the healthier we’ve been eating at home. We’ve been cooking a bit more fresh meals, and I’m working out equations of buying bulk chickpeas and slow cooking them versus just buy the dang canned chickpeas. Sometimes it’s like my mother is internally bickering with my teenage self.
“Why would you want to dry all those leaves of lettuce? Just buy the bag!”
“Mom, I’m trying to be more earth friendly.”
“(Eye roll) Oh BROTHER! Oh, while I’m in your head… remember to empty the dishwasher.”
Anyway, the point is that I am paying more attention to the food my husband and I are digesting and absorbing into our bodies. Shouldn’t we all? There are so many legal drugs that are zombifying people and making bigger messes of us than if we just decided/learned to, as Hippocrates would say, Let thy food be thy medicine. Of course there are exceptions. But that’s an argument for another day!