Why do I want you to care about plastic?
Our food these days has quite a pedigree. If you’re reading this, you’re likely someone who studies ingredient lists with a critical eye, capable of seeing straight through the marketing façade that tries to masquerade food as healthy (Low carb? All natural? Please…) I’m sure you’re especially clever at rooting out secret animal products that try to sneak into products, and have trained yourself to think “out of the box” for the best way to nourish yourself that aligns with your values.
Now I’m going to try to persuade you to think about “the box” itself—or rather, the shrink-wrap, cellophane, (non) BPA lining, polyethylene bags or all the #1s through #7s on the plastic spectrum that are seemingly innocently encasing your healthy, ethical food. What’s so bad about them? Well…
That can of organic tomato puree is quietly leaching non-BPA phthalates, or endocrine disruptors, that you will eat with your favorite sauce recipe. That ultra-expensive plastic bottle of fresh green juice that you chug will outlive you and the juice by at least 500 years. The plastic produce bag that transported your local kale for half an hour from the store to your fridge may join the huge masses of ocean plastic that kills over 100 million marine animals per year.
This list goes on, but there is good news, I promise!
First – if you are reducing or eliminating animal products from your diet or lifestyle, you’ve already dramatically reduced your negative impact to the environment (all other ethical and health benefits aside). In addition to the extreme resource intensive nature of raising animals for food, also consider how many plastic bags of feed alone it took to raise that animal, and then again how many bags of fertilizer, seed, and pesticide it took to grow the mono-crops to produce that feed. The cumulative impact from a plant-based diet is considerable – good work!
But there’s another powerful thing we can do, as consumers, and that’s to “vote for” a product offering that favors a sustainable future in food production. If you buy food every day, you have a means of constant communication with suppliers – this can be as simple as buying the one brand in a glass jar next to a sea of plastic, to let them know that it’s ok to charge a few cents extra for that glass. This can also be a more involved effort over time, such as learning to fully utilize bulk foods and making pantry items from scratch.
And this is where I come to the other good news – the benefits.
While it may seem extreme to start avoiding disposable plastic in your life, it’s really a more natural way to live. If you avoid animal products, has anyone ever accused you of being extreme? And did you run through a mental list of why the opposite is true?
Humans are designed to have a connection to their food—how else would we have evolved to develop an understanding of what’s nutritious, several millennia before modern “nutrition science?” One of the ways that food marketers have disconnected us from this is with the advent of convenience food products. While for some this modern food movement of convenience has allowed us to focus on other priorities when we need to, but at a cost. In truth, with each layer of processing and packaging, the food has an added layer of cost and fillers, and is stripped of some of its nutrition. The benefits of avoiding processed and packaged food is that it comes with increased nutrition and at a lower cost over all – or rather, with only the cost of patience to learn new, simple skills and to plan some meals in advance. But this is possibly the greatest natural benefit to avoiding plastic packaging, at any scale, and that’s an increased connection to and mindfulness about the food we eat. As you take extra consideration to source ingredients, to slow cook or ferment, and to make things from scratch, you earn an undeniable sense of ownership over the ingredients that is simply impossible to achieve with even the most beautifully packaged meal off the shelf.
Curious? Let’s get cooking! I’ll continue to post recipes and tutorials on ways to accomplish this and still eat decadent meals. In the meantime, I hope you consider taking a look at the resources below for a better understanding of the issues, research, and inspiration for plastic-free swaps to improve your daily routine. Have questions? Want to see your favorite vegan/gluten free dish made “plastic-free?” Get in touch
- Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, by Beth Terry
- Life Without Plastic, by Jay Sinha & Chantal Plomondon
- Plastic Free Foodie eZine – www.yommme.com
- Slow Death by Rubber Duck, by Allan G. Bluman, Bruce Lourie, and Sarah Dopp
- A Plastic Ocean
- The Plastic Age
- Bag It – the Movie