For a long time, I was a pretty bad packaged (and processed) food offender. To me, comfort food has meant Kraft mac n cheese and canned tuna or Eggos with Aunt Jemima syrup and microwavable sausages or creamed chipped beef or an entire sleeve of Oreos. Over the past few years, though, I have been slowly (but surely) eliminating processed and packaged foods from my diet and moving towards a style of eating that focuses on whole foods with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables. My pantry now contains:
- poppy seeds
- pine nuts
- almond butter
- raw honey
- olive oil
- apple cider vinegar
- fair trade coffee
- capers and relish (I was going to make tartar sauce at one point but it never happened)
- protein powder
As I move toward a zero-waste lifestyle, though, I need to come to terms with the fact that many of these items come in plastic or nonrecyclable packages. There are many items above that I can do without, but a few others, I need to think through how I’m going to keep in my life while still aiming for zero waste.
Ok, so I usually buy almond butter in plastic jars from Trader Joes, but it’s not so hard to grind up almonds myself for almond butter, but that means buying a replacement plastic food processor bowl (mine disappeared mysteriously when I moved). Forgo almond butter? That’s a possibility. I really like almond butter for eating with apples, in baking, in my monkey salad (banana, unsweetened coconut flakes, cashews, almond butter.) I could give up almond butter; it’s not such a huge part of my life. But it’s just so delicious. Ok, that’s a lie. I kind of hate almond butter (I really miss peanut butter.) So…yeah. I could do that.
Pros: wouldn’t have to buy replacement food processor bowl (save $$), save glass/plastic from buying almond butter
Cons: Are there any? Not really…
Verdict: No more almond butter
Over the past year, I’ve been trying to go dairy-free, and I’ve successfully eliminated milk/cream and yogurt from my diet (but am still working on cheese and butter.) I still feel that I need something dairy-esque in my diet, so I usually buy almond/coconut milk in cans/wax paper containers. I use this for making my coffee cooler/less bitter, use a splash when making quiches or when baking, in some soups to make it a little creamier, in smoothies. I think I could eliminate almond milk and switch to coconut milk instead. I just learned that you can make coconut milk from coconut manna, so I think I might do that, but the manna usually comes in glass jars. The other option is to buy shredded coconut and make coconut butter and then make coconut milk, but that involves a lot more time and…a plastic food processor bowl. I could definitely reuse the glass jars that the manna comes in. On the other hand, making almond milk also appears pretty easy and wouldn’t involve glass jars since I could make it from bulk almonds (and it would probably be cheaper.)
Verdict: Try making almond milk from bulk almonds and coconut milk from coconut manna and see which I like better, which seems to produce less waste and is more cost effective. Also explore doing without either.
I’m trying really hard to kick the cheese habit, but I keep going back to it.
Verdict: If I decide to eat it, I’ll vow to get in not wrapped in plastic (options: DiBrunos, Whole Foods, Reading Terminal, farmer’s market(?)).
I honestly don’t eat a ton of meat these days. It’s mostly canned tuna (don’t ask; it’s a strange comfort food, especially when paired with Kraft mac n cheese…which I will stop eating when I finish the cans in my cabinet), chicken sausage (which is usually packaged in plastic, so I’m going to stop doing that), and bacon (again, lots of plastic.)
Verdict: The clear solution is to go to a butcher/Whole Foods/Reading Terminal/farmer’s market or reduce meat consumption even further.
These days, I’ve mostly been using bacon grease for cooking, but I’ve occasionally needed butter (another dairy-related weakness, which is wrapped in waxed paper then stuffed into a cardboard box.) I also use olive oil for dressings and less virgin-y olive oil for cooking. The bottles seem hard to wash because of the oil, and there’s usually a plastic piece in the nozzle that’s not recyclable. The best would seem to be to buy unpackaged bacon and save the grease or…hmm…not sure what the other option is…only eat nuts and olives and avocados for my fats? That sounds terrible. And wonderful.
Verdict: Use up what I have and brainstorm next steps after that.
I am a HUGE Trader Joes fan. They’re close to my office, affordableish, and stock almost everything I require. So many of the vegetables they have, though, are packaged on styrofoam plates (which are not recyclable curbside in Philly) then wrapped in plastic wrap. They have some loose vegetables, thank goodness, but many are not. I will have to go to Reading Terminal Market, my local farmer’s market or Whole Foods.
Verdict: This is an easy enough change to make.
The biggest challenge in all of this is that I will have to travel a little further to get the foods I need without packaging. Luckily, Clark Park farmer’s market are open year-round and I can easily get local, sustainable produce from both those places. Reading Terminal is not too far (and is accessible for me via the 12 and 17 buses) and is always a joy to shop at. Whole Foods is close to work and will probably be my last resort (and my continual source of bulk black olives, though I can also patronize DiBruno’s for these.) Let’s see how it goes!