Sunday, December 28, 2008

on activism and the mystery of food

In trying to reduce the amount of plastic we use, I've also been reducing the number and kinds of convenience food we get. This extends to fast food and restaurant food -- we've partly been avoiding those from a financial standpoint, but from an environmental standpoint as well. I get a sick feeling in my stomach now when I see how much waste our (admittedly large) family creates with just one fast food meal, whereas before I knew about the Pacific garbage patches I didn't really think about it that much.

This is really a post with two parts. The first is about activism. The other night it was just four of us -- Will's kids were with their mom -- and it was late, and neither one of us really wanted to think about dinner, and there wasn't really anything to eat in the house anyway. (I'm sure all of you are so much more organized than I am and this never happens at your place, right?)

So the kids asked if we could get a take-out meal from a local fast food restaurant which shall remain anonymous. I told the boyz that the only way we could do it is if I went to pick it up, and if the people there were willing to pack our food in containers I brought instead of in the usual styrofoam. To make a long story short, they did, but JUST THIS ONCE and only after I telephoned the owner at home to ask. He said that he could get in BIG TROUBLE with the health department, and I promised not to tell anyone (which I'm really not, because you really don't have any idea which restaurant it is, right? Of course right!)

So the activism comes in where I march into the restaurant with a bag full of containers and make a big deal about the fact that I'm not willing to spend money there unless I can do it in a way that doesn't violate my core values. I wasn't at all obnoxious about it -- if anything I was very polite and apologetic -- but I was firm. And it worked this time, but JUST THIS ONCE, so tomorrow I'm going to write a letter to the health department about this stupid rule. I can understand that they don't want restaurants contaminated by the crazy germs that I'm carrying on my tupperware, but seriously, can't they just wipe down the counter after they give me my food? It takes quite a bit to embarrass me, so I'm willing to march in and see it through, but I know that most people aren't. In order to save the planet, we've got to make it easier for peeps to do the right thing.

And I keep running into this "rules" answer about why we have to do things a certain way. I had a very similar convo this morning with the pharmacy guy, when I asked him if he could refill my prescription in the same bottle they used last time. They're not allowed to, but he couldn't actually tell me who made that rule. Is it state? federal? he thought it might even be from the drug makers themselves, because of liability when the child-safe cap wears out? Soooo frustrating. I don't even know who to write to!

The huge exception in my life to this pervasive "rules trump conservation" mentality is Whole Foods. When I walk in there with all my containers, they happily weigh them and thank me for doing my part to reduce waste. So while I feel like they still sell way too much stuff in plastic, and way too much processed food, I'm gonna keep on spending way too much money there.

The good news, though, is that plastic avoidance (with a little frugality thrown in) is actually teaching me how to cook. Seriously, and this seems crazy when I think about it, until recently I had absolutely no idea that lots of packaged and restaurant food is totally replicable at home! I made this fantastic chocolate syrup (look ma, no plastic! Well, except the lid of the cocoa 'cuz I can't find that in bulk) thanks to the recipe Beth posted at Fake Plastic Fish.

(Doesn't Dante look grown up? Note the milk in a glass bottle!)


Tonight we had the most delish Thai curry with bamboo shoots, red peppers, zucchini, and pineapple -- seriously, I had been spending $9.50 for a plate of this at my favorite Asian place downtown. It was so freakin' easy to make, so yummy (both boyz cleaned their plates -- well, Sebastian didn't like the red peppers, but Dante ate them for him) and I fed all of us for about the same amount as it would have cost just me to go out. Next time I'm going to use broccoli and carrots, since Will loves broccoli and Dante thought carrots would be a good addition, and we'll skip the bamboo shoots, since they came in a can and didn't really add enough to the dish to justify the garbage or the cost. Look, I even have leftovers!

I've been doing more and more cooking, and food is becoming less and less of a mystery. Did you have any idea that those gourmet roasted red peppers that are so yummy and cost like $4.00 for a tiny little package can be made at home in under 20 minutes total? For just the cost of the peppers themselves plus a teeny bit of olive oil? Cheesecake? Made it from scratch! Indian potato cauliflower curry was a huge hit here, and all four kids ate all of their rasta pasta, made with pumpkin sauce from our CSA pumpkins.

The next step is mixing more of my own spices (why in the world are we still buying packets of taco sauce??) and learning how to do stuff like make butter and cream cheese.

I read lots of sustainability blogs, and it seems like so many people are so far ahead of me. They grow their own food, do tons of canning and freezing, and can feed themselves from their own labors all year. I call it a good week if I don't have to run to the grocery store every single day and sometimes twice. But the whole point of this blog was that anyone -- even people who work full time and have kids and have a life -- can make enough changes to make a difference, without having to completely go back to the land.

1 comment:

Fake Plastic Fish said...

Awesome post. Really, really great. I too love the attitude at Whole Foods when I bring my own containers. And within the same neighborhood, I get refusals at other shops to use my containers because of some mysterious health code that I doubt really exists. Well, Whole Foods gets my business. It's as simple as that.

And I haven't been able to pin down the exact regulation against refilling Rx bottles either!

So yes, I want you to join the posse! I'll email you some questions to answer for me. You're doing a great job. Glad you liked the chocolate sauce!