Taking Stock of Containerized Foods

As you probably gathered from A Tale of Two Quiches, we try not to use a lot of pre-packaged foods. In the words of Werner Herzog: “But WHY?!”

For us, there are two main reasons (and lots of smaller, interconnected issues):

  • the packages the food comes in produce a lot of unnecessary waste–especially stuff that comes in plastic
  • these foods aren’t fresh and usually contain preservatives–while not necessarily bad, these can be problems in certain combinations

Of the two, the former is the larger concern, to be sure. We’re concerned about health and we’re definitely interested in flavor, but we’re worried about producing too much waste. There are more and more of us, consuming (in every sense of the word) more stuff in packages. Just look at these overwrappers, there is hardly anything they could not pack. Where will all of that packaging go? Sure, a lot of it’s recyclable–but it’s easy to forget that recycling isn’t free; it takes time, energy, and money to recycle. And we should be worried about energy too. So, while we can curb our consumption in many realms, we can’t really do without eating. So. Putting the proverbial two and two together, we can see that eating stuff that comes in packages is best avoided when possible. And whenever you cannot, try to use better ways to pack, which ensures minimal plastic use, such as theĀ best food vacuum sealer.

Now, we’re far from perfect, I’ll be the first to admit. Taking a quick stock of our kitchen (I highly recommend doing this–it’s very sobering), our major culprits are:

  • soy milk/creamer
  • orange juice
  • condiments/pastes/flavorings (ketchup, mustard, chili paste, Liquid Smoke, etc)
  • cooking oils
  • canned beans
  • beer
  • Earth Balance

It's Containerized!

There is some good news though, we get a lot of stuff in bulk:

  • flours (all purpose, wheat, tapioca, chickpea, etc)
  • sugar
  • nuts
  • spices
  • tofu
  • tempeh
  • grains (rice, quinoa, couscous, etc)
  • lentils & peas

It's Bulk!

And right now we’re getting a ton of stuff from our garden:

  • tomatoes
  • zucchini
  • summer squash
  • green beans
  • kales
  • herbs
  • cucumbers
  • lettuce

Fresh from the garden

And this stuff is all easily supplemented by our Farmer’s Market. I’m sure I’ll probably be singing a different tune in the winter, when local produce isn’t available.


A Plan of Attack

Taking a quick peek in our garbage & recycling, I can see that the soymilk, OJ, beer, and canned beans are our main offenders. We’ve been toying with the idea of getting a soymilk maker–I’ll post back on that one. We should probably also drink less (if any) OJ. While eating fresh fruit is awesome, drinking a lot of fruit juice isn’t–it’s a lot of sugar, even if it is fruit sugar–and it doesn’t have the fiber. Instead of canned beans, we should probably buy them dry in bulk and cook them ourselves (a pressure cooker would probably work wonders on that front). And beer…oh dear. Actually, bottles can be re-used, rather than recycled. If I was awesome, I’d go back to making my own beer. Barring that, some of our local breweries sell “growlers”–a giant, refillable bottle of beer. This is a superb idea. If I liked our main local brewery’s beer, I’d probably pursue this. Baby steps.

And We’re Doing a Few Things Right

Aside from buying normal cooking ingredients in bulk, we’ve also been trying to phase out pre-made foods. We’re doing a lot better on this front than the non-container front. We make our own burgers, sausages (post coming soon!), seitan, salsa, ice cream, and, as a constant work-in-progress, cheese (today’s experiment is cashew cheese). We really need to add bread to this list. Unless we’re content as posers.

Okay. Now back to your regularly scheduled recipes.


#1 ryan on 09.06.09 at 4:45 pm

I have heard of several families limiting themselves to a 1-garbage bag a week which includes more than just taking stock of food packaging. This is usually what Val and I try to keep to, or 1 bag for longer than a week (but without a compost some food things can get quite foul).

#2 mark on 09.07.09 at 12:48 pm

This is an excellent idea! In some cities, this practice is fostered by free recycling and pay-per-container waste removal. So you can actually save money by doing what’s right.

It’s too bad there isn’t a larger focus on composting–I think this accounts for as much waste as recycling (well, at least in our house, which is vegan–so everything we use to prepare food is compostable). This is something that’s really easy to do if you live in a house, but not very easy in apartments/condos/urban settings in general. Strange that cities don’t just collect this like yard waste.

In any case, it’s too bad that more people don’t have the discipline/concern to limit themselves to 1 bag per week like you guys. (And kudos to those of you who do!) Way to rock it!

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