by Steve Bivans
I hate plastic.
I always have I reckon, though my house is full of it. I’m sure yours is too.
But if we want to Be Hobbits, and Save the Earth, we have to find ways to eliminate plastic from our homes. This is especially true in the kitchen with regard to food storage.
Plastics leach chemicals into whatever they contain. They especially do this when they are heated or cooled in a microwave or refrigerator/freezer. While many manufacturers have removed the harmful BPA chemical from their products, the replacement chemicals (that they rarely reveal to the public) have been tested no more than BPAs were when they were introduced many years ago, and sold to us as perfectly safe! So, until plastic companies can PROVE to me and the public that they are safe, through verifiable, independent tests, I will be trying to eliminate them entirely from my kitchen.
All hobbits should. Even if plastics were safe, they are made from oil, and it’s running out while polluting the environment. And plastic will be around long after we’re gone, and never disappear, or biodegrade. Therefore, we need to find alternatives for storing our food. Luckily, plastics are a new thing. People were storing food for over 10,000 years before some jackass invented plastic.
If you’re storing food, probably the first option is glass.
The beauty of glass, is that you can see what’s in it. I love Mason jars. I’m from the South, and down there, they are used for everything, including drinking glasses. When we recently moved to St Paul, we got rid of most of our ‘normal’ drinking glasses, especially the plastic ones, and replaced them with a bunch of quart-sized Mason jars. There’s not better way to drink South Farthing Sweet Iced Tea, than out of a big ‘ole Mason jar! I also make my ‘Kentucky Tea’ in them. But that’s a recipe for another day.
What’s great about them, too, is that they come with lids, so I can take my tea to work, by just screwing on a metal lid, and head out the door! Now, most of them do have a bit of plastic in the seal, but it’s minimal and since you’ll be using it over and over and over again, it’s not a huge concern. Plus, you can recycle it one day down the road when it finally stops sealing.
There are numerous other glass containers out there that are great for packing lunches, storing food in the fridge and freezer. Yes, you can freeze glass, as long as you leave some air space at the top so that the liquid in the food can expand. If you’re going to freeze glass, make sure it’s heavy duty glass. You want a Mason jar that weighs at least 1 lb; Ball Mason Jars are really good. They’re heavier than the Kerr brand.
You can also ‘can’ food to store it for winter or longer. This is particularly useful if you have your own garden. You may have canning expert in your family already that you can call up for tips, otherwise, Google it. There’s plenty of help out there. I”m going to do it for the first time this year, probably in the fall when the tomato season is about over. I love ‘maters.
We also bought a couple packs of glass containers from Costco, by Snapware, that have snap-on plastic lids. Yes, there’s plastic involved—which bugs me—but they are used over and over and over again, and are BPA free. I do not microwave stuff in them with the lid on it, though I have frozen food in them. I try to make sure that the food isn’t in contact with the lids, as much as possible. These are great for storing hamburger, or ground pork—for my breakfast sausage recipe—or to pack lunches for work or school! I”ve carried soup in them, without incident.
So we’ve covered what to store food in, but how do we buy it without all the plastic? That takes some planning and thinking, but eventually, you can greatly reduce, or eliminate the need for plastics. We haven’t reached the elimination stage yet, but we have cut way back, mostly by buying bulk.
No, I do not mean going to Sam’s Club—which I hate, if for no other reason than they treat their employees like slaves—where you buy a pallet full of Fruit Loops to last you till the next milennia. That is not really buying in ‘bulk.’ That’s buying a shitload of crap for a slightly reduced price. What I am talking about is going to a store—preferably a local, coop grocery store—where they buy many items in very large bags, and dispense them via large containers. Most of these have spouts at the bottom so you can fill your container or bag with the contents. I’m sure you’ve seen them in a regular grocery store, usually in the ‘nut’ aisle, or coffee section.
This system helps to eliminate, or greatly reduce the use of plastics, and other packaging materials, which are unnecessary. Most stores that have bulk sections will provide you with plastic or paper bags to put things in, but that isn’t reducing the use of plastics, and paper is also wasteful—even if it’s biodegradable—because it signals the death of one of Treebeard’s friends (This is never a good idea, remember what happened to Isengard?), and consumes a piss-load of water to make it. So bring your own containers, like Mason jars, or the glass ones with the snap on lids.
Don’t forget to bring your cloth shopping bags too! There are very few things more wasteful than plastic grocery bags. Billions of them are used every day in the U.S., and then tossed, or discarded along our streets which ends up in our rivers, lakes, or floating around the North Atlantic Garbage Patch.
When it comes to shopping for food, co-ops are the best places, if not directly from a farmer. Co-op grocery stores are member owned. Most of them will allow anyone to walk in off the street and shop however, so just walk into one and check it out! The one where my girlfriend and I shop, Mississippi Market, is super friendly and helpful, like strolling through Hobbiton.
I’m lucky. It is literally right across the street from the school where I work, so I can just pop in there when the bell rings, grab the things I need in my cloth shopping bag, and before you know it, I’m back in my hobbit hole, ready to cook dinner.
I shopped there for a few months before I finally said to myself, “Self, uhhh why don’t you just join already? You shop here 3-4 times a week for cryin’ out loud!” So I did. You pay a membership fee (mine was under $100 for life), and you’re a stockholder in a local grocery store! You get member discounts and specials, and you’re doing something to help save Middle Earth!
And they have great organic choices for food. My favorite is the chocolate milk from Castle Rock Dairies. It even comes in old fashioned glass bottles, which are returnable! Imagine that! In fact, one day, I came back with about 5 or 6 of them, turned them in, bought some bread, and maybe some tea (which is sold in bulk), and the cashier guy said something like, “That will be minus $8.56. Would you like that on your card or in cash?” To which I gave a double take before it set in. After a few seconds, or years, I realized that he was trying to pay ME back! I said, “Uhhhh cash I reckon! THAT’S never happened before!,” as I laughed, and walked out with more money than I came in with.
How to Buy in Bulk
If you’ve never bought bulk items before, or never brought your own containers, then you have to get used to bringing them. That’s the hardest thing, actually: just remembering to put the containers in your reusable grocery bags, and then into the car before you take off for work, or anywhere. Try to keep them in the trunk of the car, so that you won’t be caught unprepared should you need to pop into the store on the way home from work. It takes time to get the habit down. We’re still trying to get used to it.
Once you’re in the store, however, there’s a couple things to think about, to avoid mistakes that everyone makes—and you will too, it’s just part of the learning curve. First, make sure to weigh your EMPTY container, before you fill it with product. If the store sells bulk, they will have a scale near the products. Just place your container on it and mark down the weight. This is called the ‘tare.’ The best way to do this is to bring along a grease pencil or permanent magic marker (I have a Sharpie that works like a spring-loaded pen that I keep in one of my bags at all times). You can mark the ‘tare’ near the bottom of the jar, or container, and then the cashier can subtract that from the total weight when you check out. This isn’t that important if you’re using plastic or paper bags, since they don’t weight much. But if you’re using glass, you’re gonna be paying way too much for your product if you pay for the weight of the glass too!
Once you have the tare marked on the container, start filling it with yummy, hobbity stuff! This is the fun part. It’s all very old fashioned, which makes it more interesting. It’s not just mindlessly wandering up and down aisles of prepackaged ‘food,’ chucking boxes and bags into your cart. You have to actually ‘think’ a bit, and physically ‘do’ something. It’s really quite engaging. I love it, and I normally hate shopping, like I hate bubonic plague, and spinach. I fuckin’ hate spinach.
What can you find in bulk?
It depends on the store. Coops are likely to have more options, and most of them are constantly working to find more things to add to that section. At Mississippi Market, for instance, you can find the usual suspects: nuts, coffee, rice. But you can also find flour (many kinds), yeast, peanut butter, honey, meats, tea (see my South Farthing Sweet Tea Recipe), soaps (dish, hand and shampoo/conditioner), and oils, and probably some other things I’m forgetting.
You won’t find everything you need in the bulk section. Maybe one day that will be the case. But every little bit we hobbits can do adds up, and the more we buy bulk, the more stores will supply it. That’s how we use capitalism to save the Earth. It’s the way the system was supposed to work, but somewhere along the way, we, the consumers, forgot that we were in charge, and gave up that power to Saruman’s corporations, and his evil, advertising wizards. Spend your money locally, and on quality stuff, or don’t spend it. That’s the number one way to Save the Earth.
One thing I love about buying the bulk items, is the way they look in your pantry and kitchen. There’s something beautiful and rustic about dry or wet goods stored in Mason Jars, lined up on a pantry shelf. For one, they are uniform, and they’re not plastic. Plastic is ugly. I’m just gonna say it; it’s ugly, like trying to shave a monkey’s ass and teach it to walk upside down. It may look vaguely human, but I wouldn’t want to kiss it.
So avoid plastics hobbits! Get yourself some good ole Mason jars, and go shopping! Oh yeah, don’t forget your bags!