So, I’ve talked and written a lot about how Americans seem to be addicted to the convenience that plastic packaging affords us. I know I sure was… eating frozen microwavable meals in plastic trays, energy bars in plastic wrappers, and water in plastic bottles. But I need to confess something. Just because I gave up plastic doesn’t mean I am not above a little convenience. It’s just that now, my idea of convenience looks like this:
Instead of this:
While most days, I eat whole foods that I prepare myself, and I pack homemade lunches in reusable tiffins and jars, I still like to stock up on plain foil-wrapped bean and cheese burritos from Cactus Taqueria, a local restaurant in my neighborhood.
I bring them home (in my reusable bag) and store them in the freezer for those days when all I have time to do is grab something as I’m heading out the door and pop it in the microwave at work. (Of course, I remove the aluminum foil first!)
Still… I sometimes feel guilty about this reliance on “convenience foods,” especially because I know that even though I’m not bringing home any plastic, the restaurant used plenty of it. You can’t exactly cite your “Don’t ask; don’t tell” policy when the plastic tortilla bags are in plain view.
I put this question to my friend Danielle Richardet, the awesome plastic-free blogger I wrote about in September who makes her own tortillas from scratch. I can’t find the conversation in my email or text messages, so I’ll try to paraphrase what she said. It was something about how you can try to be perfect, but there’s really no such thing, and sometimes you have to settle for “better” and be okay with that.
The reality is that there is a lot of hidden plastic that we inadvertently consume every day simply by being alive in this modern age. If you ever eat in a restaurant, you consume plastic. If you buy anything from a store, you consume plastic… even if you buy it from a bulk bin. Because often, the foods in the bulk bins come shipped in great big plastic bags. And even if they weren’t, there was probably some plastic involved in growing the food in the first place. Organic farmers may have used plastic sheeting to keep out the weeds.
The idea of living a plastic-free life is not to become so perfect at avoiding plastic that you feel smug about yourself. Realizing just how unavoidable plastic is when you really trace back the life cycle of a product can wipe that smug grin off your face and provide a humbling perspective. Our personal actions DO make a difference, though. I know it can be tempting to say, “Oh, the problem is so big, I might as well give up.” Don’t.
Danielle posted a powerful quote from Gandhi on her blog last week. It expresses what I tell myself (albeit much more elegantly) whenever I start to feel like my personal actions don’t matter.
It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.
So, we just have to keep trying to do the best we can. Because it matters. And sometimes, our best is a handmade organic burrito from Cactus Taqueria that is wrapped in foil instead of plastic and stored in the freezer beside the homemade cat food and farmers market kale. Right?
In what ways do you settle for “good” instead of “perfect”? And are you able to give yourself a break?