May 17, 2011

Plastic Challenge: Pheas, Week 1

How to eat healthfully—I am vegan and aim to eat more raw food—with minimal plastic and minimal food prep. I absolutely hate food preparation, so things that rely on my doing more washing, chopping, peeling, and cooking are unlikely to happen except in very small increments over time.

I’m open to other suggestions, as well, but the food prep is my biggest challenge.

Location:Jacksonville, Florida, United States

Name: Pheas

Week: 1

Personal Info:

I am a 40-year-old woman. I live in a single-family home with my wife and our 3 cats and 3 dogs. I work full-time from home.

Total items: 86

Total weight: 1 lb., 2 oz.

Items: Recyclable
2 SodaStream bottles (could not decipher number, but curbside municipal recycling accepts #1 and #2 with necks)
1 vitamin bottle (same as above)

2 SodaStream caps (we are able to drop all of these off at Whole Foods for
1 vitamin bottle cap
1 kombucha bottle cap
1 almond milk bottle cap

(We also have access to the Gimme 5 program, but I didn’t have any #5 tubs this week.)

Items: Nonrecyclable
Wrapper from case of canned dog food
Bag from spinach
Bag from cat food
2 bags from cat hairball-preventive treats
4 containers from prepared raw-food items
Hummus tub, lid, and plastic cover
2 containers and lids from berries
2 sleeves from frozen meals
2 lids from containers we no longer have
Crinkly sheet used in place of cotton in vitamin bottle
Bag from vegan cheese
Sleeve from tofu
Peel-off strip from Netflix envelope
Hotel shampoo bottle and lid
Plastic cup
3 envelope windows
3 dressing containers and lids from prepared raw-food items (a bit melted by the dishwasher)
Blister pack from migraine medication
2 dessicant packets from vitamins
Seal from almond milk
Inner and outer seals from vitamin bottle
Seal from kombucha
Part of broken bag clip
Seal from mystery item
2 single-use bottles from eye drops
2 transdermal pain patches and cover sheets
Champagne foil, apparently plastic-coated, though I can’t be sure
Birth-control pill blister pack (mixed foil, cardboard, and plastic)

Shown but not weighed because I couldn’t separate the plastic from a heavier component:
Paper tray from frozen meal
2 candy canes wrapped in plastic I couldn’t get off
Expired SodaStream flavor
Part of a broken bag clip with magnet

Not shown or weighed:
2 straws I was surprised with in restaurants

What items can I easily replace with plastic free or less plastic alternatives?
The shampoo bottle (I stayed in a hotel and brought my shampoo bar, but my traveling companion used the hotel shampoo, so I brought the leftovers home to use rather than waste)
The plastic cup (I was ambushed. I ordered a margarita on Cinco de Mayo at a place where I’ve had them before in glass and where other people were drinking them in glass. I think the restaurant was just so busy that they ran out of clean glasses.)
The straws (I carry a stainless one in my purse, but I don’t always remember to specify “no straw.”)
Bag clips (I recently bought some stainless ones from the green boating site. They are much nicer and will be hard to break.)

What items would I be willing to give up if a plastic free alternative doesn’t exist?
Most vitamin bottles, seals, caps, fillers, and dessicants (I am cutting way down on supplements because I am eating better.)
Pain patches and eye drops (Both are prescriptions that I just haven’t found that helpful and will not renew.)
Candy canes (These were a hostess gift.)
SodaStream flavors (Not having used things before they expired tells me I don’t need to buy them. I drink flavored sodas rarely enough that I will just buy them in glass bottles rather than brew my own. And maybe one day I’ll even try my own recipes.)

What items are essential and seem to have no plastic-free alternative?
Migraine medication, including birth-control pills
Berries (No nearby store sells them in anything but plastic. Our farmers’ market closed, but they rarely had berries and used plastic, as well. I will check out the farmers’ market 20 miles away, but that won’t likely be a regular thing because of the drive.)
Dog and cat food and medication (We have six rescue animals, five of whom are seniors and also have medical conditions or special diets. We are exploring options, but after some severe health scares, we are very cautious.)

What lifestyle change(s) might be necessary to reduce my plastic consumption?
Willingness to do more food preparation. We are exploring a personal chef as an option to help us eat better without relying on plastic-packaged food or expecting ourselves to suddenly enjoy cooking. We also just joined a CSA for the fall, which should mean more fresh, unpackaged fruits and vegetables on hand. I have belonged to a CSA before, and the cost of the organic vegetables helped force me to eat them before they went bad.

What one plastic item am I willing to give up or replace this week?
Everything mentioned in the “give up” and “replace” questions above. I am also continuing to gradually reduce my consumption of food packaging.

What other conclusions, if any, can I draw?
It’s very hard to reduce plastic if you absolutely hate doing food prep. I actually don’t mind cooking and kind of like baking … when I’m not working full-time. I don’t mind cooking and baking on vacation, and I did a ton of it when I was unemployed, but it is the last thing I want to do with my evenings and weekends after I’ve already given 40-50 hours a week at the virtual office.

I was truly dismayed at the quantity I accumulated in only a week, because I am really trying. We’ve almost entirely eliminated plastic food storage containers. We use tiffins for takeout. I don’t touch bottled water or plastic shopping bags. Bills are all done online. I use shampoo bars and vinegar solution conditioner. This week was a little heavier than usual because I did a major pantry clean-out, but still! A pound a week is 50 pounds a year. Yikes!

10 Responses to “Plastic Challenge: Pheas, Week 1”

  1. Pheas says:

    Thank you all for your suggestions. As in most cases when I explain how I feel about food prep, people respond with what seem like easy options to them. Most people’s “easy” meal is my “maybe on a holiday,” supreme sacrifice accompanied by whining, St. Pheas the Martyr ordeal. But I did graduate from buying my melon chopped in plastic to buying it whole with a plastic sticker at the most (still resenting the 10 minutes it takes me to clean, gut, and chop it, though). I’m working on giving up prewashed bagged greens for loose, and graduating to naked carrots is probably the next baby step.

    I will come back with info on how it goes with the personal chef. I think they typically cook several meals either in their kitchen or yours for you to heat and eat at your convenience. These are independent contractors, so I expect they’d be willing to accommodate a no-plastic request. I’m not talking someone to fix all our meals everyday. We don’t have Oprah’s money, but hiring a chef is the first thing I’d do if we did!

    I have been doing beets and beet greens a bit lately, though only on the weekend (still too much fuss for me on a weeknight). And then I spend the rest of the weekend patting myself on the back. My mother and sister love to cook, but I clearly did not get that gene, alas!

  2. Danielle says:

    I don’t peel our carrots either! I figure I don’t peel my potatoes… why peel carrots?? Who came up with peeling carrots anyway?!?

    Ok… so veggie prep. I don’t work, but I am a mother of 3 and I homeschool… so it’s a load in and of itself. I find that whenever I buy produce, that if it needs to be prepped… I’m most likely to actually do it when I first get it. So I fill up a pitcher of water for my carrots, run lettuce through my salad spinner and leave everything else that needs to be prepped on my cutting board. Then I chop, slice and dice. Grab some glass jars and voila! all the veggies are ready to be used!

    BUT… realistically… I don’t always do that. A lot of the time when I’m cutting something for a meal, I’ll go ahead and do double. :)

    Also, for some things– e.g.: for chopping onions, peppers & garlic, grating carrots, slicing zucchini or potatoes–if you have a food processor… it’s a real time saver!!

  3. Jessie says:

    I don’t know whether or not cut veggies lose nutrients, but I too hate prep & just do most of it when I bring the groceries home (except things like zucchini & mushrooms which seem to go bad very quickly when cut). I can see the t.v. from the kitchen, so I just pop in a movie & pour a glass of wine while I’m doing this. Carrots will turn limp if you don’t cut the tops off, so since I have to do that before refrigeration anyway, I just cut in half & drop them into a glass container of water & stick them in the fridge (this too may make them lose nutrients, but if I don’t do this they go bad before I can use them all). It’s grueling at the time, but then I have minimal prep during the week when I’m fixing my meals. The veggies I don’t eat raw are kept prepped & in a container together ready to be thrown in a pan.

    The upside to buying vegetables that have not been pre-prepped & packaged is that they seem to last much longer. A bag of salad goes slimy within a few days, but a bunch of uncut lettuce lasts until I finish it up. (I just keep in an airtight container with a little water in the bottom.)

    • Beth Terry says:

      I do the same thing with carrots and celery — cut them in half or thirds and stick in a jar or pitcher of water. Then I can munch on them raw all week. And carrots and celery stay crisp for a very long time in water. BTW, I don’t bother peeling carrots, just wash them off.

  4. Heather says:

    Chopping over the weekend is the way to go!

    Or having someone else in the house do the chopping, even if you take care of the rest of the food prep.

    I know of someone who hired someone to do some of their cooking via Craigslist. She interviewed and hired someone who does some cooking and she picks it up (and pays them) on Sundays, then reheats and eats for much of the week.

  5. rivqa says:

    I think the CSA or growing whatever you can is a great idea. If you end up with an excess of something, just Google it and chances are you’ll find a way to store it.

    I have heard that leaving vegies cut in the fridge can make them lose nutrients, but I have no idea if it’s true.

    Most things don’t really need to be peeled. Carrots, potatoes, parsnips and cucumbers, for example. Others, like pumpkin and beetroot, can be baked or steamed and then peeled afterwards more easily.

    I also recommend slow cooking — the casing is plastic, but chances are you can find a secondhand one and they can last a very long time. Getting home to a cooked dinner is a joy. We make lentil and/or bean-based recipes in ours quite a lot.

  6. AJP says:

    I hate veggie prep too, so I try not to buy things that I have to peel. Washing is something you pretty much always have to do but if you can afford to go organic, all I do is a simple rinse (I don’t scrub my veggies). Here are some examples I like to do that don’t take too much prep:

    If you like beets, wash them, cut off the greens (if they came with greens, otherwise just by the roots themselves) and poke with a fork like you would a potato. Wrap in foil and bake at 400 for 45-60 min (ovens vary). Serve with some pasta and your favorite vinegar (I like red wine or balsamic). Soooo good and the beets will basically peel themselves after they bake/steam in the foil. You can flake the peel off with a fork if you don’t like to eat it.

    Today I made a cold pasta salad for lunch. While you’re cooking 1 pound of pasta (enough for 4 large meals for my boyfriend and I), add some olives (I buy canned), cucumber (don’t worry about peeling it, tastes fine with the peel on), a green pepper, one or two tomatoes, and maybe an avocado or onion if you don’t mind the spice of the onion. Rinse the pasta in cold water after cooking. The beauty of pasta salad is that it doesn’t have to look good, so you can just coarsely cut the veggies. Serve with oil and vinegar, or any kind of dressing you like. It tastes better the next day too!

    Potatoes and yams are also delicious and don’t take much prep work if you bake them. In the winter when it’s cold I love baking potatoes, sauteeing some tempeh (which you can’t really get without plastic unless you make it yourself which is a pain) in olive oil, and making some miso gravy ( to go with.

    Food prep can be a big pain until you find some meals you like and can get good at making. If you really like something, make two times the recipe and save leftovers! Things like casseroles, baked ziti (using tofu ricotta, again plastic packaging unless you can get bulk tofu) are very forgiving about aesthetics and I like the “throw things in a baking dish and forget about it for 30 minutes” method of cooking.

    If you can get good bread or rolls (maybe a bakery or farmer’s market has them available in paper bags?), try doing marinated tofu or tempeh sandwiches, with some spinach, tomatoes or onion as a topping. Marinate the tofu/tempeh the night before in some lemon juice, spices, vinegar, whatever you like, then just cook it up real quick to take to lunch or a light dinner.

    Feel free to root around my vegan recipe blog for some more ideas, although I haven’t updated it in ages.

    Best of luck with whatever you try out!

  7. Shannon Adolph says:

    I agree with Beth. Especially with a CSA you get a lot of produce that is sometimes hard to use up before it goes bad. On a weekend when I am not working, I will chop up everything I am not going to cook fresh and freeze it for use later… or place it in the fridge if I know I will use it soon. This is great when you have bumper crops of beans, okra, herbs, etc that you could not possibly use now but will want later when they’re not available. Last summer we got pounds and pounds of fresh basil, and I made tons of pesto with it and froze it in muffin pans, (one of which is approx equivalent to one serving… just pop the “pesto muffins” out of the pans after frozen and put in a container to store in the freezer.) I had “fresh” basil pesto all winter long!

    I bought a bunch of glass pyrex dishes (although, admittedly, their lids are plastic, but we’ve been using them over and over for years) that we use for storing food in the fridge and freezer.

    I know you hate food prep but if you just do it all one day a week, it’s not too bad, and then all the produce is all ready for you later in the week when you come home and want an easy dinner.

    How does a personal chef work – are they actually cooking for you each day? That seems expensive. If they are cooking in advance, then you run into the storage/plastic issue…

    Good luck!

  8. Beth Terry says:

    Oh my god, Pheas, you have to tell me about the personal chef because that is exactly what I need. Are they expensive? Do they cook a bunch of food for you all at once and store it? How does it work? I want my own chef! I wanna be Oprah!!!

    I totally, totally understand the aversion to food prep. I don’t eat nearly enough veggies for that very reason. But I’m hoping that having my own garden will encourage me to eat what I produce.

    What if you cut up a bunch of veggies over the weekend and stored them in the refrigerator so when you come home tired, they are already prepared and all you have to do is stir fry them up or something? (This is an idea I just now came up with. I should try it myself.)