A lot of blogs about zero waste living focus on the kitchen, and with good reason. We all have to eat and, at least in the U.S., that often means lots of food that comes in packaging. Most of the trash I have generated so far this month has come from kitchen goods I already had on hand and decided to do anyway. Tweaking your shopping and kitchen habits is also one of the easiest ways to make changes that reduce what you’re putting in the landfill.
The most common recommendations:
- Recycle as much as possible
- Compost fruit and vegetable scraps (and more if you are lucky enough to have municipal compost)
- Use reusable produce and shopping bags
- Buy dry goods from the bulk bins using your own containers
- If you eat meat and/or cheese (I don’t), buy it from the deli counter using your own containers
I already do most of those things, so for this challenge month I am trying to take it a step farther. Doing all those things won’t necessarily get you to zero waste. My process today showed me that this is all about compromises: either you don’t get to eat exactly what you want, or you accept some (hopefully recyclable) trash in your life.
I tried to consider ingredient packaging when creating my menu for the week. I wound up scrapping one recipe I wanted to make because there were too many separate ingredients to make from scratch without the option of using pre-packaged shortcuts.
It would be easy enough to eat a very healthy and balanced vegan diet using only fresh fruits and vegetables, and dried beans, nuts, grains, and pastas from the bulk bins. However, I prefer to eat more variety, at least for dinner. I tried to strike a compromise and came up with this dinner menu:
- Black bean tacos
- Minestrone soup, bread and salad
- Sloppy joes and steamed broccoli
- One night eating out because of prior plans
I spent about half my Sunday doing food prep, which helped reduce the amount of pre-packaged food I needed to buy.
- Cooking kidney beans, chick peas, and black beans
- Making corn tortillas
- Making vegetable stock
- Making homemade seitan
- Prepping a few roasted veggie and quinoa bowls for weekday lunches that will still be tasty even when I can’t access a microwave
- Starting sprouts in my sprouting jar to use on sandwiches and salads
While my shopping list included (almost) no packaging, my menu also relies on a number of condiments and seasonings that I already have on hand – ketchup, mustard, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, etc. While you can theoretically make your own, I can’t honestly imagine ever having the time to make all of those things myself on a regular basis. Again, it’s about choices and compromise. Do you leave out those ingredients, spend extra time to make your own from scratch every couple of weeks, or ensure you buy brands that use 100% recyclable packaging?
I knew going into my trip to the store that I was not likely to be able to find two items -crushed tomatoes and rice noodles – that didn’t involve packaging. Then, two items I thought I could get from the bulk section weren’t available in bulk, so again I had a choice – alter a recipe or the week’s menu, or accept some packaging. This week, I went with the packaging (which unfortunately is plastic bags), mostly because of time constraints.
Next week, I think will test a different approach and plan my menu around what I find at the store, rather than the other way around.