One of the reasons we moved from the ‘burbs to the city was so that we wouldn’t have to drive so far to get to the kinds of stores we like to shop in: small, ethnic grocery stores that have fascinating ingredients, as well as the Regional Market with its locally-grown and produced foodstuffs. It’s not just that the vegetables are fresher and the eggs taste better, it’s that we can buy more of our food in bulk in these places and thus control the way they’re packaged. We’re trying to avoid plastic. Here’s why:
Plastics are everywhere, and they’re getting into our bodies. And they’re forever. I’ve been reading some sobering science, much of which is neatly summed up in this article: Our oceans are turning into plastic…are we? It’s worth a thorough read. While we frantically scramble to get passports so we can go see our Canadian neighbors in an effort (justified) to keep terrorists out, it turns out that we have been committing a silent form of environmental terrorism on ourselves and our children. As the comic-strip character, Pogo, said many years ago, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
One of many highlights in the above article refers to a compound called bisphenol A (BPA),
… which scientists are discovering can wreak stunning havoc in the body. We produce 6 billion pounds of that each year, and it shows: BPA has been found in nearly every human who has been tested in the United States. We’re eating these plasticizing additives, drinking them, breathing them, and absorbing them through our skin every single day.
Most alarming, these chemicals may disrupt the endocrine system—the delicately balanced set of hormones and glands that affect virtually every organ and cell—by mimicking the female hormone estrogen. In marine environments, excess estrogen has led to Twilight Zone-esque discoveries of male fish and seagulls that have sprouted female sex organs.
Dr. Joseph Mercola, in his article entitled Store Your Food In Glass Not Plastic, states that “… Even extremely low levels of the compound, called Bisphenol A (BPA), produced genetic abnormalities, according to researchers. BPA exhibits hormone-like properties and imitates the effects of naturally occurring estrogens.” It is thought that BPA may be contributing to the obesity epidemic in developed countries.
I’m convinced, given these and other articles (Glass baby bottles making comeback, Leftovers Again? Said the Refrigerator, Plastic Compounds and Birth Control Estrogen Cause Prostate Abnormalities in Mice, etc.). National Geographic’s The Green Guide puts it neatly: “Glass, ceramic and stoneware are the safest options when it comes to food packaging and storage because they do not leach any questionable chemicals when in contact with food. Unlike plastic recycling, which produces toxic chemicals, glass recycling is more environmentally friendly.”
Okay. So how to keep plastic from touching our food? Well, it’s a journey, not an overnight change. What I’m about to outline has taken me over a year to accomplish. Maybe it will give you some ideas, and if you have more ideas to share, please add a comment to the end of this blog!
First: a picture of the glass in our kitchen:
An explanation, left to right (more or less):
- Burr coffee grinder, not made of glass. But we know our coffee roaster personally, we can see the bags of green coffee beans in his cafe and we can watch him roast them if we want. We grind them every morning in the home grinder. They do fall into a plastic container but I dump them immediately into the coffee maker.
- Storage for bulk items, fancy jar and a recycled spaghetti sauce jar (left over from years ago – we make all our own now, and soon will be eating our very own tomatoes). It’s become almost impossible to find glass mayonnaise jars any more. So look for mayonnaise in your health food store where you’ll find organic mayonnaise in glass. Very few oils come in glass bottles any more, either. We buy them in big tins but I’m not so sure that’s good, either. Have to investigate further. It’s expensive in glass.
- Home-made cole slaw in an antique glass refrigerator container. This one happens to be Hazel Atlas “Crisscross”. You can find these containers in antique stores for $10-15. They chip easily but they look so cool. Anchor Hocking makes pretty good ones that don’t chip easily at all.
- Glass vacuum coffee pot. This is THE best way to make great-tasting coffee at home if you’re not into buying a $500 espresso machine. It takes a little effort and babysitting, but it’s so much fun to watch and the results are delicious. The pot is just about all glass, including the filter (that appendage sticking up inside the top section). No plastic or paper touches the coffee ever.
- Hot coffee that we don’t drink right away goes into the small glass 50′s-era Thermos. It works better than anything keeping hot things hot and cold things cold.
- I buy organic heavy cream that does come in a carton. I wish I could find it in glass. But at least I remove it from the carton as soon as I get it home and put it in a … cream bottle! I forgot to put glass milk and orange juice bottles in the picture. We get them from the Eastwood Byrne Dairy. (While we’re not happy with the way Byrne is allowing their Eastwood property to degrade, we’re very happy to buy their rBST-free milk in glass.)
- We have a filter at the tap and fill the glass pitcher at the beginning of the day, which we stick in the refrigerator. We often put sprigs of mint from our garden into the water. Once it’s cold, we pour it into the tall Thermos and refill the pitcher. The water stays ice cold for hours and hours in the Thermos, touching nothing but glass.
- I buy our spices in bulk in various local ethnic stores and put them in little glass jars I’ve saved from such things as capers and jelly jars. You can also just ask for glass containers on Freecycle.org . People have them and are happy to get rid of them! Natural peanut butter still comes in glass jars (be careful – check to see they haven’t gone over to the Dark Side!) and they’re great because the mouth is so wide. I keep every one of those.
- My mixing bowls are glass, so when I have large quantities to store I’ll use one of those with plastic wrap stretched across the top, not touching the food.
- We’re buying more and more food locally, so it’s never wrapped in plastic. I wish we had a meat market close by. I suppose the grocery stores are okay, as long as you buy from the butcher and not from the case. You could probably ask them to wrap the meat in paper. (Of course there’s nothing like shopping at Liehs and Steigerwald, the German butcher shop!) You have to buy a little more often because nothing keeps things fresh like plastic. So it’s good to live near where you shop.
- I like home-made mozarella and other cheeses and I like to buy them directly off the wheel or out of the tub. I go to Samir’s, a local Middle Eastern shop, to buy Greek cheeses and the best deal on Pecorino Romano anywhere. I should try more of their cheeses. The idea, of course, is to end up buying as much food as possible that’s produced within, say, Onondaga County. A local CSA (community-supported agriculture) farm, Grindstone Farm, has a great program. Going that route is probably the best way to get used to eating vegetables in their most appropriate seasons. I think I’d be forced to be a more creative cook if I had limitations on what was available. Summer and fall is easy. But just what do you do with a mess of potatoes, winter squashes, cabbages and turnips in the dead of winter? If you have a favorite recipe, please post it here!