Doug likes to take his own lunch to work and being an easy-going sort of fellow, he realised early on that he was quite happy to eat the same thing three or four times a week. So he came up with pesto, pasta and salad. In more detail, this consists of a couple of handfuls of whole wheat pasta, generous spoonful of green pesto and mixed through it sprouted seeds, tomatoes, cucumber, olives, feta cheese and spring onions (subject to fridge-content variations.)
Time goes by and I start doing the same thing. So does my sister with a gluten free diversion on the pasta (and throwing in some leaves and an avocado maybe.) Soon we’re all munching away on pesto, pasta and salad for lunch at least three times a week, which is great. It’s filling and nourishing. It’s got a great balance of flavours, particularly because of the feta. It’s easy because you don’t have to work out what to cook all the time and for reasons that I can’t work out, none of us seem to get bored eating it.
OK, now it starts to go a bit runny…
After deciding to take on the plastic challenge, I bought a few days of a usual weekly supermarket shop. I just let myself do it without thinking about it too much so I could take it home and see what I ended up with from a packaging point of view. I photographed everything. Then started mind-mapping around each product that had plastic packaging (most of it.) I colour-coded my notes for potential action routes. So red becomes the packaging-free alternative to that product (if there is one) ; blue is the potential feedback to the supermarket on that product and orange is the feedback to the maker of that product. After I’ve done this, I feel quite over-stimulated…and certain things start to become apparent very quickly.
I have quite a packaging problem….let’s go back to the pesto and pasta lunch. From a single-use plastics point of view, most of the ingredients are fine. There are small shops in Edinburgh that sell unpackaged veg and fruit so I’m in luck there and I know where they are. I can no longer do one weekly shop as I’ll have to go to different places and spread it over the week but I can give that a go. (So far, feeling fairly chipper and up-for-it.)
The feta is a different story. Every single packet that I look at (about 10) is wrapped in single-use plastic. OK, so that’s out. What if I go to the cheesemonger and see if I can buy it off a block? As it turns out, feta has a very short shelf life without its wrapping so the cheesemonger doesn’t stock it. Maybe I can find some online? I find a company called Nikos that are very proud of their feta in recycled packaging but they’re based in Wisconsin, USA and I know I can’t afford the postage on that… Then I remember that Waitrose used to sell chunks of feta cheese in olive oil in a glass jar. So I email their head office to ask about it. They currently have no plans to put this on their shelves. A little private moment of consumer gloom sets in.
Then there is the gluten free pasta and pasta as a whole. I’ve checked out a few places and most of it is packaged in, yes, you guessed it, single-use plastic. And if it has a cardboard box around, the box has a plastic window in it, so you can stare at the pasta and feel reassured about what’s in the box before you commit to it. The pasta itself also tends to be wrapped in some plastic inside the box too. In case it tries to escape…or become contaminated? I don’t know.
None of my research is exhaustive but it does look like I might actually have to genuinely inconvenience myself here by giving up some products altogether…
Viewing my shopping habits though this particular lens is like having a dawning Logan’s Run moment, that is, I’ve felt a high-level sense of unease about the status quo for quite some time and now I’ve hit that point where I turn to face it head on and, with a deep sinking feeling, receive confirmation that the crisis is real, even if I can’t actually see it in front of me. And therein is part of the problem. The news tells me that turtles are choking on plastic bags that they’re mistaking for jellyfish; albatross chicks are starving to death as their bellies fill up with plastic bottle tops and that by 2050, the oceans will have more plastic in it than fish and the pollution entering our seas goes back into the food chain and back into us, offering us a whole range of deadly diseases. And much, much, much more besides.
And then take a stroll down your nearest Co-op aisle and be dazzled by the almost total display of plastic coverage…and attempt to connect these things up in your mind, while the next set of your apparent life problems (non-related to plastic issues) are waiting for your full attention.
How do I stay connected to all of this in a way that doesn’t overwhelm me with horror and hopelessness and reach for the nearest distraction? Or piece of plastic-encased chocolate?
How do I stay motivated?
Horror doesn’t work.
I don’t want my plastic bottle tops to end up in a chick and I don’t want a turtle to eat the plastic bag that I put some mushrooms in and then threw away. I really don’t. So I have to hold out for a different vision.
When I take my plastic bottle tops to Lush to be recycled on a rainy day and I’d rather be indoors snoozing on my sofa, I will try to hold out for the bird that makes it to adulthood and flies free, untouched by me.
And when I’m really tired and fed up and don’t feel like washing up the bloody butter wrapping to put in the recycling instead of just chucking it in the bin, I will try and hold out for a pure blue patch of ocean in my mind.
And I’m going to fail sometimes for sure.
But that’s not a reason to stop trying, is it?
P.S. Since I wrote this two hours ago, I have found loose organic pasta! At New Leaf on Argyle Place. Only useful information if you live in Edinburgh, Scotland but still…..Feta gloom still ongoing…