This the second blog in a series of discussions on how to go zero-waste and create less trash. Zero Waste Shopping for a Zero Waste Lifestyle covers why zero-waste living is important, how to create a reusable shopping kit, and how to shop in bulk. In this article, we will explore how zero-waste practices in the home kitchen can be nourishing for people and for the planet.
Zero-waste living: create no new trash, utilize all materials, and find value in all resources.
All modern humans derive from a lineage of hunter-gatherer ancestors. The tribal people of the earth acquired food from the land by foraging, fishing, hunting and gathering. Consequently, these people of the land existed in symbiosis by caring for the land they tended to, thus creating bountiful ecosystems that sustained the biological needs of the people.
“Older ways of life know the world as animate, as alive. That means the world is treated with the same regard and esteem as is every living thing in it. People living these older ways of life know themselves as of the world, made of the same things in the same ways…
But now the earth is congested with byproducts of modern convenience and consumption.
…In modern, sophisticated ways of life the world is inert and inanimate, a staging ground for life, but not itself alive. People living in that way tend to feel a bit like visitors or strangers to the world, uniquely wrought. But this faith in the unprecedented, singular self turns out legions of solitary, stand-alone people. This faith is hard on companionship. These people fan out over the countryside, compelled by need, bent on getting those needs met.” (1)
Have you witnessed the daily trash we create and the resources we squander in an attempt to feed ourselves?
Photo: “Trash 2 Table”. Plastic waste collected from the beaches of Hawai’i: macroplastic debris, fishing line, plastic cutlery, plastic containers, plastic water bottle, potato chip bag, styrofoam, empty SPAM tin can. Credit: Aaron Sternberg & Sarah Montaño.
Clearly, single serving luxuries are a byproduct of indulgence and costly convenience.
We rarely find someone’s healthy habits washed up on the beach. Instead we find the throw away lifestyle, the junk food, the plastic water bottles, the convenience. In other words, it is all washed up as a grieving indication that people have become too busy, too disconnected, too lazy to feed themselves. That is to say, we are too selfish to see that our actions and our apathy affect the other-than-human creatures that live here too.
A blog of this nature is difficult to write because the plastic pollution problem is hollow and heartbreaking. However, ignoring or minimizing this tragedy will not make us feel better. Ultimately, it is by working to create the path toward a healthier ecosystem that we may become healthier humans too. Thus, with awareness and action we may truly embody feelings of being on our way to better.
Eating is the most intimate thing that we do.
Only within the clarity of deep reflection can we begin to understand how profound this statement is: You are what you eat. Gaian theory predicts that we are healthy when the earth is healthy. Therefore, the pollution we create is the pollution we become. Quite simply, when we feed ourselves, we feed the earth. We cannot digest plastic. The earth cannot digest plastic. Plastic and pollution can cause dis-ease. No longer can we be misled into thinking we are only feeding ourselves. In reality, we are feeding our cells, our lineage, and the living planet that will someday devour us, too.
How to have a zero-waste mindset:
We must envision the entirety of what we eat: how it came to be, where from, how it travelled, what it is made of, and how it was packaged. We must begin to think from cradle-to-cradle to see the wholeness of what is. Thus, zero-wasters read the label, feel the container, have a plan for the vessel, and consider the quality of the ingredients inside.
Additionally, most of what is found in the grocery store can be homemade. When food is prepared at home, one has the ability to minimize exposure to preservatives and artificial ingredients. Furthermore, food sourced from local providers tends to be of higher quality because local providers are directly accountable to the consumer. By extension, they tend to have better business practices and higher standards of care for animals and for the earth than conventional farming and industrial food providers do. Zero-waste cooking means healthier for you and for the planet, too, because you create less trash.
The following table highlights common foods, possible sources of waste associated with them, and a suggestion of how to go from good to better to zero-waste.
Good < Better < Zero-Waste
Milk: dairy or “milk” from coconut, almond* etc.
*Almond milk has been found to contain 2% almonds & 98% water, sweeteners & thickening agents (2).
Plastic milk jug / carton / tetrabrick
Milk in glass container < Homemade nut milk: soak nuts in filtered water. Blend. Strain through nut milk bag. Drink the liquid. Eat the nuts < Milk from local pastured cows or nut milk from orchard trees
Styrofoam, plastic container, fossil fuels for shipping eggs long distance
Local pastured eggs in cardboard carton < Backyard chickens
Fruit & Vegetables
Plastic packaging & labels
CSA box, organic, local, seasonal, free of packaging < Grow your own < Wild forage
Kombucha & Kefir
Glass bottles & plastic caps, fossil fuel for shipping
Support local, independent brands < Refill from tap < Brew your own
Beer & Wine
Aluminum cans & glass bottles
Support local & independent < Growler refill from tap < Brew your own
Plastic bags, metal staples, cardboard boxes = most tea bags contain plastic and cannot be composted
Compostable tea bags < Refill bulk loose leaf teas in reusable jar < Garden or foraged herbal teas
Nuts, seeds, legumes, rice, grain, flour, pasta, sugar, nut butter, spices, granola, dried fruit, chocolate, and coffee
Plastic & cardboard packaging, glass jars & aluminum lids
Sourced from bulk section using a reusable glass jar < Make & grow your own
Butter, cheese, yogurt & other dairy
Plastic containers & packaging
Buy in bulk, grass-fed dairy in compostable packaging < Buy local < Learn to make your own (3,4)
Oil= Coconut*, Olive, Avocado
*High lauric acid content of coconut oil will dissolve the plastic container over time.
Buy in bulk in glass container < Buy local < Refill glass containers from bulk section
Chips, Snacks & Sweets
Cellophane, aluminum foil, plastic packaging
Buy from bulk section < Make your own popcorn, potato chips, and dessert treats for snacking
Bread= Salt + Water + Flour
Support local bakers < Make your own sourdough starter (5) & learn to bake
Zero-waste is simple, yet it requires dedication and mindfulness:
One must think critically and creatively about how to source ethically made food and how to see the value in all things, including the packaging. For instance, zero-wasters proudly become jar collectors & mason jar curators. They will bravely slow down the grocery check-out line while the cashier practices how to key-in the product lookup number and deduct the tare weight for the how-to-shop-in-bulk revolution. It is an act of trust to say, “No, I do not need a straw. Gravity has never let me go, and I tilt my cup to that.” To offer our support to slow-food systems and the better treatment of animals, farmers, and the earth is, above all, an act of devotion.
Here are some suggestions for a zero-waste kitchen:
- Shop in bulk using reusable glass containers and jars, thus avoiding plastic purchases. Additionally, have a reusable shopping kit ready.
- Support local farmers and purveyors.
- Cook at home. In doing so, you can also share rewarding meals with friends and family.
- Meal-prep food ahead of time to have meals available during a busy schedule.
- Organize and support community potlucks by sharing local food and zero-waste practices.
- If ordering take-out, bring your own reusable to-go container.
- Brew coffee and tea at home. Alternatively, bring a reusable ceramic or insulated mug when you visit a coffee shop.
- Compost organic waste: food scraps, expired leftovers, vegetable peels, unbleached paper and cardboard.
- Learn ancestral cooking techniques such as: fermentation (6), how to bake bread, food preservation, herbal remedies, fishing, hunting, and foraging.
- Finally, bring your own reusable water bottle and picnic gear to potlucks and when traveling (see photo below).
Armed with acumen, zero-wasters of all abilities are ready to change the way we relate to food and how we manage the precious resources gifted to us from the earth.
Please share your zero-waste practices with this community of change-makers. Leave us a comment with your ideas on how to create more zero-waste lifestyle practices. Next week we will be posting zero-waste remedies for self-care.
Photo, clockwise: reusable insulated lunch bag, stainless-steel growler, wooden bowls, glass container with tare weight, wooden spoon, ceramic knife, stainless steel sporks, spice jars, nesting storage containers with cutting board, and insulated mugs. Photo credit: Sarah Montaño.
- “Die Wise,” A Manifesto for Sanity & Soul by Stephen Jenkinson
- “The Art of Fermentation,” An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World by Sandor Katz