Tag Archives: unpackaged food

DAIRY PRODUCTS SIMPLIFIED

For years a lot of plastic packaging in our household came from a range of dairy products. In addition to the staples of milk, cheese and butter there were pots of yoghurts, crème fraiche, soured cream, double cream, cream cheese, dips, goats milk products, individually wrapped cheeses for school lunches, spreadable Lurpak and margarine. There was a vague sense of a lot of packaging and things going past their best-by-date, unnoticed, but I’m not sure it ever fully surfaced into my consciousness as ‘wasteful’. My focus was on catering for everyone’s tastes and preferences and having everything available, all of the time. It all sounds a bit mad to me now.

I now put the emphasis on non-plastic packaging and local availability and that’s it. Milk is delivered by the milk man and cheese bought straight from a local cheesemaker – less variety but, boy, is it delicious! The only butter I buy is Waitrose essential butter wrapped in paper. It is kept in the fridge and portioned into a lovely Cornish butter dish on the counter which keeps the butter just the right side of soft for easy spreading on toast and sandwiches.

I have discovered clotted cream in glass jars which now covers all bases as far as cream is concerned. If needed, I can thin it down and it lasts for absolute ages in the fridge. Look out for it in farm shops (and Stroud farmer’s market).

One of the most useful finds has been Payon Breton’s Luxury Creamy Cheese from Waitrose which comes in a little cardboard pot sealed with foil and is delicious as a spread, making into dips and for cooking. For a perfect light pasta carbonara fry some bacon and mushrooms, combine a mixture of Breton creamy cheese with a beaten egg, a handful of grated cheddar and a ladleful of the water from the pasta. Drain the pasta, stir in the cheese & bacon mixture. The quickest dinner ever (unless you’re making pasta from scratch, that is).

RE-LEARNING HOW TO SHOP

One of the more challenging aspects of supermarket shopping the zero plastic way is buying cheese, meat and fish (vegans, you may wish to skip this section). Husband Pete is much better at this than I am. He will cheerily challenge whoever happens to be serving him behind the counter to use tongs for picking up produce and to wrap it in waxed paper instead of plastic bags, or to use the boxes we bring along. I myself, on the other hand, become all apologetic and give up far too easily if met with any resistance. I break out in a sweat as I watch them struggle trying to squeeze oversized slices of cheese into the box. Often the wrapping paper is not quite big enough or just keeps popping open and everything just takes so much longer and a long queue starts forming behind me… Awkward!

I much prefer shopping at local shops such as the bakery, the butcher, green grocer or the health food shop. For a start you can get good local produce but also the owners and shop assistants get to know you and are generally more flexible. Take Over Farm Market, for example, who have a stall at the Stroud farmers market as well as a well-stocked shop on the other side of Gloucester. This family-run business produce their own veggies, fruit and farm meat. They also sell loose frozen peas & fruit, fresh quiches, pies, cheese and all sorts of other goodies. Rob, the butcher at Over Farm is always happy to put produce into the boxes we bring along and just slaps a label on the lid (see pic). He has actually signed up to my blog – hello Rob!

For my local friends, here is a list of shops I use most regularly for basic items:

  • Kendrick Street Deli for ham, cheese and even salads in non-plastic tubs
  • Sunshine and Hobbs for bread, cakes, rolls
  • Merrywalks’ veg & fruit stall
  • Farmers market for olive oil refills, eggs, bread, veggies, local honey
  • Jollies for a great range of veg & fruit, local meat and bread (expensive)
  • Stroud Valley Project for cleaning liquid refills
  • Sunshine for plastic free toilet paper, shampoo soap bars and shaving soap bars

The link between food miles and plastic is obvious: local produce on the whole does not need to be wrapped in plastic because it doesn’t need to be transported and kept on shelves or in fridges for months on end. Good for us, the local economy and the planet.

REDUCING OUR RUBBISH

Look at these pictures! In the metal bin is one week’s worth of rubbish for landfill in a black bag – a fraction of the amount we usually collect over the space of one week. In the green bag are two week’s worth of plastic, tin and foil for recycling (sporting our last two bottles of shampoo… bye bye liquid shampoo and hello shampoo soap bars). We literally stood staring into the bin when it dawned on us that the landfill rubbish we collect is dramatically shrinking. It was the most gratifying feeling and has really boosted our motivation.

It’s no wonder really when you consider that most of our family shopping is now wrapped in paper bags, or in glass jars, bottles, tins and in our own containers that we take to shops. Our grocery shopping looks quite pretty now I think. Not surprisingly it is also cheaper than buying pre-packed items and there is less food wasted as we only buy small amounts at a time. Gone are the days of bags of pre-washed salad turning to slime in our fridge. I read that 30% of Tesco lettuce is discarded in the process of producing the bagged kind and that the majority of bought lettuce bags are thrown away before they’ve been used up because they sit in our fridges for too long. That is a lot of wasted food and packaging going straight into landfill.

I can’t wait for November when Stroud Council is introducing cooked food waste collection. We put our kitchen scraps on the compost heap but I don’t like putting cooked food on there. Next step: finding an alternative to black bin bags. We thought we might ask the farmer next door if they would let us have the paper bags of animal feed when they are done with them. I wonder whether we can persuade the rubbish collectors to stop throwing black plastic bags on the drive with each collection?

BUYING UNPACKAGED FOOD

Week 3 or so and we are still going strong. Local milk is now being delivered in bottles to the back door (joy!) and we have discovered the Whole Foods Market. This is a chain of supermarkets where you can buy food loose or in bulk using your own containers or the shop’s paper bags and refill bottles etc. I absolutely love that shop – it’s sort of like a posh indoor organic farmers market. There are 9 of them in the UK, mostly in London but it is a very well known chain in America. At the moment I am mainly concentrating on food, household items and cosmetics. We still have lots of things in our cupboards that we haven’t had to replace yet and I am busy researching alternatives (toothbrushes, moisturisers, razor blades… a seemingly endless list of items). What I have learned so far into this experiment is: A) there are LOTS of things we have to do without because there are no non-plastic alternatives to my knowledge; B) we have to make lots of things ourselves from scratch to avoid plastic packaging; C) avoiding plastic packaging naturally results in eating seasonal & healthy food, reduced food miles, eating less processed foods, and it dramatically reduces waste and encourages re-using or recycling. Our proudest moment was when it dawned on us that we hadn’t taken the kitchen bin out for 2 weeks because there was only a tiny amount in it. And we haven’t bothered putting our bi-weekly recycling box out for collection either because it is also strangely empty.