Saturday, February 19, 2011

Learning to Do Without

Some edibles have posed more of a challenge than others when attempting to buy food without buying non-disposable garbage along with it.  (Disposable is not the same as throw-awayable; plastics can never be disposed of, only swept under the rug.  Out of sight out of mind right?)  So what do we do when something that we need cannot be found without plastic?

Things such as bread and lunch meat seemed like they might have to be exceptions to the rule when we first started cutting plastic out of our eating routine.  Other things we ate a lot of that were problematic were pasta, flour and corn tortillas, chips and salsa, and cheese.

The real question is do we actually need it?  We decided that cold cuts were just not going to happen.  Sure, you can get them wrapped in butcher paper at the deli, but it has all been shaved from a larger hunk of meat that came to the deli wrapped in a deceptively translucent petroleum package.

I think that plastic's clear and colorless properties may be one of its greatest assets in its infiltration of our super market shelves.  The consumer can actually see what he or she is buying, never mind reading what it says on the label.  Our giant see-through bag of pasta that we used to buy for next to nothing that would last at least a month is no more.  Of course, one would think, no problem!  Pasta comes in cardboard boxes.  I have been amazed that I have yet to find, at any grocer, a box of pasta that does not have a viewing window made of the marketer's secret weapon, a pane of plastic; my plastic pain!

In the produce section of one of our grocers, Hy-Vee, they sell apples in little paper bags with a handle across the top, sort of basket style.  I imagine a Pippy Long Stockings type of girl skipping along with one of these bags filled with apples that she just filled from her granny's apple tree and is bringing home for mother to bake a pie.  Although I am, apparently, a sucker for marketing along with everyone else, I bring my own produce bags and do not buy the apples in their adorable little bags.  I do, however, use the extra apple bags at the end of the isles to fill with goodies, such as nuts and oatmeal, from the bulk bins.  I had it in my head that there would be pasta in one of the bulk bins, but after visiting the same bins over and over again, half expecting them to have magically changed their contents since the last time I walked passed, I admit defeat.  It looks like the only pasta I will be eating is the egg noodles that I make myself.  The chickens better get to work!

So cold cuts and pasta have become do-withouts.  We were easily able to find bread from a local bakery called La Quartier who will pop a loaf of fresh, uncut, wheat or multi-grain sandwich bread into the container that we bring as long as we get there before 4:00, when they package it into its throw-away display case.  We can also get sliced sandwich bread that they make at Hy-Vee if we get there before it is packaged, but we prefer to support the small, local business.

Chips and salsa and corn tortillas were surprisingly easy to obtain as well.  Our favorite family-owned Mexican restaurant, La Tapatia, makes fresh corn tortillas and is willing to sell us unpackaged tortillas as well as fill our container with their homemade salsa and two paper bags of chips for an extremely reasonable price.  Marlene's Tortillaria also offered to set aside corn tortillas for us.  Unfortunately, neither of these places make flour tortillas, which we like to use for burritos.

Super Saver makes their own flour tortillas, and one particular location makes all of the tortillas for all of the stores.  We called that store and they were willing to let us pick up unpackaged tortillas if we come while they are making them!  I was interested to find out that Super Saver and Russ's (both owned by B & R Stores Inc.) are actually local to Nebraska and that Trader Joe's (which opened a store here recently) is based out of Germany.  I can't say that I am even sure that this matters, however, because I am inclined to believe that all the food ends up coming from the same place anyway.

Our cheese situation has been a little bit more complicated.  We scoured the fine cheese sections in all of the small local grocers and the co-op to no avail, and again, the delis told us that all their cheese was originally in a plastic package.  We found a gourmet food store, The Saucey Chef, that sells expensive imported cheese that is either wrapped in foil or paper.  We were thrilled because we hadn't had our cheese fix for quite sometime, and we were used to eating a lot of it on everything.  This is the true "stinky cheese" that only actually resembles cheese to a true conisuer.  Its not really suitable for making nachos, tacos, or melting on pasta (although Brenton said it looked like a mouse got into our cheese because I was constantly snacking on it).  We also decided that it kind of defeated the purpose of buying it without plastic if it came from over seas.

We buy our milk from Hy-Vee or Leon's in returnable glass jugs from a local dairy farm, Burbach's Countryside Dairy.  I emailed the dairy farm, who also makes cheese, about possibly obtaining cheese from them without plastic and I never heard back.  I decided to email another local farmer, Branched Oak Farms, and heard back within an hour from Krista, who offered to deliver the cheese in a tupperware to my house at no extra cost while she was in town running errands.  We got a pound of each kind of cheese that she had (3 varieties), and they are all delicious and made locally.  They are still artisan cheeses and not necessarily a melt-on-your-pasta type of cheese, but we aren't eating pasta as of right now anyway.  My favorite is a cheese made with nettle!  They are all really tasty though, and much more cheese-like and more palatable to the layperson than the fancier, yet stinkier varieties.    

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