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.    

Friday, February 11, 2011

What's in the Fridge

I will have to have Brenton put pictures up of how truly empty our cupboards and refrigerator are.  Because we don't buy food in plastic, it means we don't eat a lot of processed foods so we don't buy large amounts of groceries at a time.  This has resulted in running out or getting very low on groceries quite frequently and so we end up pulling out the can of kraut in the back of the cupboard that we forgot was there but can finally see again.  Ultimately, one unforeseen result is that we don't grocery shop until we are essentially completely out of anything edible.  I have actually started cooking a lot, out of necessity, and I've gotten really creative with what I cook (I wasn't joking about the can of sauerkraut!).

We have been trying to use up the old items that are still lingering around the cupboards that are in plastic.  We haven't bought anything packaged in plastic since the new year and so we have gotten rid of most things but are still using a package of corn tortillas and a box of Bisquick.  We also have quite a few condiments that have been lingering around that I don't want to eat but don't want to waste.  You know when you walk down the hallway in high school and meet that person that you don't like and you just look the other way and pretend you didn't see her?  Well sugar-free strawberry preserves sweetened with splenda is her name.  I just don't like how fake she is!

Our parents gave us the leftover meat that they weren't going to eat when cleaning out the freezer and so we ended up with an overwhelming amount of cube steak, hamburger, and bratwurst, as well as those pork roasts that come from some bony, grisly part of the pig that only someone's grandma knows how to make into something that anyone would really want to eat.  It is all wrapped in plastic and it is all mostly old a freezer burned, but we haven't talked about this yet because we realistically may have to go without meat when we run out of what we have.  We were really bummed to learn that even the grocery stores that cut their own meat originally received it in plastic.  We definitely have plans in the works to buy in bulk from a local farmer, but haven't talked about it in any depth.      

Learning to make things from scratch has been an interesting experience.  I've never been much of a cook, mostly because I just never bothered to do it.  Now, flour, eggs, and milk have become staples in our house and are used in almost every meal.  Speaking of these items, grocery shopping is going to be thrilling tomorrow!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Where We've Been and Where We're Going: From the Garden to the Globe

It all started with music.  Because of our mutual interest in music we met each other; and then we met other like-minded, passionate, and hopelessly irresponsible college drop-outs.  The counterculture!

Of course, I like to think that we have evolved as thinkers since our millennial hippy revival days.  Though this scene may have sparked our deep desire to engross ourselves in a different way of life, it has only been since we have pursued a more responsible and constructive path that we have truly rooted ourselves in the values that we once threw around as the audible aspect of a persona.

Our progression began with picking up hobbies of the outdoorsy variety.  Once we realized that we both really loved anything that involved being outdoors, we began to pile on hobbies the way the cat lady can't resist the kitten around the corner.  Kayaking, hiking, boating, wakeboarding, snowboarding, climbing; and the two that have revolutionized our lives, gardening and bicycling.

The garden and the bike.  Words do not have the inherent substance to describe how it makes me feel to be able to simply exist in and of myself; that is, to need nothing besides what I can provide for myself.  The realization that my food and my transportation are right in my backyard, are free, and are better for me than everything that I have been spending so much money on for so long, now seems like an epiphany, but in reality I needed a little convincing.  Brenton has led by example and has shown me that no matter what the weather or where the destination, you can make it on your bike.

I could regale a reader with garden-isms, but gardening, as well as biking, truly deserves its own post.  As does my next topic; food.

I will not indulge my appetite for food rants as of yet, so here's the skinny; we buy no food packaged in plastic, we try to buy locally and from small businesses, and we buy extremely frugally.  Reducing wastefulness is a very important part of our eating habits and has had huge impacts in all aspects of our lives.  We recycle and compost, and the latest adventure has been acquiring a pair of laying hens for eggs.

So much for a brief summary!  This prologue was intended to give a taste of what I will be blogging about in future posts.  Topics to come: gardening, biking, chickens, and the food taboo!