I am late for my walk this morning, having slept in until 7:10. It’s a crisp, clear morning; I bundle up and head out.
At the corner, I meet the mail carrier. He is pulling packages from the truck and stashing them in his bag. I wave at him and prepare to keep walking, but he flags me down.
“You got COFFEE,” he said, “and it smells good.”
I take a minute to process, and then light cracks through my darkness.
“The coffee!” I say. “It’s here already?”
“Yeah,” says the mail carrier. “And it smells so good.”
Jovan at Yeah Me Too roasted decaf Peruvian beans yesterday and packed up two pounds to send me. (I hope my check arrived as quickly as his beans did.)
I walk what we call the big block and hurry home, where the package waits, snugged between the storm and inside doors. The mail carrier is right: it smells wonderful. I cradle it, grab a book-shaped package addressed to Jim, and head around to the back.
Inside, I put the mail on the table and unpack the coffee. There is no plastic in its packaging; two brown paper bags of coffee are wrapped in strong white paper. I open one bag and breathe deep. The smell is dark and rich and roasty.
And I realize that the mailman knows who I am, knows my face and my name, and knows, now, that I love good coffee. I don’t know his name (yet), but now I know that he loves at least the smell of good coffee, too.
And Jovan, the coffee roaster, has become a kind of friend, as well, invested in my plastic free project. He lets me know when the beans are roasted; do I still want some?
I email back an emphatic yes, and a flurry of correspondence ensues: I ask how much for a pound of fresh-roasted beans, where to send the check. He doesn’t wait to receive the payment before sending the beans, and he sends me a picture of the package the day it goes out. It’s sitting on a countertop, surrounded by letters and correspondence. I notice one letter has that John Lennon stamp that I love to use…a little ping of appreciation.
And it occurs to me that I am meeting people in a different way because of the whole plastic-fast thing: I have a coffee-roaster guy! I know my mail carrier!
Before I left for the walk, I put French bread ingredients into the bread machine. We discovered that, if we mix the ingredients up on the dough cycle, then shape the dough into a round loaf on a scarred old pizza pan, we get a wonderful result.
It takes about five minutes to batch up the simple ingredients. I add least an extra quarter of a cup of water; when the mix cycle starts, I check the dough. If it looks stiff, I add even more. When it’s mixed and risen, I decant it onto the pan and let it rise. I heat the oven to 400; I mix up some salt water and glaze the round loaf, then bake it for 20 minutes or so.
A wonderfully fragrant, yeasty loaf results.
Mark and I are still wheat-abstaining (although sometimes we can’t resist hacking off a heel of freshly baked bread and eating it, butter melting on its soft, white surface), but James survives on sandwiches, and this is homemade bread he can live with.
I am happy that it has no preservatives; all its ingredients are fresh.
And it does not arrive at my home wrapped in plastic.
It occurs to me that ‘plastic’ and ‘plastic-free’ might be metaphors for certain kinds of living.
Plastic is fast and separate; contents don’t touch other foods. I don’t need to talk with anyone. I just grab and go.
Plastic-free slows me down and requires interaction. I have to search and find the right shops; I have to talk with the shopkeepers. I arrange delivery, which, again, involves some kind of human discourse.
I take time to mix ingredients in my kitchen, cooking from scratch. I shave soap and mix it with borax, stir in boiling water and making my own dish soap. It does not foam like Dawn, I’ve found, but the dishes seem squeaky clean.
This week, a package arrived from Amazon; inside, I found a clutch of gauzy washable bags. These are perfect for shopping. I can take them to the produce section and package up lettuce, zucchini, greens, or onions. When I empty the bag, it can go into the washing machine with a load of white, and then, next week, I’ll use it again.
I feel an uplift of possibility: a plastic-free life is possible. Then Mark and I go to a luncheon, where proud young students in a disabilities services program serve our food. There are plastic bottles of water. There are sandwiches wrapped in foil and nestled in a Styrofoam go-box, with a plastic bag of chips and a plastic cup of fruit cocktail, hermetically sealed with—of course—more plastic. There is a knotted plastic baggie holding two cookies, mixed and baked by those student cooks.
I look at the beaming faces of the young people who put this meal together for us. And I take my Styrofoam box back to our table, and I eat my sandwich.
Beth, an outreach librarian who shares our table, leans over and tells me about visiting Greece last year with her husband. They would never have used all this disposable, non-degradable packaging, she says.
“They’d be appalled,” she said quietly.
The waste containers fill up with
Styrofoam, and I wince.
I wince because I have been seeing more and more about the results of plastic disposal. My friend Kimberly posted two links on Facebook this week that rocked me to the core.
One was about a dead whale; when scientists performed an autopsy, they found its belly was full of waste plastic. (https://www.livescience.com/64139-sperm-whale-full-of-plastic.html?fbclid=IwAR2ZzlCxffSdClL28JBq1BS14E_L4tGvX_IOm5O7SausYYY9YaPldvaDLWg)
The other was a video that illustrates, graphically, what plastic use adds up to. (https://www.facebook.com/Thepopularist/videos/304263600250867/UzpfSTEzMTI3MTM4Mjg6MTAyMTk1NjUyNzc5MDUyMDM/?notif_id=1552962565746926¬if_t=mention)
This week, I am going to add two actions. I am going to write letters…to grocers and retailers, and to politicians, too, and I am going to ask why we don’t start looking for different packaging solutions. Maybe they’ll laugh and toss my letter in the circular file; maybe they’ll make some snarky remark about that crazy ol’ Birkenstock lady who wants us to do away with plastic.
But maybe I’ll connect with a person who shares my concern, and then we’ll square our efforts. I know I’m compelled to try.
I might call a friend who works with those proud chefs, too, and see if there are packaging solutions we can share with those eager young people before the next banquet date arrives.
And I am going to look for ways to use the plastic I have. Instead of recycling, which seems to have a pretty unhappy result, maybe I can take waste plastic and turn it into something useful, or into something attractive and uplifting.
I’m looking for ideas; if you have them, I hope you’ll share.
More and more, it seems like time is running out.
More and more, it seems like we need to find solutions now.