Chasing Chicken and Other Obvious Revelations

Mark sidled over with his iPad.

“Look at this,” he said.

It was one of those cooking videos. Six plump boneless chicken breasts went through transmogrifications at the snap of a well-manicured set of fingers. The unseen chef touched each piece of chicken; magically, slits appeared down their middles. The chicken bathed in flour, dipped in egg wash, and coated themselves in Panko bread crumbs. Then they went to rest on a shiny sheet pan.

Those magic fingers appeared again. This time, they inserted a slice of ham and a wedge of Swiss cheese into each slot; then the fingers went away and rushed back with a bechamel sauce in a little beaker.

And this was the best part. The fingers drew forth a Corningware pan full of unpeeled potatoes.

SNAP!

The potatoes were peeled and cubed and waiting to be of service. (“I want to be able to DO that,” said Mark.)

The fingers laid each chicken breast on the lovely bed of potatoes. When they were nestled, they poured the bechamel over all, and popped that richly laden pan in the oven.

SNAP!

The chicken breasts were done, browned and oozing with rich cheesy sauces. The potatoes were browned and crispy.

“Hey,” I said to Mark. “THAT looks wonderful.”

He sighed.

“I showed it to Jim,” he said. “And Jim said, ‘That would be great. IF we can ever buy CHICKEN again.’ ”

Mark wandered off, glumly, and I wondered if he was displacing his own sad frustration onto a quote from our son.

**********************

The boyos are right: buying chicken in a plastic-free way is frustrating. Because, I’m sure, of the juiciness of the tender birds, retailers want to pack it in plastic. Most don’t even discuss it; there’s little chicken offered in the fresh meat counter. Instead, it’s prepackaged, shiny in its plastic, and stacked proudly in the refrigerated meat case.

And it’s frozen, too: I can buy bags of quiescently frozen boneless chicken breasts or thighs, usually at a pretty reasonable price. I wonder, though, about the conditions those hens lived in,–whether they had to have their beaks cut off to keep them from cannibalizing some of the thousands of other chicks crowded into their holding pen, the place where they ate and pooped and waited for butchering.

I tried to buy plastic-free chicken at a couple of meat shops; one couldn’t help me. The other was happy to wrap my bird in paper…but when I got home, I discovered that they had popped it into a plastic sack FIRST.

But clearly, I need to solve the chicken dilemma for the boyos, who are hankering for some chicken cordon bleu.

So I get online and search meat cutters in the area. Most of them proudly show gleaming cases filled with gleaming plastic packages. Several of them don’t mess with chicken at all.

And the prices on some of the sites make me choke a little, my Scottish bile stirring right up.

And then I think, “Wait a minute.”

I pull up the number of that market that wrapped first in plastic, then in paper. I explain my quest to be plastic-free, and the clerk to whom I talk says, “Of course! We usually wrap in plastic first to avoid the mess factor, but if you can deal with that, we can package your chicken in paper.”

We discuss minor logistics, and I sign off. Today, I’ll go buy boneless chicken breast, plastic-free…on my end, at least.

**********************

Meanwhile, we use the last of the old plastic kitchen trash bags, and we switch to the special ones I ordered. (They are plastic, too, of a sort, but they’re made from organic materials—mostly corn, I am afraid—that biodegrade in landfills. If everything we put in them biodegrades, too, we won’t be contributing as much to toxic waste.)

Mark shakes one out and we groan in realization. They are about half the size of the traditional plastic bags…much too small for our kitchen trash can.

Later that day, the boyos do a shopping run and come home, proudly, with a new, smaller trash can.

Made of plastic.

But, okay. I will use that little trash can for ten years. Maybe more, even. I’ll reuse, reuse, reuse it.

I line the little thing with my green organic waste bag, gauzy as gossamer, and I pull shut the louvered pantry door.

I can live with this.

*****************

My other frustration, in the week just past, was flour. Oh, not regular flour: all the wheat flour I could want, in every imaginable variety, comes packaged in paper. But oat flour, rice flour, amaranth flour…all the things I mix together to make up my AP flour substitute…all of THOSE are plastic wrapped. It always startles me when organic, intentional, environmentally-conscious products present themselves in plastic.

I email Bob’s Red Mill and express my frustration, and I get a swift reply. They are looking at the situation, the reply tells me. Many of the flours spoil if stored in paper for long spells. The company experimented with a better kind of plastic, a number 7 kind, but it’s not recyclable in most areas. Their research team is working on it, but most solutions they have found would significantly increase the price of the product.

I sigh. I appreciate the fast and courteous response. And I understand the constrictions of the business of food.

But I don’t want to buy my gluten free flours in plastic bags.

The bulk food store where I am hoping to get glass containers filled with flours hasn’t had a shipment yet: they don’t get shipments all that often, the manager told me.

I am out of my gluten-free AP substitute, and the tiny box I bought in the store is not only maddeningly pricey, it has a plastic liner.

I find a possible answer on Amazon, a paper-packaged five-pound bag of AP substitute mix, gluten free, that will arrive on my doorstep tomorrow. If we like this, I can order much larger quantities—a 25-pound sack, for instance.

I’ll think about that. (Storage?) But in the short term, we’ll see how this new mix tastes, and how it works in recipes.

*************************

This morning I mixed up a batch of home-made dish detergent, and I baked a Bundt cake with the last of the sour cream. I have a little stash of T-shirt squares tucked into my towel drawer: what to use when a paper towel is needed. One of those did a great job of greasing the fluted innards of my Bundt pan, and then I rinsed it out and tossed it in the wash.

I mixed the cake ingredients together in the KitchenAid, while the dish soap cooled and the oven heated, and I poured the batter into the pan and set it in the oven to bake for an hour and twenty minutes. And in the meantime, I paid bills and answered emails, graded papers, and did dishes. The mail came, and I sorted it, sitting down to marvel at a wonderful card that came from a friend. It was a quiet, productive, but not hectic, kind of morning.

I’m having more of those lately. The plastic-fast contributes to this in a big way, I think.

I was naïve when I thought, at the beginning of Lent, “I’ll just give up single-use plastic.” There is much to explore in pursuing that kind of lifestyle. There are frustrations, often, and I get irritated with people who get irritated with me (“Lady, just take the plastic!”) But part of the message I’m getting here is this: Slow down.

My plastic consumption has drastically improved. There are still things to figure out; there are still, perhaps, some compromises to be made. I need to pick up the phone, write out the emails, pen letters to manufacturers. But a thoughtful, intentional life, I see now, is the eventual result.

*****************

I am feeling up to tackling this week’s challenges:

Finding makeup in zero waste packing,

and

what to do about a mop.

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2 thoughts on “Chasing Chicken and Other Obvious Revelations

  1. At the Kroger’s where I shop in Houston, there are always chicken breasts at the meat counter that the attendant will wrap in brown butcher paper. They are, of course, more expensive than their plastic-packaged counterparts (as is every other cut of meat there, too), but they are of better quality than their nearly-frozen cousins in the meat case, and the brown wrapping paper is far easier to crush and throw away than the plastic alternative. For those reasons, I will gladly pay a little more money each week at the store Except for ice cream, frozen pizza, corn, and mixed vegetables, I have not bought any main meal item out of a grocery case in years.

    1. My son’s boss told me about a supermarket near here where they do the same…all brown paper at the meat counter. I am excited to check it out; willing to drive half an hour and pay a little extra. (Our Kroger uses plastic in both meat and deli counters…) I like the way you roll, John!

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