Of Buying Meat, and What Plastic Does, and Trying to Make Do

By the end of the day on Sunday, I was discouraged. This was my weekend to shop for meat.

On Saturday, we went to the indoor farmers’ market at Weasel Boys, a craft brewery in my town. Weasel Boys is in a bank of long, low brick buildings, which clever, creative people have rescued from industrial abandonment. The buildings have become condos and restaurants, a repurposing shop, and, of course, Weasel Boys, which offers pizza and music and trivia nights in addition to well-crafted beer.

And on Saturdays now, they offer their spacious indoor setting as a place for local farmers and vendors to meet the public.

This week, we didn’t buy much. I was interested to meet some local coffee roasters who, sadly, do not roast decaf. But I think my coffee’s sorted anyway.

I did, though, buy a beef soup bone from Jessica at Hope Farms, even though the bone was shrink-wrapped in plastic. It is locally raised, grass-fed beef. I talked with Jessica, with whom I’ve worked on a couple of local initiatives, about buying beef in paper wrappings.

She is on the same wave-length, and she’s going to talk with her butcher to see if a different kind of wrapping is possible.

Jessica is a deacon in the Methodist church, and one of her ministries is helping people grow responsibly in relationship to nature. She and the people she works with have done some remarkable things. They’ve gotten the local schools to stop using Styrofoam at lunch time, for instance.

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So that was a promising trip, although I did bring plastic home. The next day, Sunday, we drove to an organic foods store about 45 minutes away. They were advertising boneless chicken breast; I had all the other ingredients for pasta rustica, which I thought I’d make on Sunday evening, if we could get some plastic-free chicken.

I asked for the chicken at the meat counter and a really nice clerk directed me toward the pre-wrapped meats. I explained to him we were trying to eat without plastics, and his eyes, I swear, lit up.

“I’ll see if we have some unpackaged out back,” he said, and I rocked happily in my sneakers while I waited. But he came back dragging.

“I’m so sorry,” he said. “It COMES in the plastic.”

Rats, I thought, but I felt bad for the guy: he was so crestfallen.

“Okay,” I said. “Well. That’s a bummer. But how about I buy some bacon?”

He looked like he might cry.

“Ma’am,” he said, “that comes in plastic, too.”

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I did bring some paper lunch bags, and I consoled myself by buying some bulk food products—including some extremely delicious salted caramel drops—and packaging them in paper. But then we wandered through the store, and I was overwhelmed, again, by the plastic packaging. Even in a store devoted to organic, locally sourced foods—in a store that has water in brown paper cartons instead of plastic bottles—even THERE, I could not do a full shopping without buying plastic.

I realized this, and an acid rage bubbled up in me. I felt like someone else was forcing choices on me.

Why shouldn’t I be able to live a plastic free life?

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We stopped, heading home, at a funky store not so very far from my house that has a meat counter. Their boneless chicken looked amazing, although it was two dollars more a pound than the plastic wrapped poultry at the organic chain store. But I am lucky enough to be able to pay that, so I asked the very nice clerk if he’d wrap me up three pounds or so, and if I could have it in paper.

“Yeah!” he said. “Oh, absolutely. I can put it in freezer paper for you for sure.”

And he offered to wrap it up and have it at the register for me when the rest of my shopping was done.

So I went and found the boyos…they were browsing an aisle of single malt whiskeys from Celtic countries; this reminded Jim of scenes from James Bond movies, and he was regaling his dad by re-telling one. I herded them a little—it was getting late—and stopped at the register and picked up a fat package of boneless chicken, neatly wrapped in white butcher paper.

I took it home and unwrapped it, and I discovered why there was no seepage. The considerate clerk had put the chicken in a plastic bag before he wrapped it in paper.

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So…my two meat purchases this weekend involved plastic: FAIL.

I think I will order my meat from a local butcher, who offers freezer packs. I can pick my freezer pack up once a month, or however often I need to buy meat. I will find it boxed and waiting for me, wrapped in white paper.

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It seems to me that each of us is born with a notebook and a pen. The notebook is called, “How I Think I Should Live My Life,” and our job is to use the pen and continually fill those pages, continually revising what we have written. By the time I reach that last page, I hope, I’ll have a crisp, clear description of what I can really say in an authentic and meaningful life.

One of the things I want to write in there, indelibly, is this: “I will use as little plastic as possible.”

But it seems to me large concerns—manufacturers, marketers, retailers, —are invested in grabbing those books out of our baby hands, and writing in them for us.

“Here’s how you should live,” they say, and they put down delicious descriptions with seductive pictures.

“Oh, YEAH,” I think. “Okay! That looks good!”

What a pretty plastic-wrapped life they present.

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It occurs to me to wonder where our plastic trash goes, so I type that question into a search engine. I pull up a National Geographic site, and I find that a whole lot of our global mismanaged plastic trash is floating down tributaries to rivers, down rivers into oceans, and floating across the ocean to a little place called Henderson Island. Henderson is an uninhabited island in the South Pacific, and more than 19 tons of plastic waste litter its once pristine beaches. More floats in every day.

I read the National Geographic article, which was beautifully, and heartbreakingly, illustrated with pictures.

And it made me more determined than ever not to contribute any more to unthinking plastic disposal.

Here’s the link: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/06/the-journey-of-plastic-around-the-globe/

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Looking for a little good news, I found an article on plastic recycling, and discovered that kind of recycling is not as easy as I’d thought. Not all plastic plays well together; 1’s and 2’s, for instance, can’t be blithely melted together and used to create new bottles. (Don’t even get me started on 6’s.) And even when the plastics are rigorously sorted, there’s danger of contamination. It appears that more plastic is ‘downgraded’—a term which means that’s the last time it can be recycled—into thread than is repurposed into new bottles. The thread is used to created garments like t-shirts and, possibly, cute handbags.

The video I watched (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zO3jFKiqmHo) did introduce me to a PBS series called The Reinventors, about intrepid people in the US northwest who are pushing the envelope to figure out how to re-use plastic, and other, waste. Here’s a link to that interesting series:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzZRoStdiqWxauQT2RGW1Lg

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This plastic fast is a bigger challenge than I realized, but I’m not getting discouraged, and my hackles are up: I’m not giving up either. I made a batch of homemade dish soap this week after finding directions on a wonderful blog called DIY Natural. Here’s that link, too:

https://www.diynatural.com/homemade-dish-soap/

I haven’t tried this yet, but I am going to keep experimenting until the results are just what I want them to be.

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And Kirsten Pfeiffer, who is a wonderful new friend I met through my also-wonderful nephew Brian, wrote this on one of my Facebook posts:

I eat at this one place all the time, and their to-go containers are plastic. I hated using them only one time, so today I went to the place and asked if I could bring in my old ones for them to refill instead of giving me a new one every day and they were cool w/ it!!

What a smart and simple thing. I’m going to put the beautiful quilted bag Terry made me in the backseat of my car, and I’m going to keep clean plastic containers in it. And when we go out to eat and have leftovers, I’m going to take them home in containers I can store and wash and re-use.

Like Kirsten, I’ve found that, if I ask and I’m clear, retailers try really hard to help me get what I want. Now, I’m learning what to ask for and how to ask so I’m not misunderstood.

Oh, my friends. I wish you a wholesome, delightful, locally sourced, week.

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