Not Want Not
By Latham Thomas
Some of us can’t help
reflect on what impact our food might have on our bodies—what
metabolic processes take place, how well we digest and assimilate
nutrients, how it affects our mood and so forth.
For a subset of concerned consumers it is also important to ascertain
how and where our produce was grown, if chemicals were sprayed upon
it and how long it traveled to get to our kitchen table. There is,
after all, a clearly delineated rubric of quality standards for food—local,
sustainable, organic, etc. Yet, when these same “concerned” individuals
are made to face other environmental consequences of eating, a curious
We are living in a culture that turns everything into consumable products. It’s
not enough to eat an apple—enriched with nutrients and life force, contained
in its own perfect package—which leaves behind a small biodegradable trace
of its existence. We have to buy apple chips, which come in colorful plastic
packages leaving behind waste that takes over a hundred years to break down—not
to mention that chemicals and sugars added to packaged foods are tantamount to
What’s with all the packaging? When you go to the grocery store you are
overwhelmed by bright cellophane-wrapped food products. Our culture is obsessed
with packaging. It is “normal” to pry through a box of cookies with
a layer of cellophane wrapping, a box, and a plastic tray just to get at the
desired morsels. Upon check out, we are faced with the question, “paper
or plastic?” or simply handed the ever-popular reinforced double plastic
bag or paper in plastic combos. At such a moment it is important to remember
that one million plastic bags per minute are being unleashed into the environment
with no place safe to go. Sure they are useful, cheap and plentiful, but they
are causing a great deal of harm to our environment. And yet, deforestation concomitant
with paper bags is a poor alternative.
What is the answer to our bag problems? Did I hear environmental tax? The environmental
tax reform process is well under way in the European Union and is taking root
worldwide. Ireland was the first country to introduce a plastic bag tax in March
2002 and, currently, grocery stores charge customers 15 cents for each new plastic
or paper bag. In 2005, the San Francisco Commission on the Environment unanimously
approved a proposal asking the city to charge grocery shoppers 17 cents for every
paper or plastic bag they take home. According to the Yomiuri Shimbun, 55 percent
of shoppers in Japan agree that plastic bags should be taxed. They voted to support
a government plan to reduce garbage by allowing supermarkets and other retailers
to charge customers for plastic bags.
Imagine how much annual waste we would prevent if every country imposed a tax
on bags. How wildlife could be spared if we collectively adopted more eco-friendly
practices. How many trees would be left standing.
There are simple things we can all start doing to help prevent waste. Such as
purchasing bulk food items from the local health food store, eating less packaged
foods—including take-out—and using our own tote bags when shopping.
We need to be conscious and therefore dissatisfied enough to change destructive
habits. Like-minded individuals acting in concert have the power to effect positive
As consumers we have the power to choose how our dollars are spent. We don’t
have to wait for the state to impose a garbage tax to start thinking more environmentally
and seeing the world through the lens of sustainability. Here are some ways to
integrate your (unavoidable) waste:
1. Start a home compost bin. You can get a supply of healthy red wigglers ready
to munch away at your organic waste and create nutrient-rich new soil. If you
are in New York City, visit the Lower East
Side Ecology Center or their stand at the Union Square Greenmarket for worms.
2. Drop off organic waste to a compost center. If the thought of handling worms
makes you cringe, then bring your organic waste to the Union Square Greenmarket
composting stand. Visit www.lesecologycenter.org
3. Find new uses for your plastic bags and bottles. Use cut plastic bottles
as seed starters for new plants or in craft
External packaging aside, there are parts of foods commonly thought of as waste,
which are useful. Traditional cultures take from Mother Earth only what they
need to subsist. The following traditional Zen anecdote reminds us that this
attitude has long been revered as a more enlightened understanding: In a certain
monastery the monks were scolded for caring too much for food. They found the
ascetic regimen imposed by the abbot to be too strict. One day a monk discovered
smoke coming from the abbot’s chimney late at night, and moving closer
witnessed the abbot at an illicit midnight snack. The monks joined together to
ambush their teacher and unveil his hypocrisy; only to find that he had taken
on the responsibility of boiling all of the seeds, stems and pits discarded by
the kitchen to make a stew in order that nothing be wasted.
Here are some ways to re-incorporate items commonly considered worthless:
1. Take all of your leftover vegetable scraps and make a vegetable stock, simply
add some kombu, garlic and shiitake mushrooms. Use immediately or freeze for
2. For those who juice, the nutrient-rich fiber that’s left behind can
be added to salad. Just sprinkle some hemp seeds, add a little avocado, a dollop
of quinoa, and your favorite dressing.
This works best with carrot, beet and celery vegetable fibers.
3. Orange or lemon rinds can be added to witch hazel for a nice face toner;
ground up in your garbage disposal to make the drain smell fresh; or simmered
with spices as fresh potpourri.
Connecting with the environment is the first step towards making a positive impact.
From composting to making vegetable stock or shopping with your own canvas tote,
find the practice that works for you. Let us be mindful of consumption. Contact
the corporate offices of food companies and request more efficient packaging.
Let us enjoy food, but remember to embrace our waste.
Latham Thomas is the program coordinator of the Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies
wellness project at B-Healthy. She is a holistic health counselor who teaches
parent and child cooking classes through her company Tender Shoots Wellness and
also is the founder of the Eco-Circle Playgroup, an ecology playgroup for NYC
toddlers. For information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
© STEALTH TECHNOLOGIES INC.