Last night the temperature outside was a balmy 60˚F. I packed a clean jar, a couple reusable produce bags, and a stainless steel container in a backpack and set out on my bike to Whole Foods. At the store I filled my jar with almond butter and one of my mesh bags with Brazil nuts. I went to the fish counter and got a piece of hake in my container, but the fish man was a little confused by my request for no packaging and he used a piece of tissue paper to weigh my hake. I should have been more specific. By now I know many local grocery store and farmers market employees, so most of the time I’m able to ask for help from someone who is familiar with my reusable container routine. But sometimes on the occasions that I shop outside of my usual hours, I’m met with the puzzled faces of strangers who aren’t sure why I’m trying to hand them my own container. I’ve learned that there are a few things I can do to help make this interaction go smoothly. Generally I try to avoid approaching the counter when there’s a long line of people. Instead I’ll shop for the rest of my groceries and return when the counter is quiet, especially if someone I’ve never met is working there. That way, there is time and space for my special request. I explain my goal before ordering. I start by saying that I’m trying to avoid making any trash. I ask if it’s possible to weigh the container first to get the tare, and then put the food directly into the container while it’s on the scale. I’ve found it helpful to explain that it’s not just that I don’t want to take any packaging with me, but that I don’t want any paper (besides the price sticker) used to process my order. Most of the time people are very friendly and accommodating, and sometimes they even encourage the no trash effort.
After I got my fish, I went to pick out a starch for my meal and decided I had a hankering for potatoes. I found the bins of loose potatoes and noticed that they were all conventionally grown. The organic potatoes were located on other side of the bins, all packaged and stacked in plastic bags. Foiled! It’s not the first time that packaging has affected my dinner plans since I’ve made buying organic a priority. For reasons I don’t understand, I often see organic produce options in packaging at the grocery store. Buying a whole bag of apples, avocados, bell peppers, mushrooms, or onions, now seems like a strange way to shop for food. I enjoy choosing individual fruits and vegetables–turning them over in my hands, scanning for nicks and bruises, feeling the weight of the food, and even smelling some produce to check for ripeness. I like to select a handful of items that are ready to eat now or in the next couple of days. Stocking up on large amounts of food that can spoil doesn’t make much sense anymore. The bags of potatoes in front of me last night became more incentive to lean on farmers markets and co-ops whenever possible as a source for fruits and vegetables. Meanwhile I remain flexible and open minded about the other trash-free, organic ingredients that are available to me. And I will continue to vote with my dollar.