Tag Archives | bulk foods

Blue cornbread

cornmeal

I’ve had this blue cornmeal hanging around for a while and I’ve decided to put it to use before it spoils. Like many dry cereal grain flours, cornmeal has a very good shelf life (it may keep for several years if stored in a freezer), but it can eventually turn rancid. So I’m kicking some cornmeal projects into gear.

cornbread

Blue cornmeal is more flavorful and higher in nutritional value than yellow or white. You can use it in any recipe that calls for cornmeal. Today I made skillet blue cornbread. I love the taste of food cooked in an iron skillet and it’s a fantastic non-toxic nonstick surface. The bread is delicious! I’ve already consumed quite a bit more than the slice missing in this photo. I looked at several recipes online and then composed my own, which allowed me to work with the ingredients I had on hand—all of which were purchased without packaging as always. Here’s what I came up with:

1 1/2 cups blue cornmeal

1/2 cup oat flour (any flour could be substituted here, or just use another 1/2 cup of cornmeal)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup raw oat milk (made fresh from oat groats soaked overnight)

2 eggs 

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

3 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 cup finely chopped red pepper

1 medium size minced jalapeño pepper

Preheat oven to 350˚ Fahrenheit. Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix the oat milk, eggs, apple cider vinegar, honey (warm to liquify if necessary), and canola oil in another bowl. Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Stir in red and jalapeño pepper. Pour the batter into a 10″ cast iron skillet that has been rubbed with oil. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes or until done. Serve with a wink and a smile. Store in an airtight container. 

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Granola

granola

Homemade granola! Quick and easy to make. Granola is so delicious when it’s fresh and I love having the control over what goes into it. This batch is very simple—a good base to add any kind of fruit and nuts to. All the ingredients below were purchased in bulk. And as usual, my recipe is pretty freeform, so go nuts!

4 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

1/2 cup sesame seeds

1/4 cup flour for “clumping” (I used rice flour because that’s what I had on my shelf, but oat flour would probably work even better)

1/3 cup honey

1/4 cup canola oil (other oils can be substituted)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 300˚F. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Mix the honey, oil, and extract together in another bowl. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Spread the granola in an oiled shallow pan and bake for about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and turn the granola over with a large spatula, being careful not to break it up too much. Return to oven and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes. Allow the granola to cool completely before removing it from the pan to serve or store.

granoladetail

Mmmhmmmm, so delicious. Store in an airtight container to preserve freshness. It will keep at room temperature for up to 10 days but because it contains oil (which can become rancid), it should be refrigerated or frozen after that point.

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A bowl of energy

amaranthbreakfast

My protein-packed breakfast this morning. Bulk amaranth with grated ginger, galangal (given to me by a dear friend), chopped apple, pepitas, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, and olive oil. Amaranth is one of my favorite grains and I often have it for breakfast. I love the nutty taste of the tiny snappy seeds. Just a quarter cup of the dry cereal cooked in water (1:3 ratio for a fluffy texture or 1:4 ratio for a more porridge-like consistency) with some fruit, nuts, and seeds fills me up and keeps me going all morning and well into the afternoon. It’s a high quality source of plant protein and two essential amino acids, lysine and methionine. And it’s a great option for anyone with gluten sensitivities or allergies. Such an impressive little grain.

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Cashew milk

cashewmilk

This morning I made cashew milk. It stands as my favorite of the non-dairy milks I have made so far (including oat, almond, and coconut). The process is the same. I soaked one cup of nuts in a medium-sized mixing bowl overnight, rinsed them in the morning, added 4 cups of fresh water to the bowl and then mixed the two ingredients with my immersion blender. It homogenized much more quickly than the milks, which makes sense because cashews are so soft and less fibrous than most nuts. And straining the solids through a nut milk bag (my repurposed mesh produce bag) was quicker and easier than with the other three. The cashew milk is mildly sweet and very rich. This one might be my jam for a while. Or at least until my recently restocked supply of bulk cashews runs out, which I’m guessing won’t take long, as the milk is a morning breakfast and evening dessert kind of treat. I’m continually amazed by how easy it is to make milk from grains nuts and seeds. I’d also like to make sunflower seed, hazelnut, and rice milk.

cashewmilk

Many of the rubber gaskets for my swing top glass bottles have started to become brittle are breaking down. I searched high and low at my local hardware and kitchen supply stores for replacement gaskets but came up short. So I went online and found some on ebay. Purchased them and wrote a note to the seller asking if he could send them without any plastic and as little packaging as possible. They arrived today loose (12 in total) in a small paper manila envelop. With a stamp. No plastic. Fantastic. But I’m still hoping to find a local source.

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Fertile Underground

Fertile Underground is located at 1577 Westminster Street on the west side of Providence.

Fertile Underground is located at 1577 Westminster Street on the west side of Providence.

Fresh local and organic produce on display beneath a chalkboard sign that reads, "No farmers, no food... Know farmers, know food!"

Fresh local and organic produce on display beneath a chalkboard sign that reads, “No farmers, no food… Know farmers, know food!”

A delightful display of bulk spices and teas. A milk crate full of donated clean empty jars is available to customers to share. "Sharing is Caring"

A delightful display of bulk spices and teas. A milk crate full of donated clean empty jars is available to customers to share. “Sharing is Caring”

Sprouted lentils!

Sprouted lentils!

Today I picked up some groceries at Fertile Underground on the west side of Providence. Since their opening last year, the cooperative food market has been slowly adding to their local RI farm produce selection (both organic and conventional) and expanding their bulk foods section. Today I was so pleased to see a significant increase the in bulk spices offered since the last time I stopped in. I was also impressed by the number of organic dry bulk legumes and grains (even a few sprouted) that are currently available. Rice, quinoa, cous cous, popping corn, oats, granola, garbanzo beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, red and green lentils, and coffee are stocked. The store is becoming a great local resource for No Trash efforts and as they continue to add more bulk items I’ll be able to rely more heavily on Fertile Underground for my grocery needs. Employees Nancy and Chrissy graciously allowed me to take pictures as I shopped. Every time I’ve been in to shop, the folks working at the register and cafe have been incredibly friendly and helpful. It feels great to be able to support this small business. Less regular trips to co-ops outside of town of course means a reduced carbon footprint. Thank you Fertile Underground for your work to bring alternative food shopping to Providence!

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Willimantic Food Co-op

Bulk Vermont-brewed organic Kombucha tea! This is the first time I've seen this. The elderberry flavor is so delicious!

Bulk Vermont-brewed organic Kombucha tea! This is the first time I’ve seen this. The elderberry flavor is so delicious!

A lovely selection of bulk teas.

A lovely selection of bulk teas.

Dish soap, laundry detergent, and Dr. Bronner's castile soap.

Dish soap, laundry detergent, and Dr. Bronner’s castile soap.

So many bulk spices!

So many bulk spices!

I spent this past weekend visiting friends and family in NYC. On my trip back up to Providence, I made a slight detour to check out the Willimantic Food Co-op in Willimantic, CT. I learned about the co-op from a woman who works at As220’s Foo(d) counter when I was picking up dinner last week and my reusable take-out containers sparked a conversation about package-free food shopping. She told me that her parents have been members since the co-op opened in the early 1970s and that a visit is worth the drive from Providence. So while traveling across the state, I made my way up to Route 6 and stopped in.

The co-op is impeccably clean and well-stocked. It’s larger than Fertile Underground, the Alternative Food Co-op, and Harvest Co-op Market in Jamaica Plain. The extra space allows room for an impressive variety of dry and liquid food and hygiene bulk goods. I bought some wild rice, local organic chestnuts and apples, and some ever-elusive package-free black quinoa. I also picked up some dish soap, shampoo, and Vermont-brewed Kombucha tea, which is available on tap from a stand on the edge of the produce section. The store employees were all wonderfully helpful and friendly and there was no hesitation in granting me permission to take photos inside the store.

This project has led me to so many wonderful discoveries. Seeing beautiful, inviting, and efficient establishments such as the Willimantic Food Co-op bustling with happy customers is energizing. Though I don’t live in the neighborhood, as I strolled amongst other shoppers, weighing my containers and writing down PLU codes, I couldn’t help but feel that I am part of a community of people in pursuit of a better way to get what they need.

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Refrigerated bulk

At a Toronto area grocery store—chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, ground flax, pepitas, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, almonds, etc… It’s the first time I’ve seen bulk nuts and seeds (which can go rancid in warm temperatures or when exposed to air because of their oil content) kept in the refrigerated section of a market.

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Homemade Hummus

Since stocking up on bulk tahini from the Belfast Co-op in Maine this summer, I’ve been enjoying making my own trash-free hummus. It’s so simple and freshly made hummus tastes much better than anything I’ve ever tasted out of a #5 plastic tub. I haven’t been able to find bulk tahini at my local food co-ops. I don’t own a food processor (though lately I’ve been fixing to get one) so I’m not equipped to whip up homemade tahini. To satisfy my hummus hankerings, I had been making my own “chickpea spread” (blended chickpeas, garlic, and olive oil) and occasionally purchasing an 8 or 16 oz order from East Side Pockets with my reusable stainless steel container. Making my own is more satisfying and having the tahini makes all the difference. If I do get a food processor or perhaps borrow one from a friend, I will try making my own tahini. For now I have plenty from the co-op, which should keep for several months in the fridge. Below is the basic hummus recipe I’ve been working from. As always, it’s flexible. I usually throw in some spices and fresh herbs too—like cayenne, red chile, and cilantro. And of course, all of the ingredients are acquired without any packaging.

2 cups cooked chickpeas (I buy mine dry in bulk, then rinse and soak them for 8 hours before cooking)

1/4 cup water (I reserve some of the water used to cook the chickpeas)

2 tablespoons tahini

3-5 tablespoons lemon juice

3 cloves garlic, crushed

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)

After cooking the Chickpeas for about 40 minutes, I drain most of the water, reserving about 1/4 cup. Then I add the rest of the ingredients to the pot and blend with my immersion blender (love that thing) until smooth. Easy peasy.

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Bike Days

bikeweeks

Today I realized that I haven’t driven my car in two weeks. Biking and walking everywhere feels great, especially since the weather has been so beautiful. This afternoon I ran all of my errands on my bike and still managed to make it to work on time. At certain hours of the day, biking in the city seems faster than driving. I hit the bank, the tailor, the grocery store, and Olive del Mondo (where I received 50¢ off my olive oil refill for returning my bottle to be washed). It’s been a great way to spend more time outside—something I always crave at this time of year as the days get shorter.

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Best breakfast

sethstomatoes

Peach, tomato, and basil salad for breakfast again. This one was made with two beautiful heirloom tomatoes (one red and one yellow) grown and given to me by my friend Seth. Best tomatoes I’ve ever tasted. Thanks bud!!

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Rituals

lavendarmint

This morning’s package-free herbal tea—mint and lavender.

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Breakfast love

breakfastlove

Visiting friends in NYC. Rooftop breakfast. CSA produce, nuts, granola, cheese, and the most delicious blackberry jam I have ever tasted—made by my friend Caitlin with berries grown by her parents.

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Fertile Underground

Stopped into Fertile Underground. I was excited to see that the shop has come along since the last time I was in. They’re doing some wonderful things with the space. I’m so grateful they’re in town. Their bulk section has grown and they now offer some spices. Fantastic!

This bitter melon caught my eye. I had never seen it before. Apparently it’s grown locally. Kim of the Fertile Underground staff offered me some wonderful information on what it tastes like and how to cook it. She recommended stir frying it with other asian vegetables. I brought one home and did just that.

The posters in the windows of Fertile Underground reflect the values of the business. This Eating with the Ecosystem poster is an advertisement for a dinner series designed to raise awareness about New England marine ecosystem sustainability.

“This is not trash. This is future dirt.”

An educational poster campaign produced by ecoRI. It’s a beautiful thing. If you live in the area and don’t have an at home composting setup, you can bring your food scraps to the Hope Street Farmers Market at Lippitt Park in Providence (9:00am-1:00pm) or to the Go Local Farmers Market at the Barrington Congregational Church (9 a.m.-noon) on Saturdays and ecoRI Public Works will compost them for you. See their compost guidelines here.

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Olive del Mondo

After shopping the Lippitt park farmer’s market on Wednesday afternoon, I stopped by the recently opened Olive del Mondo at 815 Hope Street. My friend Seth sent me word about it at the beginning of the week and I was excited to check it out. As I’ve mentioned in many other posts, I have been getting my oils and vinegars from the Alternative Food Co-op in Wakefield, RI. I travel down there every 1.5 to 2 months to restock. The co-op products are very satisfactory—especially for cooking, but when it comes to dressing oil and vinegar, I have longed for a bulk source of specialty products. Growing up, my Italian father was always so excited to bring home dark green earthy olive oils and thick sweet balsamic vinegars to feed us. He’d open a bottle or can, drizzle it’s contents over a tomato or soak it into a piece of bread and present it to me with ebullience saying, “you’ve got to try this!”  It spoiled me.

As I stepped into Olive del Mondo, a huge smile came over my face. Glinting stainless canisters or “fustis” of oils and vinegars line the walls and island displays. Printed cards carefully describe the contents of each. I immediately noticed the emply dark glass bottles with cork stoppers that fill the lower shelves, and thought, “this looks promising”. I approached the young woman at the counter and introduced myself. I expressed my excitement and asked about the bottling system. Jennifer (that’s her name) explained to me that customers buy a small or large glass bottle to fill with the oil or vinegar of their choosing and then when they’ve finished with the product, they can bring the bottle back to the store to be washed and reused. The shop is equipped with a washing and drying system (bottle trees) in back. Fantastic! Plastic sampling cups and utensils are provided for customers to try different flavors, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be a problem to use one’s own sampling vessel brought from home.

http://olivedelmondo.com/

Jennifer and her husband Salvatore—who came in while we were talking, opened the business together. Both are graduates of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and their sensibilities show in the details of the store layout. We chatted about waste reduction projects. They told me it was a bit of a struggle to convince the Department of Health that the reusable bottle system could be sanitary, but eventually they were able to get it approved. I asked about the containers their products are delivered to the store in and Salvatore told me that they do come in plastic jugs (this is standard in shipping because of plastic’s lightweight characteristic—more weight equals more money and fuel). One jug fills one entire fusti. The plastic shipping container is certainly an imperfection in the bulk goods shopping system. It’s something that I discussed with Rosemary, the manager of Alternative Food Co-op, when I toured the store in January. She told me that paper and burlap are still being used to distribute many dry bulk goods, but today most liquid bulk products are shipped in plastic.

It’s important to acknowledge that buying imported food products is not a Zero Waste practice. As implicated by the shop’s name, the products Olive del Mondo carries are shipped here from around the world. While writing this post I realized that I did not know where the olive oil I buy in bulk at the co-op comes from. So I called them up and spoke to Liz, who is the store buyer and she told me that currently the olive oil they are purchasing in bulk is indeed imported and that it’s an issue they are both aware of and concerned about. So far they have not been able to find a distributor of bulk domestic olive oil.

When it comes to shopping for liquid bulk goods, variety is not always easy to come by… but there’s no shortage of it at Olive del Mondo. I really enjoyed speaking with Jennifer and Salvatore and I so admire the work they’ve done to set up the reusable bottle system. Currently, oil plays an important role in my diet, as it’s one of my main sources of fat. And while vinegar is a source of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium, the real reason I continue to consume it is that I simply love it. I passed on sampling in the shop because I didn’t have a vessel on me, but I did purchase a small bottle of 18-year aged balsamic and a reusable pour cap (the standard stop caps cannot be returned for reuse). As it turns out, it’s the most delicious balsamic vinegar I’ve ever tasted. I will savor every last drop.

 

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Soup to-go

Homemade spicy lentil soup to go. There’s an electric cooktop in the kitchen of the office building I work in. I can put this container directly on the burner to reheat food. I keep my own kitchen towel in the desk in my office to use as heat pad for a hot container, to clean up spills, and to dry my hands after washing.

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Spring equinox

Today is the spring equinox, but it looked and felt more like summer out there. People were walking around in bathing suits. The jet stream is making a dramatic curve across the 48 states allowing the cool air from Canada to move down west coast and all the warm air from the Gulf to move up the midwest and east coast. Winter was largely a no-show this year. These record high temperatures are unsettling to say the least. But the warm and balmy air feels good on my skin and lungs and I try to accept and enjoy the physical comfort.

This evening I rode my bike to the market to pick up some groceries for dinner. It was beautiful out. The man at the fish counter said, “You’re going to start a new trend of bringing your own container.” I smiled. That would be great. The girl who rang up my purchase was patient while I gave her the price look-up (PLU) code for my bulk rice. On the ride home I passed a man eating soft serve. I wonder what the weather will be like this summer.

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Energy cubes

Many people have asked me if I miss eating snack foods like chips, crackers, and granola bars, which are only available in packaging. To my surprise, after nearly a year of working on this project, I can honestly answer that I do not crave any packaged food—savory, salty, or sweet. I’ve managed to find healthy, package-free replacements to satisfy every kind of hankering. When I look at the dried bulk and produce section of the grocery store, I see ingredients for small snacks or large meals.

After consuming nearly all of the energy cubes/chunks I purchased at the co-op last week, I decided to try making my own. I looked at a few recipes online and then just improvised. I ended up with a vegetarian, dairy-free, gluten-free, nearly raw (except for the almond butter and the popped amaranth), delicious snack.

My “recipe” is below. The measurements are approximate. I used what I had on hand—any other nuts, seeds, fruits and grains can be substituted.

1 cup honey

1 cup nut butter (I used almond)

1 cup popped amaranth

½ cup chopped almonds

½ cup chopped dried apricots

½ cup sunflower seeds

½ cup pumpkin seeds

Heat honey until warm. Slowly add nut butter until just mixable.

Add and mix in the remaining ingredients one by one. When the mixture became too stiff to stir, I used my hands to fold in the rest of the dry ingredients.

Press the mixture into an oiled 8”x8” pan. Cool for one hour. Cut into 1 inch cubes. Store in the refrigerator for up to one month. Freeze indefinitely. 

Popped amaranth is really easy to make.

Place a skillet or a saucepan on the stove over high heat. Let it become hot enough that a drop of water disappears when you drop it on the surface.

Put a spoonful of dry amaranth seeds into the skillet (only pop a small amount at a time, otherwise the amaranth will burn).

Shake the skillet or stir the seeds continuously until all the amaranth has popped (about 15-20 seconds).

Pour the popped amaranth into a bowl and add more spoonfuls to your skillet until you have the desired amount.

Pressed in the pan…

They are sticky and delicious. I’m storing them in 16oz glass jars in the refrigerator. They’re a great snack before or after a run, or even as dessert.

Okay, last one… look at all that good stuff!

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Oat Milk

I decided to try making oat milk at home. The standard recipe that I found on several online sources looked really simple. The ingredients are: oat groats, water, and salt (optional). So I picked up some organic oat groats in bulk from a nearby Whole Foods.

The oat milk was so easy to make. Here’s the recipe I followed:

1/4 cup raw organic oat groats

4 cups water 

1/4 teaspoon of sea salt.

Soak the oat groats in a bowl of water for about 8 hours. Rinse the oats and discard the soaking water.

Place the oats, salt, and 1 cup of water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil then cover and simmer over low heat for 40 minutes. Remove from heat and let the oats cool completely.

Blend the cooked oats with the 3 cups of water until very smooth (I used my immersion blender and added the water directly to the saucepan—which meant less dishes to wash afterwards!).

strain through a fine mesh strainer into an airtight container. I reserved the solids to use in a baking recipe (not sure what I’m going to make yet). The oat milk will keep for 3-4 days in the refrigerator.

You can also make raw oat milk.

Leave the soaked and rinsed oats in a colander in a cool spot for 12-24 hours to initiate the sprouting process. Then blend the oats with the 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 4 cups of water until very smooth. Let the blended oats sit for 1 hour before straining.

The texture of the oat milk is smooth and creamy. Cooked oat milk tastes nutty and I’ve read that raw oat milk has a grassier flavor. Homemade oat milk is a wonderful solution to a packaging problem. Store-bought oat milk (and other boxed liquids) come in a drink carton that is comprised of 75% paper, 20% plastic, and 5% aluminium foil. There is also usually a plastic pour spout on the top of the carton. Making your own is also far more economical. A quart of organic oat milk from the store will cost around 3 to 4 dollars. The oat groats I bought in bulk only cost $1.69 per pound.

f drinking the milk straight, you might try sweetening it with a little honey. Today I topped mine with freshly ground cinnamon. It was delicious.

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Co-op bounty

Today I made a trip to the Alternative Food Co-op to restock on some goods. It’s been almost exactly two months since the last time I visited, which seems to be close to the average time between my trips. It was a beautiful day and the drive was nice—still, I wish the shop was closer to my home! I can’t say enough good things about the co-op’s staff and their bulk goods selection. I came home with package-free olive oil, canola oil, turmeric, curry powder, chili powder, chocolate energy cubes, dried mission figs, baking soda, natural bar soap, and conditioner.

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The perfect thing

I love the way bulk foods look stored in glass jars. Simple ingredients boasting great potential. I love the sound food makes when poured from cotton bulk bags as it ‘pings’ against the glass.

I have photographed and mentioned these before, but I want to talk about how much I love the design of Weck jars.  I think they are in many ways an improvement on the traditional glass wire bail jar. The seal is the same with a rubber gasket and a fitted glass lid, but the clamping system on the Weck jars employs two loose stainless steel clips that snap onto the lid and lip of the jar, forming an airtight seal. Because the lid can be removed completely, they’re easy to clean and dry. The stainless steel clamps won’t rust the way the wire can on a bail jar.

They’re great for canning and food storage. For the dry bulk grains on my counter that I use nearly every day—like quinoa, I simply cover the jar with the glass lid. Other dry bulk goods—like nuts, seeds, tea, spices, and chocolate, I seal with the gasket.

Weck seems to be growing in popularity in the States, which means increased availability. Recently I’ve been able to find them in boutique home goods stores and even at Crate and Barrel. Last year I ordered a set directly from the company website and it arrived in big cardboard box filled with packing peanuts—woops. I took the peanuts to a UPS store where they reuse them. Many shipping companies will accept used packing materials as long as they are clean. Of course it’s always better shop at local business when possible. I carry my large canvas tote when I go shopping for new or used jars and bottles. I’ve learned to throw in a sweater or some t-shirts to wrap fragile items in.

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Bulk pepitas!

A personal favorite.

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No trash kitchen

More food storage. Purchased in bulk without packaging, plus a couple home grown foods, and some spices with labels that were purchased before starting the project.

From the left: carob chips, flour, rice, fennel seed, cumin seed, sugar, granola, nutritional yeast, raisins, camomile tea, flax seeds, cannellini beans, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, chili peppers (grown), rolled oats, dried apricots, stevia powder (grown), cocoa powder, almond butter, millet, green tea, yerba maté (grown), balsamic vinegar, sesame oil, canola oil, salt, pepper

All of the spices on my shelf are available in bulk at the co-op. I’ve been thinking about how long mine have been sitting, and as time goes by, their freshness fades. I may end up giving some away if I don’t find the inspiration to use them. I like the idea of buying smaller amounts of each spice at a given time so that they are more potent.

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Bulk time lapse

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One month of trash-free bulk foods on my countertop.

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It started in the kitchen…

A lot of time passed between the point at which I decided to create a blog about the No Trash Project and the point that I finally got it started. I’ve been thinking (probably too much) about how to organize it. Of course a blog is a wonderful platform for documentation, and I know that as time goes by, it will become a sort of album and journal. Ideally, I would like the content to be useful to others as well.  I’ve decided to try to outline the ‘big picture’ ideas motivating the project and also describe the details of the daily problem solving involved.

I think it’s important to talk about the reevaluation of both need and habit that has been necessary for me to make any kind of progress.  As cliché as it may sound, we are ‘programmed’ to participate in trash-making routines.  It’s easy to accept that the products we see on television, billboards, and store shelves will enhance the quality of our lives. I was very much in the habit of buying and using things that just seemed necessary to function in a productive way. Now, the question I repeat over and over everyday is, “Do I need this?” Do I really need a different cleaning product for each and every surface in my house? Do I need dryer sheets to keep my laundry fresh and static free? Do I need plastic wrap to keep my food from spoiling? After several months of making these continuous checks, I’ve found ways around the trash to get what I need to be happy and healthy. Eventually I came to the question, “Do I still need my trashcan?”

I want to stress that at the beginning of this project I decided that the venture must always be about feeling good. I wanted to be very careful not to make this process about deprivation, especially because I would be working on it with another person whose wants and needs vary from my own. The system is not perfect. There are many stubborn problems still to solve. A small amount of recyclables still go out to the curb every week. There’s always room for progress and I love watching the project grow.

Okay, now for some specifics. To start down the no trash road, I needed a plan of attack. I had to organize the steps required to establish working systems in my home and the rest of my life. I looked at the different ‘zones’ in which I make trash. In the broadest sense, I categorize my trash production into three zones that exist both in and outside of my home.

Zone 1: Food–before I began this project, the majority of the trash in my can was from food products

Zone 2: Hygiene–both personal and household

Zone 3: Work–for me this zone applies to both the practices of my artist studio, and my university film department job

For the rest of this post I’m going to talk about the food zone, as it’s the area that is working most efficiently today. Here is a breakdown of the food zone subcategories.

Shopping: As I mentioned in my first post, bulk grocery shopping was a catalyst for the project. I buy all my food in bulk and I try to limit my produce and animal product shopping to farmer’s market as much as possible. A local fishing company has agreed to take my container home and return it at the next market day, filled with a fresh caught fish of their choosing. When I do go to the grocery store I shop the perimeter. I purchase all my fruits and vegetables without packaging of course and I have someone at the meat and fish counter put my purchases directly into a container I’ve brought from home.  They place the empty container on the scale to get the tare weight, and then place the meat directly into the container. No paper for the cat to pull out of the trashcan at home.  I fill up peanut butter and almond butter from the grinder machines into my own jar. The tare weight is subtracted at the checkout register. While there are great selections of bulk dry goods at my local markets, discovering a nearby co-op helped me to take the project to the next level. There I can fill tea, spices, oil, vinegar, and many non-food products into my own containers. It’s wonderful. Finally, choosing responsible distributers at the markets and buying organic has become an important part of the overall no trash effort.

Food Storage: Once the food gets home, the dried goods are poured into glass jars of all shapes and sizes, greens are placed into cups of water, and meat is kept in airtight containers in the refrigerator. The humidifier drawer is helpful in keeping vegetables longer. Carrots and radishes will stay crunchy for a surprising amount of time if stored submerged in water in the fridge. With regard to perishables, I’ve found that it’s imperative to only buy what I know I’m going to consume in the next couple of days. This way I can altogether avoid throwing out spoiled food. My refrigerator is not cluttered with forgotten groceries like it used to be. It has become a very efficient space that is constantly being emptied and restocked with colorful foods. I’ve established a collection of storage containers that play a daily part in this cycle. Luckily I live in a place that’s within close proximity to many grocery stores and farmers markets.

Food Scraps: Compost, compost, compost. After years of talking about it, I finally built a compost bin. It sits in the small yard behind my city apartment—my landlady was nice enough to allow it. All the scraps from the kitchen (except for citrus) go into the pile, and the compost fertilizes my plants. The local farmer’s markets also have a compost service.

Make Your Own: There are many products that cannot be purchased in bulk or without some kind of packaging.  Of those, most I’ve found are very easy for me to live without. I’ve learned to make some of the foods I still crave at home, from ingredients purchased without trash—like hummus or kombucha for instance.

Eating Out: Here is another area where it is important to choose responsibly. Supporting businesses that buy locally, serve no processed food, and plate reasonable portion sizes is important to me. A reusable container from home can replace the need for a doggie bag. Also, a container can be brought to a restaurant for takeout service or to the window of a food truck. I make a lot of meals at home to carry with me to work or on a day trip.

So there it is—a scratch at the surface. A bit of the macro and the micro.

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