Yesterday we had a busy day, so I brought along a simple lunch of sliced, nitrate-free salami, brown rice crackers and a green salad topped with leftover roasted chicken and homemade dressing. It was well-received by my little family. But when I got home it was with a sigh that I threw away the plastic cracker container. I hate contributing yet another plastic waste product to our landfill.
Generally speaking, I've been pretty good at making everything we eat from scratch, though I make a few exceptions. But this last year has been especially busy, and I am juggling a lot. So when my youngest — who is just starting to get interested in eating solids — seemed to enjoy crackers, I went to the health food store and bought several boxes of crackers for her to try. I am now remembering why I dislike packaged foods so much.
1. I seem to have two choices. I can either buy non-healthy, refined packaged foods that are full of not only white flour and sugar, but preservatives and who knows what else. Or, I can buy "healthy" brands that contain better ingredients but often taste rancid to me. This is the problem. When you leave grains whole, the oils in the flour go rancid far more rapidly than their refined counterparts.
The funny thing is that I never noticed this until I started baking with freshly ground flour. (Unless you count when I was pregnant with my first and all of a sudden, with my heightened sense of smell and taste, everything store-bought made out of whole wheat flour tasted rancid to me.) Once you've worked with freshly ground flours at home, you realize how delicious whole grain flour can be. It has ruined me forever from store-bought whole wheat products.
2. Even the "healthy" options of packaged foods are not that healthy. The crackers and cookies are still made with higher amounts of sugar than I would use at home. While some of the products I buy use oils I consider OK, they wouldn't be my first choice. While there are a few packaged food items that I feel fine about eating, the vast majority of them are made with unhealthy ingredients.
3. Let's face it, it's so much more expensive to buy than to make at home. For example, when I make crackers at home, I make bags and bags of crackers for a quarter of the price of store bought.
4. Waste. I hate throwing away so much plastic created by store bought packaged foods. It's really frustrating to see so much go into our trash knowing that "plastic is forever." It makes me wonder if there are better ways to do this. If they had decent crackers and chips in the bulk section, I could bring my own containers to fill, for example.
It reminds me of a book series I loved when I was in middle school. It was based off of the author's growing-up years as part of a Jewish family during the Victorian era. Her family owned a grocery shop and the store contained large barrels of crackers that the kids loved. In those days, if you wanted a bag of crackers, it was filled up from the barrel and put into a paper bag. No plastic required. Yes, the world kept spinning without plastic before it was invented. Bulk bins remind of me of those barrels. (Though they don't seem quite as poetic, but remind me somehow of Winco instead. Plus, it's a little ironic to buy food from plastic bins to avoid plastic packaging!)
The fact of the matter is, we live busy lifestyles now. While I have tried to keep our schedules more simple, I certainly still find myself with plenty on my hands. Convenience food is actually convenient. But I am going to be looking at ways to reduce the amount of plastic waste from packaged foods that end up in our trash can. If we have so much waste by just allowing a couple of packaged foods into our household, it's hard to imagine what a family that eats a lot of packaged foods throws away.
But I understand the need for food that is simple and quick. Solutions for our family include not only making our own food at home, but also keeping an eye out for bulk items (to be bought in bags from home), and being supportive of companies that work to reduce waste in their packaging choices.
Solutions aren't always simple, but the above reasons are enough to make me willing to find them.