March 03, 2014

Food and plastic and baby albatrosses

Cooked, dried limas, roasted butternut squash, peas, corn, cashew cheese sauce.

I've always kind of figured I was doing my part to reduce animal cruelty, and also to protect the environment, just by being a vegan. I don't eat or wear animal products, I buy cruelty-free household and personal-care products, and in general, do my best to avoid buying things that are animal-derived. I don't eat honey, wear silk or comfort myself with feathers. I compost and recycle. Good for me, right?

Thirty years ago, when I was living my vegan family life, I didn't have that much to recycle — you couldn't walk into a store and buy a package of any vegan item you felt like having. And, I was a pretty back-to-basics person back then. I measured my dried beans and grains, into reusable containers from the bulk bins at the co-op, or I bought in 25-pound bags. I belonged to a group of friends who formed a buying club, and if the bulk items we purchased were too large for us to use by ourselves, we shared them. We used to buy 15-pound tubs of tahini, split it into jars, and return the tubs for reuse. I bought my tofu like that, too. There was very little waste compared to what I recycle now. It doesn't seem like I even buy very many packaged items, but I'm still alarmed at the recycling we accumulate. Well, I've just experienced something that has me thinking harder about my role in environmental pollution, and how it affects animals — not just the animals who don't die for my use, but animals living thousands of miles away dying from my trash. This may not be a typical food-related post, but please stick with me. I think you'll be glad you did.


Is the compostable bag really compostable?

My oldest son teaches high school, and every year he organizes a week-long event coinciding with World Water Week, to highlight an aspect of the environment as it connects with water.

Last years' tee-shirt design. A sense of humor is important at all times.

Last year was about sanitation — or, more precisely, the effects of the lack of sanitation on health and the environment. You might think most people have access to toilets, but you'd be wrong. I almost lost my lunch doing research for that one. You might be wondering what my involvement is in all this. Well, guess who is the pro bono graphic designer behind the posters, tee-shirts, water bottles, post cards, etc., that appear in connection to the World Water Week event? This year I didn't have to do the shirts and bottles, but while I was searching for stuff about one of the keynote speakers for a poster, I watched two stunning videos that both moved and disturbed me.

The subject this year is plastic, and the keynote speaker for the public component of this year's event, is Chris Jordan, a renowned environmental artist who lives in the Seattle area. The first video I watched was a TED talk Chris gave about some of the art pieces he had made depicting the usually unseen magnitude of the result of unconscious behaviors we, as individuals take part in without thinking about their impact. I've seen Chris' work before, but obviously I didn't pay enough attention. This time I was hearing an explanation, and as I watched his talk, I was amazed by what he had done. I couldn't get the video to embed, so I'm providing a link here.



The second video describes a devastating environmental tragedy on remote, Midway island in the Pacific. There are vast collections of plastic suspended in the sea, and thousands of baby albatrosses die as their parents unwittingly feed them plastic. Please take the time to watch the two videos, and let me know what you are thinking. If you can only watch one, please watch the second. It's especially important to watch to the end. Thank you.

I'm paying closer attention now to how food and other items are packaged, and how I can use less packaging. It's hard and frustrating sometimes to figure out how to do this. I always bring my own bags when I shop, but that's small potatoes in the larger picture. I'm interested in your thoughts.




12 comments:

  1. I just get really depressed whenever I think about this. It seems like there's so little we can do, and so little difference it will make. I save and reuse all my plastic bags when I buy from the bulk bins and try not to use plastic bags for produce at all if it can be helped. I recycle whatever I can but since we're all supposedly recycling, it seems like companies just use as much packaging as they can assuming we will recycle it.
    I read somewhere that some of the stuff we think we can recycle often doesn't even get recycled.
    It's so sad. And as a person with limited means, who commutes on public transit, it's difficult to buy in bulk and even when I can, it's difficult to transport.
    I really don't know how much we can do but do our best and assume we'll all die soon anyway.

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    1. Depressed, yeah. I feel like I've become too complacent about recycling, using more paper and plastic than necessary because it gets 'recycled.' Awareness is the first step, then action.

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  2. Wow! Your son works on World Water Week? That is one of the blogging events that I never ever miss. I've been making sure to participate in WWW one on at least one of my sites for years. You guys do amazing work.

    The problem of plastic pollution upsets me, too, and it's funny how diligent I am about plastic in some areas, but not in others. Plastic toys, plastic water bottles etc are always on my watch list, but the little plastic tubs with tofu or vegan cheese feel so unavoidable. I wonder if there's a way to get items like this in big bulk bags to save plastic, like you and your friends did back in the day! I'd be totally down for a divvying up party for things like tofu.

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    Replies
    1. He's been participating in WWW ever since he and one of his students one a place at the Aspen Institute several years ago. It's a huge project that involves the whole school, but he does most of the organizing. Last year he brought the amazing Jack Sim from Singapore. You should look him up on the Internet. I usually just do the design stuff, but this year I was inspired to write a blog post to draw attention to the environmental impact of plastic.

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  3. Sometimes it does feel pointless, I don't know what's the answer other than don't give up trying. It might take some sort of tipping point before everyone wakes up and does something about it. :-(

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    Replies
    1. I sure hope we reach the tipping point soon. Did you watch the video?

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  4. Yes, yes, and thrice yes - why is it so hard to get anything without layers and layers of unrecyclable plastic packaging? And thanks for reminding me that even when something is recyclable, doesn't mean you can forget about its impact.

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    1. I think it's so hard to avoid plastic because making plastic is big business. Money trumps environment every time. We need more "reusing" and "reducing" to go with the recycling.

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  5. Excess packaging is the bane of my existence. I love, for example, baby organic spinach – which comes in giant plastic containers. Recycling plastic in Philly (as you probably know) is relatively new. I remember years ago, saving all my plastic in containers in my basement and making special trips to recycle it bc I couldn't put it at the curb with my cardboard and glass. Little things, like making your own beauty and cleaning products help balance things out a tiny bit. But your post is a good reminder to try to avoid it.

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    Replies
    1. I suppose that growing our own spinach is the ideal solution, but, of course, that's not always practical. Making beauty and cleaning products gets rid not only of extra plastic, but also toxic chemicals. I wish there were some way of ending the crazy packaging, but it's not even just packaging. When I look at what is inside the poor albatrosses, I wonder if there is any hope.

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  6. Andrea, this is such an important topic. I've been well aware for some time of the garbage islands that have collected in our oceans and are just floating around killing the animals and polluting our seas. It's just disgusting. I do not have the time this second to watch - we are heading out to the Farmer's Market, but I'd like to watch later. I only see the first video - am I missing where the second video is?

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    Replies
    1. I really hope you get a chance to watch the videos. The first video refused to embed no matter what I did so I provided a link in the text. The second video is embedded in the post. I you have problems watching, please let me know.

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