Self-Care: How We Treat Our Pantry and How It’s Related to the Ways We Nourish Ourselves

As I mentioned in last weeks post about neglecting our needs for clothing, I have been going through a lot of things and areas in my life that have been neglected for far too long. The kitchen pantry is one of those places, and it’s one that is packed with loads of unattended and badly neglected feelings. Food is a tough one for many, seeing how it is so closely connected with our survival instincts. And again, I’m not a professional, these are only my experiences with food.

The environment I grew up in was one filled with many conflicting messages, and food was a source of great confusion. As I’ve said before, my care-giver’s focus on image, and how we were seen was priority number one. So along with wearing the right thing, we also needed to look the part. To my family, this meant being thin. It wasn’t until very recently that I’ve gotten to my “desired weight”, or the one that would be approved of by my care-givers, now that looking thin is no longer a top priority for me. My goals now are to be at a healthy weight through diet and exercise.

But how they went about showing me that being thin was a priority was what was most confusing. One of my care-givers offered me money to lose weight. I believe the arrangement was 40 dollars to get to my ideal weight. I couldn’t have been more than twelve at the time, so I agreed. I wanted the money for sure, but also the opportunity to please them. To feel loved and accepted, whatever the cost, by my care-givers.

What was most confusing about this task was that I was given no direction on how to change my habits, and I was being fed by them as well. I had no idea what to do to lose weight or how to acquire the resources to get me to what seemed like an unachievable goal. So I felt like a failure. This was a huge blow to my confidence and one I’ve carried for a long time.

And to add to the confusion, instead of being shown the resources and support to achieve my goal, I was ridiculed for my weight. I was called a “human garbage disposal” while my entire family laughed at my expense.

Another layer of confusion was when I told my care-givers I was hungry they would almost always reply with, “there’s a fridge full of food in the kitchen”. That wasn’t untrue, but I had no idea how to cook or prepare meals for myself and the extent of my culinary abilities lie in being able to open a box of cereal or bottle of soda. No one was around to show me how to make a meal, or the different parts and techniques that make the sum of the whole.

To make things even more confusing, I once pulled pork chops from the freezer to try and cook a meal for myself. I defrosted the meat and cooked them in a frying pan. Thinking back now that wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but there was no one around to show me how, or to tell me that undercooked pork is potentially dangerous. But I finished cooking them and ate them without getting sick. I was kind of proud of myself for trying to take care of myself and was feeling pretty good. Until my care-givers came home and scolded me for using the pork chops they were saving for later in the week.

So there I stood, not knowing how to take care of my needs for food asides from opening a box of cereal, being told that there was plenty of food in the fridge, only I wasn’t allowed to eat it without the consent of my care-givers, who already thought I was eating too much because I was overweight. And I was overweight because my diet consisted of cereal, soda, and whatever candy I could buy at the local convenience store.

And to add insult to injury, my care-givers were gone from 10am to 2am. So there was nobody awake in the house by the the time I left for school in the morning, and by the time I got home from school, my care-givers were working. I went to bed whenever I wanted and ate whatever was left over in the fridge, sometimes not seeing them for days. So getting consent to make meals for myself or to be shown how to take care of my own needs wasn’t even an option.

Fast forward to two weeks ago, and I’m rearranging my cabinets to make room for new purchases when I realize that there are some food items that have been in my cabinets and pantries for about half a decade. That’s a long time for a box of pasta to be sitting around! I was treating my pantry like a museum, curating different “staples”, things I should have to have food. But I only ate a few things, I just started learning how to meal prep and had no idea how to put together a pantry. Speaking of building a functional pantry, Minimalist Baker has a great post on how to set up your own pantry, if you were in the same boat I was.

What I had was cabinets full of foods that I rarely used, if at all, and no intention of ever using them. They were just there. I’m not entirely sure why, but I have a feeling it has a lot to do with my upbringing, being told we had plenty of food yet none of it was for me to prepare and just wanting to know I had food.

I’ve been cooking for a long time as a way to make a living. I started in a small but successful mexican takeout place when I was 20, and I’ve been cooking in some form ever since. But when it came to cooking for myself, I just didn’t. For a long time I ate takeout and went to restaurants mostly and seldom cooked meals. It wasn’t until the last few years that I started to meal prep, bring meals to work with me and take an active role in nourishing my body.

One of the first changes I’ve made that has had a positive impact on how I choose to nourish myself is through batch cooking. I make a plan by choosing about three recipes to cook for the week and keep them in the fridge for easy meals I can reheat instead of cooking at the end of a long day. I also batch cook lunch and breakfast to bring to work with me on my cooking day. One of the benefits is that I’m able to organize my shopping list around the recipes I choose for the week so very little food goes to waste.

To batch cook, I simply take the recipes I’m going to cook for the week and multiply them by two or three times the original quantity. So if the recipe yields two servings, if I multiply all the ingredients by three, I have six servings. These I store in the fridge for later and reheat them all week. I usually cook a few recipes and some kind of grain to have some variety, so I’m not eating the same thing day after day. But after realizing that a good portion of my pantry was old enough to start school, I made a plan to use up what I had, to organize my pantry, and hopefully, my relationship to food as well.

I’ve been searching for recipes that use these items that have been taking up cabinet space and am making plans to rotate and keep my stores fresh. For example, instead of buying boxes of pasta, just to have incase, after I use up what I do have I’m going to buy pasta fresh from the pasta shop that is close to home. This way, I’ll be eating fresh foods while freeing up space in my pantry and supporting a local business at the same time.

I was a little worried about the price I would be paying, being a thrifty New Englander, but I’ve found that buying fresh isn’t that much more expensive. A pound of pasta is roughly around 4 dollars fresh. Compared to .79 cents for it’s dried counterpart, yes that’s four times the cost. But if you only eat pasta once or twice a week or less as I do, that’s only 12 dollars a month or 9 meals, roughly 1.50 a meal assuming you get 3 meals from a pound of pasta. So it’s affordable, and the quality is undeniably superior to dried. It’s also a nice way to treat yourself with a special, affordable meal.

I think what sparked this investigation into my relationship with food and how I eat, started with my self-care Sunday dinners. As I’ve talked about in my post on self-care Sundays, I’ve decided to spend one day a week to take special care of myself. I chose my Friday or the last day of my work week, which falls on Sunday (actually it’s Tuesday now:) but a large part of the day involves preparing and eating a special meal. Something I normally wouldn’t make. This act helps me to enjoy being around food and the process of making it. Being creative, and trying something I normally wouldn’t cook for myself. Before these dinners, looking up new recipes was something I seldom did! I would usually eat the same three or four recipes without veering from those few.

In short, I’m teaching myself the healthy habits and boundaries around food I was never given. What used to be a source of fear and anxiety, has now become a resource. I look forward to coming home on my Fridays, knowing that I’ll light a candle, put some music on and cook a meal that I know I’m going to enjoy. It’s a source of pleasure to know I’m able to care for myself in this way. And I’m also eating healthier foods as well! We spend so much of our time relating to food, why spend that time and energy being fearful of it, or uncomfortable around it? Treat your food with love and you will love what you eat. Thanks for reading. Peace :]

Here are a few of my go-to recipes if you’re looking for something new or to start batch cooking for yourself, enjoy! :

Roast Vegetable & Quinoa Harvest Bowl

1-Pot Everyday Lentil Soup

Easy Vegan Ramen

Image Credits: “Early 20th century pantry in Pittock Mansion” by mharrsch is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Self-Care Sundays! Coming to Terms with your Fear and Neglect of Self by Creating Healthy, New, and Self-Sustaining Habits, Part 2.

Last week, I went over some ways we get caught in the trap of neglecting ourselves. Either by the lessons taught to us in our youths by our caregivers, or the habits we’ve cultivated in our day to day routines. This week I’d like to talk about some of my self-care rituals, how I’ve developed them, and why they are important in their own specific ways. Hopefully, my routines will give you some ideas and motivation to start and cultivate your own self-care rituals. So, lets hit the ground running.

I started running in my early thirties, but it wasn’t until fairly recently that it’s become a part of my self-care routine. Partly because I’ve only recently started my self-care routine. But also because it’s a place where I learned how to reach and set goals. The pleasure of finding ease in the work of the longer runs but also the friendships I developed with my running buddies along the way.

In my youth, teenage years and twenties, I was sedadent. I was adverse to work, all kinds and clocked so many hours playing video games that I don’t like to think what I could have accomplished had I utilized that time towards more productive ends. But I was also living with the effects of years of neglect and abuse. I had no direction, and noone I felt I could turn to. To give me advice and direction on where to go or what to do with my life. So I was doing the best I could with what I had, and what I had was a lot of free time and video games. In short, I needed to get out from in front of a screen and get some fresh air.

So I started running. I began after my divorce, I feel as a way to deal with some of the guilt I was harboring for leaving my ex-wife (she had started running shortly before we broke up). Later it would become a way for me to find peace while being in the midst of stress. An apt metaphor for life, but it also represented connection with others as I had picked up a handful of running buddies along the way.

But it became part of my self-care routine because I had come to enjoy being on the road. Not only the fond memories but also the reconnecting with the part of me that wants to take care of myself by way of my physical health. I finally felt like I had an outlet to express myself. Making my physical health a priority was a step towards making peace with the parts of my neglected self that was paralyzed by fear. In front of a screen, beer in hand avoiding the work we all have to get after in life.

Yoga was another way for me to reconnect with myself, only for different reasons than with running. I had experienced a lot of traumatic events in my childhood. So much so that I was in a constant state of dissociation from the time I was eight, until very recently. Fear and anxiety were emotional states that were always humming softly in the background. Save for the times that they made their way front and center to my emotional body. Then I was plunged back into reliving the traumatic emotions I experienced in my youth.

Whenever I stepped foot inside my body, the immediate and intense urge to use a method to self sooth would come crashing in. Drinking coffee and alcohol being two of my go tos, but video games and anti-anxiety meds and other forms of distraction were also outlets I used to sooth. I rarely touched anyone and feared being touched by others due to my lack of trust. Most of my trauma happened at the hands of my caregivers. My body was a place filled with paralyzing fear and horror.

When I started practicing yoga regularly, I had only ever done it once before and it was not a good experience. I went with my sister. I was hungover, in a gym where everybody working out was staring at us, in front of a picture window where harsh rays of sunlight where beating down on us. It was an unforgiving hour.

I’m not sure why I started again after the last experience. But when I began my practice in ernest, it was different in almost every way. I went to the Y, where they had just built a new facility and class was held in the ballet studio. The room was large, spacious and private. There was soft light from LED candles placed around the mirror adorned walls of the studio. Soothing, ambient music was playing quietly in the background while the instructor walked among the students correcting postures with a polite and gentle touch. This was the place I learned that under certain circumstances, I could learn to come home to my body again. To trust myself and others.

Since, I’ve started my own practice at home. It’s been an indispensable way to connect more fully with my senses. I usually burn a candle while I practice, to help to engage more of my awareness and be wholly present in my body. And it’s still tough work. But reconnecting and being present in my body while knowing I’m safe as I am has opened up new ways of staying present with my emotions and learning to trust that safety. My body no longer feels unsafe.

Food was another way to reconnect with myself. My unhealthy relationship with food started almost from day one. I was always overweight growing up. I ate for flavor instead of nutritional value and was never given proper direction on how to cook for myself, or what healthy foods to eat were.

In my teens and twenties, I ate fast food and takeout almost every night and was always drinking beer. At least a six pack a night and my early thirties weren’t much better. I have a sweet tooth too, so I had zero self control when it came to eating sweets. I would eat chocolate almost as much as I drank beer. My family never taught me how to prepare meals, so when I was on my own at 19 I had no idea what I was doing with regards to my nutritional needs. I was completely in the dark when it came to food.

I decided to become vegan about five years ago which I still mostly am. Only on occasion I’ll have dairy when I’m not cooking for myself. On Sundays, I choose a special meal to cook, something different, or something I wouldn’t normally cook for myself as a treat. I go shopping for the ingredients the night before and usually grab a seasonal beer to pair with dinner. I also make a dessert for myself to round out the experience.

My boundaries with food were so poor that I had no appreciation of the food I had been eating. And if I continued to follow that path I would most definitely have developed some health issues. I eat more healthfully now, since becoming vegan, and my self-care dinners have really come to embody the new relationship I’m forging with the ways I’m choosing to nourish my body.

I’m learning to enjoy the food I eat. The process of making something special for myself and the research of finding something that is appealing to me. I’m learning to nourish my body as well as the experience surrounding the food I eat. Replacing the confusion and fear of not knowing how to care for one of my most basic needs with confidence and joy.

Candles and tea are other ways in which I’ve set the tone for my evening meal and post-meal experience. I’ve always enjoyed the ambient lighting provided by candle light, and since a lot of the trauma I experienced happened at night, the cozy setting helps to ease some of the stress the evening sometimes brings.

Tea, herbal is another way to set a relaxing tone to the evening while unwinding after dinner. I had been so used to being wound up from drinking so much caffeine during the day that I needed to drink five to six beers at night just to relax. Herbal tea is a healthy and tasty way for me to wind down at the end of the day. The one beer I have at dinner and the tea I have at night are ways I’m setting healthy boundaries around the ways I handle my stress levels. They are more for taste and enjoyment now, instead of relying on something to calm me down.

And finally, music and sleep. I usually listen to something soothing while eating, without words and I make sure to get at least eight hours of sleep. So I get to bed at a sound hour. Music was the first way I learned to relate to my emotions and listening to music without words helps me to attune to how I’m feeling in the present while setting a relaxing environment, not unlike the yoga studio I would first practice in. While as I’ve said before, much of my trauma happened during the night so getting enough sleep is essential for my emotional well being.

These are the rituals of my self-care Sundays. They have evolved from when I first started practicing them. I plan on changing a few things up after I pay down some debt, but essentially they are ways to attune to my emotional well being. But also reparenting myself around the areas of my life that have been neglected. First by my caregivers, but then by me as I carried on their legacy of abuse and neglect of myself.

I needed to learn how to trust myself again after all I had been through and put myself through. It isn’t easy, but the more I persist and kept showing myself that I’m here, I care, the more trust slowly but surely is taking hold and ease and confidence takes the place of fear and the emptiness that neglect leaves.

And in a way, I’m cultivating hope for the future. Something Tara Brach calls resourcing. I’m now looking forward to my self-care days and rituals. The calm and comfort that I’m cultivating on Sundays I’m now able to call on those feelings and resources throughout the week. Whether I’m in the middle of a busy day at work, or struggling with a tough run, I can call on the good memories of days past or on future plans.

I hope I’ve painted a picture of how I’ve attuned to my needs and maybe inspired some readers to start their own rituals. I’d also like to add that it takes persistence and a little tenacity. As I’ve said above it wasn’t without some struggle, which is counter intuitive to finding ease but feeling at ease isn’t easy. If you are like I was, living with a constant sense of vigilance, relaxing isn’t second nature. So be persistent! It takes time but with a little consistent self-care you’ll be able to attune to your needs and maybe loosen the grip of some fear, whatever form it may be taking. All you need to do is listen inward and show some kindness. Peace :]

Image Credits: “2015-03-18c What do I do for self-care — index card #self-care #happiness #comfort” by sachac is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Reparenting: How to Set Healthy Boundaries With What We’re Eating

Food is tough. It’s at the center of most of our celebrations and holidays. We share recipes we love while we find new favorites and old standbys to garnish our plates. We eat every day and we have different dishes representing a plethora of cultures to choose from. It’s also a way we pass time and to cheer ourselves up. We binge on it while we binge on T.V. and there are other ways we use food to be sure. But for most of us food is always in the back of our minds.

I usually start out the week with the best of intentions. Those are to cook lots of different meals for a quick lunch or dinner during the week so I won’t have to stand in front of the fridge or cabinets wondering what I’ll be eating for dinner that night. But it inevitably happens. My days off come around and something’s come up or I don’t have the energy to muster the ambitious meal plan I have in mind. So I default to something easy while the food I bought for the recipes I chose slowly waste away in the fridge or on the counter tops.

This happens more often than I’d like to admit. I know I’m not alone and I feel bad tossing a bunch of produce that’s turned. Not only do I feel bad about the waste but also because meals are so important to our self-care and how we feel about, view and fuel our bodies. The more we take care with the foods that we prepare for ourselves, the more respect we pay to ourselves. And in turn the better we will feel about ourselves. And not to mention the voice that beats us up for the habits we’ve been taught along the way.

My habits were pretty unhealthy. In my teens and early twenties, I ate a lot of takeout while drinking four to five beers a night. I had always been overweight until fairly recently and ate the fattiest, most unhealthy takeout foods. One of my weakness was for pork pot stickers with general Goa’s chicken and chow foon right behind them. I would probably eat my daily caloric intake in one meal if I got Chinese for take-out!

But my habit for takeout started when I was a teenager. I would spend my paper-route money at a sub-shop down the street. Since my mother was always at work she didn’t have time to make dinner for us every night. So I defaulted to greasy subs and pizzas while loading up on chips and whatever I could find at the convenience store.

It wasn’t until the last few years that I’ve been taking a more mindful look at the ways I’ve related to food in the past. And I’ve set some goals for how I want my diet to look and feel going forward for the future.

My recent food journey began when a friend of mine asked me to go to the Boston Vegfest with her about five years ago. She also gave me a book titled, “The China Study” by Dr. T. Colin Campbell. Vegfest was an incredible experience. There were speakers like Dr. Michael Greger author and founder of the website, Nutritional Facts. He mostly focused on the nutritional benefits and values of eating vegan or vegetarian. Dr. Campbell’s book is also about the long term health benefits of a vegan or vegetarian diet on weight loss as well as nutritional values. But there were also venders with loads of tasty treats and samples to try were there as well.

So naturally I jumped in with both feet and became vegan right away. I didn’t try incorporating tofu and more greens into my diet and then slowly fade out the meat. Having dairy only on occasion. Nope, I went right for it. Over time my diet has come to resemble something more of a vegetarian diet, where I mostly still cook vegan for myself and will sometimes eat vegetarian while I’m out. Because it’s not always easy finding vegan restaurants or restaurants that cater to vegan cuisine. But I haven’t nor will I ever eat meat again. For me it has a lot to do with environmental impact and the health benefits. But I also understand and respect that it’s not a lifestyle for everybody. Vegan’s have gotten a bad rap for being pushy about their beliefs and I don’t want to rest in that camp.

But what is more important for me than the “right” ways to eat or the health benefits (which are important) was that I needed to set healthier boundaries with the food I was eating in general. I was drinking close to half my calories for the day in beer alone. And eating probably my full calories at dinner if I went out to eat! And that was just in one meal! The rest of the day wasn’t stellar either. All said, I’d probably eat 4.5k calories in a day with a very sedentary lifestyle. So long story short, I had zero boundaries when it came to food.

For me when I started eating vegan it was for weight loss. The health benefits were appealing but as I’ve said in my post “Search for a Blog“, my family’s values were definitely based in image centric beliefs. My mom would often call me a human garbage disposal with regards to my eating habits. And being overweight pretty much my whole life, I never felt like I belonged to my family. Not that my family were models of healthy eating habits. But I wanted to belong and I wanted to do it by looking good naked.

I still want to look good. I feel like a large part of self care is about liking who we are in that we enjoy our self projected image. But it’s sometimes difficult to draw the line on what’s healthy versus what’s unhealthy self image. Thanks largely to advertising and cultural tendencies and trends. But that’s another post for another time, maybe for somebody with a masters or doctorate in social anthropology or psychology 😀

So when I started eating vegan I found that I had to make a lot of sacrifices and find new ways and habits of eating that would allow me to achieve my desired relationship with food. Protein and iron were now on my radar as I searched food caloric nutritional values. Also scanning for proper ratios of carbs to fats to proteins. It wasn’t easy at first but I found loads of recipes on different sites that were helpful. A big shout out to The Minimalist Baker for helping me get started with vegan friendly recipes (also with nutritional breakdowns of her recipes). Otherwise I would have been eating lots of stir-fried tofu and veggies which probably would have gotten old before long.

But there are so many resources online now that it is super easy to find recipes and inspiration. Like I said above, Minimalist Baker is a good site, as well as This Rawesome Vegan Life. But you could find yourself in the same trap if you make and eat whatever you feel like eating. I was headed in that direction. By not watching my portion sizes and making a lot of sweets and and other high fat, low nutritionally dense recipes. My eating habits turned into something that resembled what I was doing before going vegan. Only I replaced meat and dairy with more nuts and seeds, loads of chocolate and sweeteners. They were all natural for the most part but I was consuming without regard to how much and eating for big flavor instead of nutritional value.

One of the reasons for going vegan was because I read somewhere, I’m not entirely sure where and please don’t quote me on this information, that if you eat a vegan, plant based diet your body naturally maintains a low ratio of body fat to muscle. But this only pertains to a healthy plant based diet high in whole, nutrient dense foods and low in sweeteners and highly fatty processed foods. This was something I was disregarding.

My health goals now are to get to a certain body fat percentage. Mostly because I want to see if I’m able but with my lifestyle changes being so drastically different from the ways I used to be, not only my eating habits but also running and yoga, I think it’d be nice. For at least once in my lifetime to see the best version of myself in regards to fitness levels and a healthy diet.

I’m sure some of my drive to achieve my health goals stems from being called a human garbage disposal when I was young. But regardless of the past I believe there’s a part in all of us that wants to see the best versions of ourselves. This brings me to the other side of the boundaries coin, the need to achieve beyond what might be healthy.

I was married once to a woman who told me that I became obsessed with things. Hobbies or ideas that I would find interesting. And she was right. I would follow my interests almost to the point of obsession. If I started brewing beer, I had to grow my own hops, brew three batches at a time and know as much as I could about every aspect of the process. If corralled this could be a useful trait. But left unchecked it can become, well unhealthy obsession.

This could be dangerous when applied to food or exercize, and detrimental to health as well. If we set our boundaries too rigidly then something like cutting calories can lead to malnutrition. Things such as loss of bone density and lower immune system function can happen in drastic cases . Exercise done to the point of exhaustion can lead to injury. And if our habit is to push ourselves to persist through minor injuries we run the risk of doing serious damage to our bodies.

So regardless of our health goals it’s important to not only reign in over consumption, but to check aggressive fitness goals as well. Because finding the right balance of how you take care of yourself and your personal needs and how you respond to your body’s limits is important. As well as your expectations and how you get there are so important for the intentions we set on how we want to live our lives and be the healthiest versions of ourselves. And as a good friend of mine says, Jay Foss, host of a weekly radio show on North Shore 104.9 fm, Raising your Inner Voice, “being the best version of myself helps you to be the best version of yourself”.

I hope you find this perspective useful to some degree. Like I said in the beginning of this post, food is tough and know that you are not alone. And remember you don’t have to be so hard on yourself :] Be well, and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: Adam Sergott, Haymarket, Boston, MA

Misfits, Co-Ops and Farmers: Types of Markets That Could Help the Environment

Markets. They’re where we buy the things we need. If you’re like most of us then when you go to the market it’s usually a super one. I live in Massachusetts so most of us here go to Market Basket. You may have heard of it when it got some press back in 2014. There was concern in the form of protests and strikes, due to the firing of Arthur T. DeMulas by his cousin, Arthur S. DeMulas. Arthur T. eventually bought out his cousin Arthur S. and gave the employees of the grocery chain more benefits and raised the working standards, putting the workers and customers first.

As much as I love Market Basket and the story of Arthur T. taking care of his employees and in return them supporting him in regaining ownership of the chain, there are still some issues I feel are plaguing not just Market Basket but most stores, super and regular alike. The major issue with most food we buy today is, a sides from how we produce it, the amount of waste that’s involved in its packaging.

Some quick numbers, the EPA’s Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2017 Fact Sheet reported that in 2017, United States citizens composted and recycled about 94.2 million metric tons of waste. While only about 35% of the waste we recycled and composted actually was recycled or composted. That’s 61.2 million metric tons of recyclable and compostable materials that went into landfills. Or found its way into the ocean. And who knows where else. But that’s only one year’s worth of waste! And most of it is coming from packaging. I’m not sure how much is from food packaging but I’m willing to bet it’s quite a bit.

When I’m at a grocery store or any kind of store for that matter, I’m amazed at the amount of packaging we are taking our food and products home in. Aisle after aisle of neatly packed and stacked items. Shimmering with plastic, glass, paper and metal, all kinds. I understand that we’ve come a long way in food safety and for a while these types of packaging were necessary to deliver food free from bacteria to the folks buying it. But there are definitely more environmentally friendly and responsible ways of packaging our food that will keep it just as safe and just as fresh. We’ve come a long way in regards to making compostable packaging as well as food safety. Why not put more of those practices into use?

For starters, there are zero waste grocery stores, but they are few and far between. I think there are about ten within a 16 mile radius of where I live and I’m in a small suburb just a few miles from Boston! I imagine pickings are even slimmer the further you are from a major city. But there are other places you can shop to reduce waste even in an average grocery store.

Some grocery stores and most co-ops have bulk sections. You can usually find pantry staples in this aisle such as rice and beans, legumes and oats. And they are often times cheaper than their pre-packaged counter parts. This will reduce the amount of plastic packaging for sure, but only if you bring your own reusable bulk bags. Avoiding the plastic bags you find in bulk and produce sections. A quick Google search yields a variety of options and sizes for carrying home your bulk items and produce. Some of which I’ve linked to below.

Speaking of produce, another way to cut down on packaging is to buy fresh produce. From either the grocery store, co-op or farmers markets. The only packaging is the boxes they’re delivered to the store in. Or in the case of farmers markets, the reusable containers they brought from the farm. And bringing your own reusable canvas or cotton bags to store them in will eliminate the need for those clear plastic produce bags they keep in the produce section. Or whatever package the vendors from farmers markets are offering which may or may not be recyclable.

And while you’re shopping for your new canvas or cotton produce and bulk bags, why not pick up some reusable silicone bags that are freezer friendly? To freeze your own fresh veg and fruit in. The shelf life and quality of freshly frozen fruits and veg are far superior to comparable pre-packaged frozen products. And the only downside is that there’s a little more prepwork involved. Which translates to time. But if you set aside some time each week to prep the food you’re going to freeze, maybe while you’re cooking dinner, you can save money and packaging that would have ended up in the landfill.

So let’s say you get some reusable bulk bags for dry bulk items and produce. You buy a bunch of oatmeal and black beans. You get them home and now you have a bunch of loose dry bulk items and no where to put them! Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. I use glass Ball jars with a wide mouth which makes them easy to fill with just about anything. Beans, rice and oats as I’ve mentioned, but also flours, sugars and teas (actually I use old glass peanut butter jars for tea).

They’re easy to stack, look good, and all while maximizing your usable cabinet storage space with surprising efficiency and are super cheap. On top of all that, you can find them at pretty much any store you go to. I get mine at the supermarket but remember they’re technically “seasonal”. Because they’re traditionally used for preserving, canning and pickling. So they may only be available in late summer and fall.

And finally, markets such as the Misfits Market buys produce from farmers that don’t meet the aesthetic standards of supermarkets. A surprising amount of viable fruits and vegetables are tossed in the garbage because they are misshapen, discolored or otherwise deemed as “ugly” by the would be buyers. Markets like Misfits steps in and offers to buy the produce from the farmers at a fraction of the price. The produce is the same and they pass along the savings to you, the customer. They also source their produce from farms that use organic methods and non-GMO seeds. Another benefit of Misfits Market is that their packaging is a 100% sustainable. Either recyclable or compostable.

From super, to co-ops, to Misfits, to farmers. The above four types of markets are examples of where, given a little bit of forethought and planning, you could turn your next shopping trip into a greener one.

Image Credits: Adam Sergott, photo of vendors at Hay Market Produce                                     Market in Boston MA

Grow Your Veg! How Growing your own Food Could Help You Live Zero Waste

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of playing in my father’s vegetable gardens. My love for gardening and veg at large started for me while I was a child in the 80’s. Watching episodes of “The Victory Garden” on PBS and helping my dad in his little garden. I remember lazy summer evenings running around the grounds of an old mansion turned public land/park and reservation. The sun just setting  leaving a soft ambient light floating in and among the dragonflies and fireflies, while Van Morrison, ever so faintly in the background, plays his album, “Astral Weeks” front to back 😉

Okay so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But the gardens were beautiful. A mosaic of lovingly molded parcels of patchwork land thatched together and yielding fruit and veg of all kinds. It was no Monticello but it had charm. So when I was old enough to have my own garden, a small community plot 15’x15′, I couldn’t wait to revisit some of my fondest childhood memories.

At the time I think I grew tomatoes, scarlet runner beans, spinach, lettuce and broccoli. I added hops when I started brewing my own beer. Cascade I think and there were more to be sure but it was constantly growing and changing. And some of the more gratifying aspects of the garden was when I would harvest fresh veg for dinner or for the next few days.

I was a bit different back then. I’m mostly vegan now and I eat dairy on occasion. Then I was a ravenous meat eater. I’m an advocate for recycling, composting and renewable energy sources, all kinds now. Then I could care less about the state of our planet and its resources. Though one thing hasn’t changed and that’s my love of high quality foods. And there’s not much better than freshly grown vegetables from your own garden.

The benefits of growing your own veggies are numerous. The cost of growing veg is considerably less to comparable buys at the grocery store. You have control over how your food is grown and who you choose to support when purchasing your seeds. You can’t beat the shelf life and you can grow varieties you can’t find at your local store. Also reduced waste by avoiding shipping and packaging. This last reason is one that is priority for me.

If you’ve read my blog post, “No New Clothes, Well Maybe” then you’ll know one of my goals is to live a life as zero waste as possible. This is no easy feat. Especially at the grocery store where everything has been encased in plastic. And I’d like to say that plastic isn’t necessarily the issue. It’s how much we produce and rely on it in almost everything we make. Also the amount of plastic that doesn’t get recycled in some way.

Growing your own veggies is a great way to reduce the food miles from farm to table. Because in most cases the “farm” will be in your backyard. Little to no processing required. Just a quick rinse in the sink and it’ll be ready to eat, cook or store. There’s a great book  called “The Backyard Homestead” that goes over ways to produce your own food in short space and helps you through the process from garden planning and seedlings to harvest and storing your crops.

They cover a lot of ground so it could be a bit overwhelming to delve into a book that is literally teaching you how to live off the land. But the essential bones of planning and planting are covered and who knows what may spark your interest. You may read a chapter on foraging for dandelion greens and develop a passion for making dandelion wine! As long as you know your limits and don’t bite off more than you can chew, books like these are a good resource for discovering new ways to produce more with what you already have and are already doing. Because the more you make the less you have to buy. That means more waste you avoid producing.

Feel as though you are short on space in your current location? If you have a lawn you can do what my dad did and rip up the yard and replace it with topsoil. He has all sorts of usable growing space now. And the garden looks much better in full bloom than the lawn ever did any time of year. Plus,lawns take an awful lot of resources to keep up with and maintain. And with very little return. Half of the resources that go into care and upkeep of a lawn could grow a lot of produce and put a serious dent in your food budget for the growing season.

Of course this idea isn’t for everybody. Some folks love and use their lawns frequently. And if that’s the case by all means, enjoy your lawns. But it seems as though home ownership and lawns go hand in hand and I’m just suggesting that maybe we question the wisdom of this perennial knowledge. See if it’s right for us.

Community gardens are a great alternative resource for those who don’t have the space for their own garden. Maybe you rent or own a condo. Or are in an apartment with no useable green space. In any case community gardens will help you to put fresh veggies on your table. It’s also a good chance to get to know your neighbors. When I had my my plot I would swap gardening tips and get new ideas for planting next season and share some of my harvest as well.

And the location was phenomenal! It was in a small park right on the harbor. A 15 minute walk from the neighborhood where I lived in. Working on hot summer days with a cool breeze coming off the water was a privilege. I looked forward to days when I would go down to the garden and arrange the plot to fit in all the seedlings I had prepared or bought.

If you’re looking for a place in your community to garden this post on finding a community garden near you is a good resource. As well as a quick google search with your city or town’s name and community gardens, should yield some results. The people who organize these gardens are usually pretty excited to get the word out too. So asking around your local shops or even at your library should help to connect you with a plot.

Living zero waste is no easy task. And one that will take a lot of different initiatives to cobble something together that will produce a greener, healthier lifestyle. I’m not even sure this is an obtainable goal. But it’s one that’s worth trying for. I feel that no matter how small the change, every little bit helps. Hopefully more people will get behind this goal and the more people that try, the more solutions we will find.  And hopefully the easier it will be. I’ll share what I find along the way and if you come along I hope you’ll throw your two cents in as well 🙂 So eat your veg, it’s good for us!

“6175 Vegetable Garden at Monticello” by lcm1863 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0