Part of the reason I decided to start writing for the Times was to hold myself accountable for my beliefs. And I’m not ashamed to say that a huge obstacle lies between my proclaimed dedication to the art of sustainability and its practice: I’m a lazy bastard. Well, I guess I’m not that lazy. I fill my post-work time with physical activity nearly every day, I clean…. pretty regularly, and I manage to complete tasks at work without issue, even if they take a while.
But all of this moving and working and, um, “cleaning,” takes a good deal of time—time that I should be spending cooking, especially as a vegetarian. For us herbivores, striking the balance of a meal that is both nourishing and palatable requires research, finesse and innovation. In the Japanese culinary world where dashi and umami permeates everything (and bacon! Why is bacon in every damn pasta dish?), we can rarely find complete satisfaction in commercial dining experiences. We generally just scrape by out of the house, and find more gastric satisfaction within it.
This quandary, with lack of time on one side and lack of satisfying quick options on the other, leaves me on a near-daily basis at the entrance of a combini—the veritable gateway to ecological hell. Everything single-serve, everything shelf-stable, everything disposable, everything….. plastic. Yet, I’m here every weekday morning, after hitting snooze 20 times and barely making my train, to pick up my bag of cashews and yogurt drink, a plastic-wrapped banana and cereal bar. The cashiers may not know my name, but they sure as hell know that I don’t want a register bag.
But what is that register bag compared to the mountain of plastic that I’ve just acquired? Why can I refuse that bag but not the ones containing the food? Well, that’s just the degree of my convenience addiction. Hello, my name is Ulu, and I am a convenience addict. All living things are. The human race would not have developed agriculture or industry without this addiction. It’s the same reason why bears tend to move into cities instead of away from them, because dumpsters provide an easy, reliable food source.
But the invention of plastic, accompanied by the innovation of disposability, has hit our addictions’ sweet spot and brought detrimental results to our environment. “Recyclable plastic” is a misnomer—used plastic can only be downcycled into lower grade, non-recyclable plastic, which ultimately ends up in landfills to live out its eternity, or burned for our carcinogenic consumption. Or in the ocean! Have you been to the Tottori sand dunes in the winter when the cleanup volunteers don’t come to gather all the junk that floats over from Korea? It’s eye-opening. Bottom line: to deem oneself environmentally-conscious, one must avoid plastic. Always. So….I am living a lie.
This past Thanksgiving I hit on something that might help me. I hosted a Thanksgiving potluck for 45 people. Of those 45, I wasn’t sure how many would be bringing food, so I had to cook as if we’d be short. Leading up to the party, I dedicated about twenty minutes each night to food prep (shredding cheese, chopping veggies, etc.), minimizing cooking time on the day of. At the end of the night, there was far, FAR too much food, and I brought home 40, near-full, serving platters of tofurkey, mac and cheese, and pineapple casserole, which provided me with every meal for the following week.
My new year’s resolution is to live up to my role as a hippy and break up with the combinis (except for paying for utilities and online shopping… that was the best idea ever). The Thanksgiving cooking schedule agrees with my general laziness, and pre-packing in glass tupperware (I recommend Snapware®, available at Costco) means that I can get out in time for my train and avoid plastic. The key is to prepare nutritious meals that I won’t grow tired of by Wednesday. That Paula Deen pineapple casserole is so amazing; if I ended up on death row, I’d only want a kilo of it on a plate as my final meal, but with its 7 lethal ingredients (sugar, Ritz crackers, white flour, and butter being the real culprits), it’d surely kill me before I ever made it that far.
Wanna try it with me? This month, I invite you to challenge yourself to a combini-free week (But really, I don’t just mean combinis! I mean avoiding all pre-packaged single servings). Write about your results (things you learned, advice, challenges, etc), and send them to me at email@example.com or leave them in the comments to this article on the website. Do it by January 31st, and you will be entered in a chance to win a bokashi starter kit for composting in your apartment! And don’t worry if you don’t know how to use bokashi—it’ll be discussed in February’s issue. Good luck! I’ll stay strong if you will