Friday, September 18, 2009

Waste Free Lunch

Last year, someone sent Anouk a Tinkerbell lunch box, which she loved. It was the soft kind, with a vinyl lining, and we used it all year. Unfortunately, there are a few drawbacks to this kind of lunchbox. Vinyl is evil, for one. The production of PVC is detrimental to the health of the workers in PVC factories, as carcinogenic compounds are created both in the production and destruction of PVC. There is a movie called "Blue Vinyl" that documents a woman's inquiry into the Vinyl industry that manages to be hilarious while exposing how horrific this industry is. So, I'm really trying to find alternatives to vinyl whenever possible.

Next, I keep hearing about pthalates in lunchboxes that may be released into the food contained therein. I haven't done any research into this, but I'd rather err on the side of safety when it comes to the food my child ingests. On Monday, a water bottle rep at the State Fair insisted to me that "anything you inject into a rat is likely to cause cancer." He also said the pthalate talk is all a plot to put water bottlers out of business. I say, if there's a chance it causes cancer, I'd rather not put it in my body and wait to find out.

More pragmatically, I found it hard to clean the lunchbox. Inevitably, Anouk would deliver home a box with schmutz smeared inside and out, into crevices in the seams, and soaked into the cloth cover. I would have to soak it and scrub it, and still there was always dried gook in the corners. On top of this, I needed to provide small, plastic containers and baggies to keep her food separate within the lunchbox. I don't like to put her food in plastic, and she would often throw them away, so there I was buying more plastic, nagging her all the time to pay more attention.

This year, before school started, I began a hunt for something better. I was looking for a pthalate-free lunchbox with a removeable, dishwasher-safe liner for easy cleaning. There are actually a lot of options out there. Sadly, few of them can compete for the novelty of a lunchbox with their favorite characters or bright designs on them. (Someone needs to work on this.) I happened into a Storables store in Portland in late August, not expecting to find anything useful. On display right in the entryway was a whole table of waste-free lunch items. There were the lunchboxes I had been searching for, some with very cute designs printed on them, pthalate-free with removeable liners. There were also some bento boxes, a Japanese stackable lunchbox system. These can be found in very fun shapes and colors, but are still plastic. On top of the whole display, like a beacon, were 2-tier Tiffin boxes, a lunch system from India made of stainless steel bowls that lock together with a handle on top. They were on sale for about $20, so I bought one.

Now that we've been using this Tiffin box for a couple of weeks, I can't tell you how happy I am with it. Mike was afraid that Anouk wouldn't be able to figure out the latch on it, but she got it right away. I was nervous that she would reject it for being plain, but she thinks it is really cool. I love that I can put saucy foods in without concern that it will spill in her backpack, and they are in separate containers. It came with a small, round container for dipping sauces, but I use it to send a little extra snack or treat. Best of all, they clean extremely easily. A little bit of soap and water is all it takes to get even sticky food off, and if I'm lazy I just pop them into the dishwasher.

There were also some reusable sandwich "bags" in the display, which were made of a waterproof material that you simply fold around your sandwich and velcro shut. When you unfold it, it is a placemat. So simple! I figured I could make some of these myself when I get around to it.

I know it is a bit late for posting information about lunches, but I'm in the throes of appreciation for our new system now, and I noticed that Bento and Tiffin boxes are much cheaper right now than they were in August. Look it up on to see the many sizes and colors there are. And if you send sandwiches, look into those reusable sandwich bags, and leave no plastic behind.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Animal,Vegetable, Miracle - Inspiration!

I haven't had much time to get online and spend time typing this summer, because the garden has been keeping me on my toes. We had our most successful year, growing a steady supply of fresh, organic food, harvesting all of it, and freezing most of what we don't eat. I've chopped summer squash, blanched peas, beans, broccoli and cauliflower for freezing. I've baked many loaves of zucchini bread, eating some and freezing the rest. I've made batches of pesto, with more basil waiting to be transformed. I've started freezing chard, too. All of this will be welcome during winter months, and I hope it will help us reduce our grocery budget significantly, while providing us with high quality food that is sustainably produced.

Meanwhile, I picked up "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver from the library on cd. I've been putting it on while I work in the kitchen, bringing in bins of harvested food and either cooking or prepping it for preservation. I'm most of the way through it now, and it has been life-changing. When I started out listening, I thought I was already doing what she is writing about, growing our own organic food and making conscientious choices about how we supplement at the grocery store. She has given me a lot to reconsider regarding the purchase of organics foods from big box stores, and our occasional indulgence in meats of uncertain geographical origins. When we started eating homegrown turkey a few years ago, it was the beginning of a slippery slope. We now keep some Costco-bought ground turkey and turkey bacon on hand for inclusion in some meals. It is not organic or free-range, and we don't know anything about the conditions in which the turkeys were raised or how far the meat was transported. Not to mention the way the workers are treated in these "turkey factories" and the fact that it is packaged on styrofoam trays with plastic wrap. I really think this book is the most important one that I've read in many years, and I recommend it urgently to anyone who eats. I will be looking for local sources for many of the items I now buy from Costco or Trader Joes, like dairy and grains. In the meantime, the food-related tasks that can feel like drudgery, spending hours in the kitchen alone washing, cutting, blanching, peeling, packing - suddenly I feel a sense of triumph and purpose doing these things. I am proud of our life in the country and our amazing abundance, born out of hard work and sacrifice. We are intricately connected to our soil on our little piece of the Earth, as we feed it and it feeds us.

As for an update on our little homestead in September, the tomatoes are finally ripening, though we still don't have a door on the greenhouse, so the chickens are helping themselves to those juicy morsels within their reach. I've been harvesting the potatoes, and I think most are out of the ground now. I've pulled all of the garlic, pulled spent pea vines up to feed to the goats, and many of the bush beans are done producing. I found that the purple beans are going and going though. Zucchini is waning, but we are still getting some of the summer squashes. The chard continues to grow, and I wonder if it will ever stop. We are getting many carrots, but leaving most in the ground for now. We have pulled the last of the beets, which we use in morning smoothies. Next year, we need to grow many more of these. Now we are watching the winter squashes, all heirloom varieties. They are amazingly varied, some bright orange, some striped, some deep green, some smooth or ribbed or warty. Most amazing is the Serpente de Sicilia, a long, snakey squash that we are now harvesting, some of which are growing to 4 feet in length. I plan to cook one up tonight for the first time.

We've had serious issues with our turkeys and dogs. The turkeys are able to fly, unlike the domestic breed, so they often venture out of the enclosure to explore. We've had a dog break-out that resulted in two turkey injuries with recovery. We had one turkey disappearance without a trace. Two turkeys have been killed by our very small bishon-schitzu mix who can fit through gaps in our fencing. We are now down to 8 turkeys, with some committed to other people. We will be trading turkey for chicken, and giving one to friends who will butcher them for us. We plan to keep a tom and two hens for breeding, and hope to still have some for food. From listening to "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" I am also worried that breeding the turkeys will be a daunting task in and of itself, as it is something just not done any more. (Domestic turkeys cannot live more than a year and are physically unable to breed.)

While I no longer have to spend hours every day in the garden, we are still getting a lot of food and I'm struggling to get it all cooked or frozen. It is time-consuming, but well worthwhile for the amazing nutrition, money saved, biological diversity and fossil fuels preserved, and a child raised knowing where food really comes from.