Friday, September 20, 2013

VeganMoFo Day #20: Vegan Food Doesn't Get a Free Pass on Packaging

Tomorrow is the Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup. We're volunteering (again, as we do every year since coming here) and we'll be out there picking up, and cataloguing, trash. We pick up trash every day anyway, but the clean up is different. You can look at the OC site yourself if you want to learn more. I am really not much fun on these clean ups, I admit it. I feel overwhelmed when faced with cleaning areas that we don't normally get to cover, meaning far more trash is there than I wish there was. I'm the one who goes out onto the flats with scissors and a knife to cut out the rope and monofilament line that winds its way around the roots. I have boots, so I get elected for that every year. This year I had to buy a new pair of boots. Today I spent $70 for boots that will look like who-did-it-and-ran after their first use. My last pair worked for about 4 years, not bad for the investment I guess, but considering I wear them only for beach cleaning, I get frustrated.

This is an extreme closeup of mangrove roots choked with several types of rope.
The green stuff is seaweed, that's normal.
There's monofilament in there, hard to see as it's clear, and thin...
but very strong. You need a scissors to cut all this stuff.
It's hot, sweaty, work and I feel very hopeless at times.
I spend many hours and days doing this all alone.
Beach cleaning DOES bring me to think of VeganMoFo because it makes me consider packaging. The whole time I'm anywhere cleaning up garbage, fishing line, rope, fishing debris, plastic, glass and all the other stuff I find, I think about "closing the loop," and what that REALLY means.

Here, I am the one primarily responsible for the food that comes into this place, both for us to eat, and for our guests. I heavily scrutinize products I consider, first for what they are (organic? vegan? fair trade?) and then the packaging. I hate to break it to you, but recycling will NOT save the world. We must REDUCE our use of plastics and non-reusable packaging. Plastic bags are the #1 thing that really upset me here when they sneakily make their way into my house. The guest rooms are outfitted with reusables for use during your stay so you don't need plastic bags from the vendor while shopping. Sometimes people leave bags behind, or other times I find them blowing down the beach, or on the street and I pull over and run like h-e-double hockey sticks down the street or across the sand to grab them before they hit the water or mangroves. Very often I'll be picking up trash in parking lots wherever I go, and people will see me and say "oh, how nice." REALLY? How NICE? How about paying it forward people and picking up trash too, instead of stepping over it, me watching you do that from behind, and then watching me pick up that trash you just stepped over and said "how nice" to me. Once as I was beach cleaning right on Long Beach, someone in a sun lounger on a deck saw me. They had a book, a fancy hat, a big glass of wine, and a bathing suit on as they relaxed. They waved and shouted to me. I thought MAYBE just maybe they were going to offer me water; how foolish of me! They wanted to know what I was doing on "their" property. It was pretty obvious what I was doing, and I very bluntly told them I was cleaning the garbage they were ignoring which could kill shore birds, sea turtles, and end up as chemicals that make their way into the non-vegan food chain for animals and such (by the way, I was NOT on "their" property). Well, I could see she wanted to give a snappy retort, but she held back. I think she was actually ashamed at that moment, and that's ok by me. Get off your a** and pick up some trash is what I should've said. I cannot understand how someone can sit just a few feet from a pile of trash and seemingly not notice.

When the other happy vegan and I were in Pompano years ago, I was horrified. This was a long time ago, and I'm hoping things have improved but here's my Pompano trash story. Never been to Pompano before, was really excited, I love discovering new beaches, it's a treasure! As soon as we walked through the dune, I was absolutely horrified.... garbage was EVERYWHERE. I literally started to cry. We ran to the car and got the little bags we had and began to collect trash. Then, we used whatever litter we found that we could pile things into (buckets that were strewn about, bags we found blowing, etc) and filled them up too. There were GARBAGE CANS on the beach, but they weren't even half full! We collected trash for a long time. People were everywhere on beach blankets and towels, swimming in the sea too. They simply stared at us. Finally, the other happy vegan put my over sized green and white beach towel down for me to stop and sit. It wasn't long before a huge piece of heavy machinery began to rake the beach, then (now this is for reals an all too true story) dig a pit, and bury the trash on the beach. I'm hopeful things are not this way anymore.... sea turtles are an imperiled endangered species which DO nest upon those beaches. This was long before either of us were involved with sea turtles, and we honestly had no notion of that concern, but we did realize about the trash. It was all too much to bear, and we got up and left. I cried again. Crying accomplishes nothing, but sometimes emotions do get the best of me seeing things like that. How can people be so apathetic? How can it not matter to every other person? What were those children playing next to the trash learning at that moment? Nothing I'd ever want to teach any child under my care, that's for sure.

So, about that trash.... about that packaging. I like to buy in bulk as much as possible. Some of the bulk items I buy from wholesalers now come in biodegradable and/or compostable containers and wrapping. So far, none of the things I buy come in containers that I can ship back and they can clean and re-use. I choose glass bottles over plastic when I have notice of a choice. I have a dishwasher which super heats the water, this is a health requirement for my kitchen. So things get sterilized in there. And, some stores down here will take those sterilized jars off my hands and use them for their customers needs. Sometimes I use the jars at the holidays to pack gifts and wrap them (cookie mixes, fudge, or whatever).

Here as a green lodge, we track our waste among everything else we track. We have a ratio of approximately 10:1 for recycling to trash. That means 1 can of waste will go out for every 10 cans of recycling. And, we wouldn't even have that high a ratio of it wasn't for all the beach cleaning. Beach cleaning accounts for the large majority of trash that goes out, both in the cans and in bags.


Look, it's VeganMoFo, we're supposed to be celebrating the happy subject of kind eating not served on the backs of the death and suffering of sentient beings. But, don't ever for one second lose sight of the fact that ALL food comes in packaging, and vegan food has no special exemption for packaging that is not mindful. It drives me CRAZY to see produce shrink wrapped in plastic. I see it all the time! You know what I'm talking about... the organics that are sold "by the one" like cukes, peppers and such. Who was the moron that while looking at a single organic green pepper came up with the idea "let's shrink wrap this all by itself."

Damn, I wanna go all crazy on that person.

Tomorrow I will be out in my plastic boots that I had to go to a marine store to buy. I had to walk past the poles, the lures, all the other killing paraphernalia to get those damn boots so I can go out on the flats while its 85 degrees, sink in the mud, and cut rope and line for a few hours so animals don't eat it or get tangled in it. Have a heart for this happy vegan, during MoFo and every day.... LOOK at the items you are buying, and consider the packaging BEFORE you buy. Trust me, that juice box, juice bag, soda can, 6 pack ring, nut butter jar, and everything else has too high a chance of ending up in the water somewhere.

Help me close the loop. It's really not helping me anyway, is it? Nope. With every step I take, every single thing I do to help our planet be a better place, it's no longer for me, it's for the next generations. It's too late for my own generation. We've done far too much to take it back in my lifetime.  My only hope is that it WILL be taken back eventually.

Buy in bulk. Carry your own reusable bags for ALL shopping, not just groceries. Pick up trash when you see it. Chastise those who litter... I do (remember the cigarette butt post!!??) Raise awareness.

Think. Choose. Evolve.

By the way, I carry my own stainless steel straws now when I go out. And, we have invested in enough stainless steel reusable straws for all guests, so we no longer use plastic ones during breakfast. More on that for another MoFo day. I'll be at a bar some time tomorrow afternoon celebrating our completed beach cleaning efforts with a draft in a reusable glass. Don't forget to check if your beer is vegan at the Barnivore site.


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