Sunday, September 4, 2016

cans and bpa

It has become common knowledge that cans that our food comes stored in is layered with bisphenol A, and BPA is an endocrine disruptor.

There are a few things we can do reduce our consumption of foods that are more often than not contained in plastic-lined cans:

Tomatoes: There are several brands of tomatoes (diced, whole, paste, etc) that are jarred instead of canned. I go for these instead of buying tomatoes in cans. In fact, because of the acidic nature of tomatoes, they are prone to absorbing even more BPA than other foodstuffs. Jarred is definitely the way to go. If you don't wind up reusing the jars, then they can be recycled into other glass products indefinitely.   

Beans: the most obvious solution is to cook them from dried beans. Purchase the dried beans in the bulk section to avoid purchasing them in plastic bags and cook them yourself. There are a few brands that are packed in aseptic containers, but that is also lined in plastic and even the brands (such as 365) that claim to be BPA free, has more than likely just switched from BPA to BPS. 

These are the two big items I used to buy in cans; if you have another product that you usually buy canned, search out an alternative or leave a comment and I'll see if I can offer suggestions. 

To cook the beans is really the big deal, though. You could cook up a big batch once a week and freeze them in mason jars that are freezer-friendly. I used to freeze beans in water, but I have come to find that they freeze just fine without water and hence are easier and quicker to thaw.

To cook beans, I recommend you soak them overnight, but if you need to cook them fast, just use a pressure cooker. My favorite is the 7-in-1 Instant Pot [AMAZON]:

In fact, I love it so much that I have 2! The 7-in-1 is better because it is a rice cooker, slow cooker, pressure cooker, steamer, it sautes, and is a yogurt maker. There is a $50 coupon floating around, so if you are considering getting it, try to find the coupon.

HERE is a chart of cooking time for legumes, both for soaked and not soaked beans. 

So, get in the habit, write it on your calendar (for instance, cook black beans the first week, kidney beans the second week, chickpeas the third week (reserve the cooking water for aquafaba, and pinto beans the fourth week) and store the beans in the freezer for convenience. Make sure to use only freezer-friendly jars, otherwise your jars will break in the freezer.  

Thursday, September 1, 2016

suck your own straw

New statistic for you. Are you ready?

500 million plastic straws are used and thrown away in the US every day.

What happens to those plastic straws? That's right - either trashed in landfills (if lucky) or wind up in the oceans to eventually degrade into micro-plastics and become "food" for the animals. They are made with bisphenol A (or S) and pose a health risk to you, the animals and the planet.

Restaurants alone hand out the bulk of these plastic straws and many times to people who don't even want them.

Paper Straws

This single-use plastic item can be avoided so easily!

  • If you aren't into straws in the first place then make sure your server knows this when you order your drink. If you notice that the establishment bring water to the table automatically, ask the hostess to let the server or bus know your wishes when you are being sat.
  • Let your host/server know why you find this important. Restaurant personnel will honor your wishes more closely if they understand that you aren't just being fickle. It might even open a few eyes to the plastic epidemic. 
  • If you like using straws (I do) then bring your own and follow the above recommendations. 

There are now many choices of reusable straws: paper, glass and stainless steel.

Stainless Steel Straws

The paper straws are nice for photography, but not very practial to drink from because they degrade very quickly. In addition, they are still single use disposable.

Glass straws are great (I hear) [AMAZON], but in this house, where we are prone to lots of breakage, I opted for the stainless steel model [AMAZON].

This particular brand and package had an extra thick straw for smoothies, a few bent ones and an extra long one for those beverages in tall containers. I know that metal flavor is a concern to some people, and I can tell you that there is no aftertaste with stainless steel straws or bottles. 

Remember, there is no shame in bringing your own straws to use in restaurants and the amount of plastic you refuse by using them can indeed make an impact for all those involved.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

take out or to go

Along the lines of my last post, dealing with food storage containers, the next big ticket item is lunch containers to go or take out containers from restaurants.

Sure, you can use the same glass jars and storage glass containers for both lunches to go and take out food, but glass is a lot heavier and can break, so those considerations should be taken into account.

Although I take glass jars and glass storage containers with me to bring home leftovers, the real trouble comes with actually remembering to bring them. For this reason, I recommend that you keep a storage tote of emergency or unexpected leftovers containers in your vehicle for such occasions. While you are at, pack a few sets of utensils as well, just in case the establishment serves plastic ware with their food.

Something we have leaned on doing, is to ask for the food in non-take out form (they serve the food on a plate) and then pack it up in our jars and containers. This is in case a restaurant will not pack your to-go food in your own containers, often citing sanitary reasons. My husband and I will go out to eat together and bring something home for the kids and in those cases we just order all the food for the table and pack it up ourselves.

What to include in your leftover pack:

  • A canvas tote bag to keep the containers in
  • 2 or 3 quart-size, wide mouth mason jars with lids
  • Wide mouth mason jar funnel
  • 2 or 3 medium or deep glass containers with lids
  • A few kitchen towels to wipe off the jars (just in case)
  • A few sets of utensils (forks and spoons)
  • A few plates
  • A few reusable straws (more on this in another post)

And that's it. Make sure to wash them out regularly, about once a month, whether you use them or not.

Another option for the emergency leftover pack is to use lunch containers:

Packing for lunch is a great way to keep your costs down and keep single-use containers out of your life.

There are several wonderful lunch containers:

Stainless steel 3-tier containers, which I love and have been using for almost a decade. I purchased 4 sets (3 kids and me) for lunches for homeschooling groups and they are still going strong after 10 years; I can vouch for their durability and versatility.

Recently, I've seen stainless steel lunch trays that double as a container. Looks nice for younger kids or for making lunch packing easier. I would definitely get these if my kids were younger. We used to use the laptop lunchbox system, but those are plastic and these stainless steel options would be an ideal way to go.

For hot foods, stainless steel thermoses are the ticket. I know the initial investment on these is high, but consider how much it costs to eat out for lunch just a single week, and you will see the return on your investment in no time.

We use these containers a lot [AMAZON] or these giant ones [AMAZON], perfect for a good size sandwich or salad. Both these items are pictured above.

Whichever size or combination you choose, these stainless steel containers are easy to clean and maintain, they are durable and they are reusable endlessly. Grab a few and start packing your leftovers or lunches yourself.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

tupperware, be gone!

Although plastic, for the most extent, was first invented in the early 1900's, because of war efforts during World War II, plastic was not allowed in commercial ventures; the government confiscated plastics during that time.

In the 1940's, after World War II was over, the ban on the use of plastic in commercial ventures was lifted, and many companies were finally able to mass produce and market their wares.

One highly popular use of plastic was (and still is!) in the home food storage arena. By the 1950's Tupperware storage containers were in every kitchen and sold by most women as a way to recapture the job loss they endured upon the end of the war and the return of men looking for work.

Since then we have embraced plastic storage containers for not just storing leftovers after dinner, but storing dry cereals, sugar, flour, nuts, beans, practically anything. If you go to your storage cabinet and take a quick peak, you will undoubtedly see cupboard space with a sea of plastic.

Plastic is durable, flexible, unbreakable, reheat-able, reusable and cheap. As with all plastic use, there comes a price, whether it is health, the environment or resources.

This post specifically targets plastics for food storage and leftovers.

So, you have made up your mind to weed out plastic from your food storage. Wonderful! Let's run down an easy list of substitutions for plastic.

  • Start collecting mason jars and other glass jars that had previously contained pickles, tomato sauce, vegan mayo, etc. Get mason jars from hardware stores (like Ace) or on the web, from Amazon: Quart size, wide mouth jars are your best bet for storage [AMAZON]. $13.59 as of 8/24/2016.
  • Note that you will need to get pint size freezer-friendly mason jars for freezing food. [AMAZON
  • Use gallon size mason jars for flour, sugar, cereal, etc., items that are large and bulky. 
  • Acquire wide-mouth mason jars when purchasing because it is easier to fill, especially with a wide-mouth jar funnel [AMAZON] (one I even take to restaurants to fill leftovers with).
  • Note that the lids of mason jars are lined with BPA. There are some newer lids that claim BPA free, but it turns out that they just replaced it with BPS, which is bishenol S, instead of bisphenol A. Sounds more like a diversion than progress. Because of this, I recommend that you prevent the food from maintaining contact with the lid and store them only standing straight up. 

Let's talk leftovers. If you are packing leftovers for lunch the next day, that will be a separate post. For family food storage of leftovers your choices are pretty nice, but all have flaws of one sort or another.

  • Glass containers are great and I've been using them for years. They do come with plastic lids to keep liquids inside, but at least the whole thing isn't made of plastic. Try to prevent the food from touching the lid. Some lids are better than others in the sense of leak-proof or maintenance-friendly. The ones I use are the blue-lidded Pyrex [AMAZON] or the red-lidded Rubbermaid [AMAZON], which actually look like a newer model. 
  • There are other brands available now so you should have no problems getting the right size and shape. 
  • In addition to using made-for leftover containers, don't forget that jars make excellent leftover containers.
  • Instead of plastic wrap, use soy-based wax paper (regular wax paper is coated with petroleum-based lining). If You Care is a great product. [AMAZON]. Do NOT buy this from Amazon - the price is outrageous! Wrap the wax paper in foil if you need to (foil is easily recycled).

If you find you are challenged finding just the right container for something or if you have questions, I'd be happy to help out. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

mind your r's

We all know what the three arrows stand for on the recycle symbol - reduce, reuse, recycle - but have you given a thought to the other words besides "recycle?" Our focus tends be solely on recycle, when in fact, recycling should be one of the last stops along the path of the life of our stuff.

It could be that we are products of the US, where there is a lot of focus on stuff, possessions and things that make our lives easier and move along faster. I read somewhere (All You Need Is Less [AMAZON] that we are working hard to avoid working hard, which is in essence exercising, and then we spend tons of money and effort on dieting and losing weight. It is a bit ironic, to be sure.

And all of that money we spend on things that we don't need, use very little or don't even remember we have, is taking a toll on our wallets, the stuff is taking a toll on our health (plastic leaches toxic chemicals), our soul (too much stuff takes a toll on your emotional health), our planet and the animals that inhabit it. Plastics (which make up most of everything) hangs around next to forever.

I believe there is a huge connection between being as plastic free as possible and living waste free and part of that connection is "stuff." Do we really need all the stuff we acquire? Do we even use most of that stuff? Or does it clutter our lives and the planet?

For the next week or month or year, think before you make a new purchase. Consider: do you really need it? will you really use it? can you get it used or second-hand? in fact, do you already have it? by purchasing it, how will it truly make your life "better?"

Th first step in the waste pyramid is refusing something. Let's practice that for the next little while.

Monday, July 25, 2016

bottle it

This one is a many-layered discussion because it deals with water. Water can come from your tap, a water fountain, a restaurant, a filter or bottled water. This post will only cover the aspect of transporting your choice of water and not how the water is obtained, except for portable bottles.

Last year Americans used 50 BILLION plastic bottles, that is around 170 bottles per person, per year. Of that 50 billion, 38 BILLION were NOT recycled. That means that only about a quarter of water bottles are recycled. Before you climb into your comfy "but I recycle" blanket, consider that "recycling" water bottles is only a down-cycle, meaning that it is not cyclic - that PET water bottle has this life and one more (turned into park benches, bridges or fiber) before that, too, is sent to the waste heap, where, if it is lucky, will wind up in a landfill instead of the ocean.

People, this is another easy fix! One that will even save you money in the long run. Being ripped off by water bottle manufacturers irks me and it should irk you, too. Buying prepackaged water in bottles is completely unnecessary and, in most cases, isn't even good for you; the practice of filtering the water is questionable at best and belief in a corporation's good word and honesty should be at the top of your conspiracy list.

Conspiracies aside, it is a fact that you do not need to buy a bottle of water - you can take it with you. If you like cold water, get one that is insulated and fill it yourself. Truly, nothing could be easier - except maybe taking your own grocery bags to the market with you.

Your real important question shouldn't be "can I do this?" or "should I do this?" instead it should be "which bottle should I get?"


Insulated or not?  If you like it cold, get insulated.

Material?  I like to use stainless steel bottles (definitely NOT plastic), but some people like glass ones. If you opt for glass, consider using a mason jar with an attachment like this, from Cuppow.

The lid:   this one is important; you should be able to clean the lid thoroughly - and that means nothing fancy and complicated. Use the simplest lid that you can dry out well to avoid mildew buildup.

My family uses Under Armour Vacuum Insulated Stainless Steel bottles. The beauty of this bottle is many: it is stainless steel - no flavor leaks into the water. It is insulated so beverages stay cold. The flip top lid is simple and easy to clean and keep dry. We bought extra lids (about $4 each, including shipping) and we rotate the lids so they can be cleaned and allowed to dry out very well. If you get this bottle, email me and I'll give you the contact info for more lids. The process was a bit of a run-around at the beginning, so I can save you a few emails.

Other bottles to consider:

Klean Kanteen, they also sell insulated bottles and have a whole range of product. The lids are simple enough. They also have a bamboo cap version!

Glass water bottles from  They have tons and tons of reusable bottles and bags, etc.

You can also purchase a bottle sling - makes carrying the bottles, especially on walks, much easier.

In any case, go search and get yourself a bottle and, more importantly, USE IT!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

bag it

Americans use 100 BILLION plastic single-use grocery bags each year. That's about 12 MILLION plastic bags in ONE HOUR.

One reusable bag can replace about 1,000 grocery bags in its lifetime. If you haven't yet made the switch to reusable bags, here is where you start.

One might be tempted to switch to paper bags, since, well, it isn't plastic, but that is a whole other environmental nasty ballgame in itself. Never mind the trees that are used to make the bags, the energy and other resources needed to make them are just as evil, including cleaning and preparing the bags using more chemicals.

If you are squeamish about starting to accumulate reusable bags, consider that they pay for themselves in no time, as most grocers offer bag refunds whenever you use them.

If you keep forgetting to bring your bags, make a pact with yourself that if you forget them you will have to do without bags for the trip  - no taking plastic or paper because you messed up. It won't take more than a few times of your thoughtlessness to ensure that you will remember. Emptying your cart of goods into your car and then carrying them into your home will be just annoying enough that you will remember to bring your bags.

Most grocery stores now sell reusable bags made of plastic bottles (down-cycled) so you can start there, but consider buying your bags from companies that will take them back once they break or are no longer needed, to ensure that there is a positive end-life to your plastic. Or go with canvas bags.

And, mind you, the numbers above do not include other single-use plastic bags, such as produce, bread or the other tons of other stuff that are packaged in plastic bags and then tossed.

Get grocery tote bags from your grocer or try:

Reuse It - they also sell reusable produce bags.

Chico Bags - they also sell reusable produce bags.