The joy of plastic-free cooking

The joy of plastic-free cooking
Plastic-free kale pesto pasta

I can’t remember exactly when it was that my dislike for pasta started. It might’ve been during one of the many, many, many times mum made “salami pasta” for us for dinner as children (I hated salami, the hatred may have extended to creamy tagliatelle used as a vehicle for it). It might’ve after eating the watery, doughy, rubbery pasta- never spaghetti- that we were served at boarding school. Or it might’ve been while struggling with an eating disorder as a teenager, when I shunned as many carbs as I could get away with.

Whatever it was, for the past decade,  pasta has been something I’ve typically avoided and, if forced to eat, not enjoyed. And yet on Sunday night, a strange thing happened: I made pasta for dinner from scratch, and genuinely really enjoyed eating it.

Now don’t get me wrong, my first ever attempt at pasta was far from flawless. The dough was under-kneeded, the pasta lacked “snap” and my ingenious idea of having thick ribbons of it didn’t help, while the pesto I served it with was slightly over-salted and lacked tanginess as a result of subbing in verjuice for lemon juice and improvising a recipe. But as meals go, it was edible, it certainly wasn’t disgusting and my boyfriend and I both quite enjoyed it- result!

So, why did I end up making pasta in the first place? Well, the answer lies in our recent attempts to reduce our plastic consumption, something I cover in my other journal posts. Over the past couple of months, we’ve begun buying dry-goods from bulk-bin stores, getting veggies from the market or the nearby grocers, and sourcing our eggs, milk and butter as locally as we can. After a few weeks, we were eating better and felt like we had more energy. Our kitchen-waste had dropped dramatically and our diet had suddenly become ten times more varied.

However, when it came to “easy, quick-fix meals”, we were still a bit stuck. We couldn’t buy cupboard staples like pasta or tortillas (a staple for us) because of the soft-plastic they come wrapped in.

We had to make them. And, in spite of the effort, trials and tribulations of doing so, I feel as if I’ve fallen in love with cooking all over again. There’s something wonderful about giving people food you’ve made yourself, from being able to add the flavours you want to the foods you make, and from knowing exactly what’s gone into your food and in what quantities. In the evenings, the kitchen is now the hub of our house, where you’ll me cooking dinner and my boyfriend cleaning up after me, tasting dinner as it comes. We even use an old-fashioned 1950’s cookery book, which, if you ignore the fact that it’s directed to the “modern housewife”, has plenty of useful tips.

Naturally, we don’t always get it right. The pesto pasta on Sunday is a good example of a dish that was slightly off the mark. But every now and again we do- the tortillas last night for friends, for example, or the veggie curries we’ve been living off. And when we do there’s an indescribable satisfaction that comes from it- a satisfaction that, to me, summarises what cooking, and in turn food, really should be all about.

Beauty is more than skin deep…

Ugly fruit

 

The other day, I popped downstairs to get a snack while working. I settled on a couple of passionfruit from the fruit bowl, picked from the vine that grows on the garden fence. As I was choosing two, I noticed that one was a bit blemished and, almost subconsciously, ignored it in favour of one of the others. A second later, I realised I’d done this and picked it up and cut it open.

Inside, it still had that gorgeous, tangy, tropical taste that I’ve begun to associate with my afternoons spent writing. I could still stack the skins in a little tower and it still left my mouth watering for more- just like the many others my boyfriend has been growing for years. And yet, accidentally, I’d almost bought into the message of “blemish=bad” and nearly neglected this humble, juicy, cricket-ball sized fruit.

Back upstairs writing, I thought back to the lemon & poppyseed muffins I’d baked on the weekend with lemons from a friend’s garden, and all the banana breads and carrot cakes I’ve made over the years. One of the lemons I used in the muffins is pictured above- it’s undeniably ugly. It’s a strange, pointed shape, mutated and bizarre- and yet the muffins still tasted amazing. Meanwhile the bananas or carrots I use in baking are always ones that, otherwise, are only really good for composting, the bananas the ones that have gone so brown they’re almost black, and the carrots so flexible I can almost tie them in a knot- and yet even during that one time when I forgot to put eggs in, they’ve always been delicious.

Of all waste, food waste is probably the one I hate the most. It’s why I was so intrigued by my own instinctive behaviour, but also why I was horrified to find out that, in the UK, it’s estimated that 2-40% of produce gets wasted before even leaving the farm. Apparently, this is because “consumers” like myself are too picky to eat it.

Now admittedly, many supermarkets are taking steps towards reducing this figure. You can buy so-called “ugly fruit” in concession lines or it’s turned into salads or smoothies. But what confuses me is: why? Why can’t we just have funny-looking fruit and veg as part of mainstream lines? Why are we creating whole new ranges out of produce that’s perfectly good for its original purpose?! Looking at the picture of that lemon now, I remember picking it from our friend’s tree and wanting to use it because of its unusual shape- not discard it.

So, what can consumers do about it, without having to resort to pricey farmers markets? The answer isn’t easy. It lies partly with companies like Oddbox, who deliver boxes of wonky-veg across London, but, mainly, with consumers challenging the status-quo. Write to your supermarket, or even your MP, chat to your friends about it, recommend them recipes that are perfect for misshapen fruit and veg. Start a conversation that demands fruit in all shapes and sizes and an appreciation of what fresh produce should really be all about. And when you pick up a fruit that looks a bit blemished or odd-looking, eat it. You never know how good it’ll taste.

Our generation is flying like it’s going out of fashion- and maybe it should be…

Our generation is flying like it's going out of fashion- and maybe it should be

This year, Skippy and I have been doing a lot to try and reduce our carbon footprint.  We’ve revamped our veggie garden, upped our recycling and composting so that less than 5% of our waste goes to landfill, fixed our bikes so we can cycle most places, and started buying all of our food (the one exception being Lyle’s Golden Syrup from the UK- because it’s that good) locally.

Overall, recently we’ve been feeling pretty pleased with ourselves… until I researched how many tonnes of CO2 had been emitted into the atmosphere courtesy of our penchant for travel… and the hefty carbon footprints of flights that comes with it.  I used MyClimate.org to calculate the impact of our flights and, without including our two upcoming return trips to the UK, it came in at a shocking 24.2 tonnes.  That’s the same as one American family (FAMILY- NOT COUPLE!), an amount that would cost a staggering £649  to offset.

Skippy and I don’t have £649 to spare and, although we always click the option to carbon offset our flights when we book them, I’m sceptical about this as an efficient way of reducing carbon emissions.  If your house was flooding from a burst pipe, would you pay for someone to scoop the water out bucket by bucket?  Or would you try to fix the burst pipe?  You’d probably spend most of your money on the latter, and a small amount on the former in order to minimise damage in the interim.  You certainly wouldn’t ignore the burst pipe just because, bucket by bucket, you were slowly getting the water levels to go down!

If we follow this line of thinking then, the obvious solution to carbon emissions from flights would be to fly as little as possible… and this is where we have a problem.  While, as a bi-national couple (I’m English and Skippy is, funnily enough, Australian), we fly a lot, we also have a Millenial addiction to “travelling”.  To quote a Forbes article from last year, “What’s more important to millennials than escaping from their student loans, buying a big-ticket item, or even improving relationships with their family and friends? If you guessed travel, you’d be correct”.

When my parents were in their twenties, barely anyone they knew went “travelling” or took a “gap year”.  They went on holidays and island-hopped around the Greek islands or drove around the Dordogne.  Now, on the other hand, nearly everyone I know has visited at least one South-East Asian country, or South America, or Australia, or all three, and/ or taken a gap year.  Fuelled by plummeting airline prices, in an age where everyone wants to be unique, going on the same journey of self-exploration in similar locations around the world has practically become a rite of passage- and should it be?

In the six years since I turned 18, I’ve visited ten different countries- I’m just as guilty of Millenial travel addiction as that tattooed, dreadlocked person you know who only knows one song on the guitar ( probably Wonderwall).  But the best, most rewarding trips I’ve done have been ones in locations that are easily accessible by road or rail; ski seasons in the French Alps (to which I travelled by coach 90% of the time) and a surf season in France and Northern Spain (the former is easy to get to by train, to get to the latter I went by car).  In both cases, I stayed for at least two weeks- often four or more- meaning that not only did I “get my emissions’ worth out of my trip” (as opposed to burning all that fuel for the sake of only a few days) but I also formed lasting bonds with the people I met and the places I visited.

In Naomi Klein’s fantastic book, This Changes Everything, she argues that we need to “return to a lifestyle similar to the one we had in the 1970s” if we are to keep the rise in global temperatures within 2 degrees Celsius.  Thinking about this in relation to travel, and in relation to my own travel experiences, I think she’s right.

Of course, some things have changed and made reverting to a 1970s way of travelling a bit of a challenge.  For example, Across Asia on the Cheap suggested a budget of US$500 for 4 months travel back in 1973 as well as hitch-hiking across all of Europe.  But if we think back to “the hippie trail” from London to Singapore, or hippie culture in general, what’s there to stop us Millenials from taking a few tips from our parents’ generation?  From ditching the mini-breaks and booze-fuelled trips to Shagalouf and replacing them with adventures?  From avoiding expensive airfares and making our own way from A to B?

I have a good friend whose parents spent their honeymoon cycling around France.  They simply cycled onto the ferry and cycled off.  My own parents sailed from Plymouth to Jersey and back- arriving home a day later than planned because a storm had hit and stranded them in the Channel Islands.  Both adventures yielded countless, often hilarious, stories.

Skippy and I are travelling around Europe this summer.  We’re planning on catching up with friends but also on avoiding plane travel as much as we can.  Instead, we’re making like the wannabe gap-yah types that we are and giving interrailing a go and, hopefully, we’ll be able to give my parents’ stories a run for their money…

Single use plastic? Not so fantastic…

Morwenna Jones copywriterAt the start of this year, like practically everybody else on the planet, Skippy and I drew up a list of New Years’ Resolutions.  Some (stop biting nails) were for me, others (listen to better music) were for him, and one was for both of us: to use less plastic.

We resolved to make this the resolution that we would keep (inevitably, my nails remained stubby and I still have to listen to Spotify’s “Chilled winter sounds” mix on a daily basis).  Of course, we’re not perfect-  but we’re only human and we’re trying our best*.

We started by”

  • Only using paper bags instead of the plastic ones on offer when shopping for fruit and vegetables.
  • Not buying ice-lollies and making our own instead.
  • Making our own bread and yoghurt and not buying it.
  • Buying products in glass or cardboard containers instead of plastic.

Then, a walk along the beach, during which we collected all of the rubbish in the above photos, made us realize that the “easy” changes we’d made weren’t enough- we needed to do more.  We needed to start making the changes that would inconvenience us to start with but, one day would become as natural to us as packing our reusable shopping bags.

Once again, we reviewed our lifestyle and looked for areas in which we could reduce, reuse and recycle:

  • Baking more:  I have a sweet tooth and Skippy has the metabolism of a Formula 1 car. Consequently (and I’m not proud of it) we get through a lot of biscuits.  Previously, this meant buying biscuits that come in a lot of soft plastic packaging, whereas the ingredients to make biscuits nearly all come in paper or foil packaging.  So, we’ve started baking them at home.  We’ve now nailed our routine and, every Sunday, I make a big batch of biscuits to last the week.
  • Buy eco-friendly: We discovered Flora and Fauna and used it to order all the things that it’s hard to find sustainable versions of- toothbrushes, razors, dog-poo bags etc.  Every single plastic toothbrush ever produced is still on this planet, but changing to a wooden one is an easy, effective step to take.  They’re even available in some supermarkets.
  • Wrap sensibly: Soft plastics like cling film are difficult to recycle but easy to avoid using.  When we need to store food, we use tin-foil (which we try reuse if it hasn’t got anything on it) or put it in the fridge in a bowl with a plate over it.
  • Shopping consciously: By far the hardest thing to do has been to shop consciously, particularly when it comes to buying our fruit and veg from a local vendor as opposed to the supermarket.

We still have a long way to go on all of these, and others to try to introduce.  But the main thing and the reason why I’ve written this post is that we’re two normal people; we don’t have a lot of money to spend on expensive ‘eco-friendly’ products spun out of organic angel tears, nor have we made any drastic, sweeping changes to our lives (or it certainly doesn’t feel that way).  We’ve made the changes we can make and are working to find others to add to these… if anyone has any ideas, I’d love to hear from you!

*Obvs, it’s also worth mentioning that we already use refillable water bottles, that I have a reusable coffee cup and that we recycle tin cans, the few plastic bottles we do use and that we compost our food waste.