default settings

Of what use is an all-or-nothing pursuit? Idealism is great, but too
often, perfectionism prevents us from doing much at all. So, I must say
this to all the skeptics: do something! (If you struggle with the
disease of perfectionism, by the way, I highly recommend the books of
Brene Brown

There are still a few days before my Plastic Free challenge
officially begins, but I’ve been testing the waters and sharing my
enthusiasm. The resulting responses have been fairly predictable:
polite, but… dismissive. There’s been mild scoffing, but mostly the
implication that it’s “cute” or “precious” that I would attempt this.
It’s akin to throwing a pint-sized jug on a mountain-sized fire. They
say I’m going to fail. Well, they’re right, on both counts. So what? The
point is not to be perfect, but to develop of an awareness of my
contribution to pollution (that’s what all your trash is!),
and to have faith that every little bit helps. And I’m getting sick of
sitting on the sidelines being a commentator on the burn with all the
other talking heads.

Let’s begin.

Default: My Plastic Footprint

I’ll begin with where I am  beginning, but this won’t be right for you. You should begin at
your beginning. Maybe you’re a fast food or processed food junkie: my
steps won’t work for you; you’ll have to start somewhere else. Maybe
you’re a scratch cook or a hardcore environmental activist: my steps
won’t work for you; you’ll have to start from some more enlightened
place. But here’s where I’m beginning:


This past week, I
created a menu with recipes fairly typical to my rotation, but with an
organization a little less common. I prepped them all on Sunday and then
had very little work to do during the week to eat abundantly. Since I had so much food, it made for some quality moments with my two roomies, who you might as well get to know now – my spirit mate,
Deena, and my fiancé, Matt:




I shopped and cooked as usual, merely with an eye toward cataloging when and where I used plastic for each meal:

  • Big Salad (yes, Elaine from Seinfeld): salad dressing, carrots packaged in plastic
  • Cheezy Kale Rice (Tara Stiles, Make Your Own Rules): plastic container that nutritional yeast came in, plastic for red pepper flakes
  • “Snobby” Joes (Brittany Mullins, Eating Bird Food): sesame seed bun bag, tomato sauce and tomato paste cans (aluminum, but with plastic lining apparently)
  • Enchiladas (adapted from Zonya Foco, Lickety-Split Meals): shredded cheese bag, tortilla bag, bean and sauce cans (aluminum, but with plastic lining)

In looking at my footprint for this week, I can see some
categories of foods standing out, so now it’s time to brainstorm
adjustments for next month.

Revision from the Mountain

I love this David Foster Wallace talk for inspiration on contemplating my actions; it acknowledges that we go through life on a default setting, and that we can sometimes switch to manual and control our thinking for a better experience:

To be honest–and cheesy–I have found that, even though it may seem that I am in a sense “depriving” myself of the automation and convenience plastic provides, I actually feel more fulfilled and more hopeful. I can look at those troublesome categories and make a plan:

  1. Produce, spices/seasonings: This should be an easy fix now that I’m collecting more small jars and there are quite a few places I can go to get them in bulk – most notably Rainbow Blossom and Whole Foods.
  2. Salad dressing: I don’t really eat salads very often, and I’m not even a
    big fan of dressing. But it should be simple enough to whip up some oil
    and vinegar, and maybe even (glass)bottle my own Italian.
  3. Cans: I don’t know. Sure, some companies are beginning to offer these cooking items in boxes instead of cans. Down the line, though, I will want to reduce even recyclable waste. On the other hand, I’m not sure I’m ready to spend even more time cooking by making tomato sauces from tomatoes and bypassing the need for disposable containers…
  4. Buns/tortillas: Well. This is going to be a problem.

Of course, by the end of the list, you can see me shrugging my shoulders because there are times you feel hopeful and empowered, and others when you feel overwhelmed. I am overwhelmed by the pile of plastic growing before my eyes. But, as my college Tai Chi instructor always reminded us, First there is no mountain, then there is a mountain, then there is no mountain. When you’re on a default setting, you don’t even know there’s a mountain to climb. You don’t see the plastic mountain because it’s not your issue; you buy it, you hold it, you use it, and you toss it. Zero wasters don’t see the plastic mountain either, because it’s not there to see; they don’t buy it, they don’t hold it, they don’t use it, and they don’t toss anything.

In August, I’m guessing, I’ll see the plastic mountain; I’ll be Sisyphus rolling up and down that darn hill.

So, how often do you use your default setting? Are you climbing another mountain? Perhaps for personal health, social justice, or education? I’d love to hear about it!