when game night was its own game


The roomies and I scheduled a low-key game night for this past Saturday – a chance to indulge in wordplay with close friends, and introduce them to our new puppy. (That’s Edie up there, peacefully sleeping on our way home from the shelter.)

What a wonderful test of my plastic-free powers! I thought. Bestie Deena was in charge of the wine, fiance Matt of a tasty potato side dish, so I declared my intent to prepare an entrée plastic-free. This will be simple. In my years as a vegetarian (oh yeah, I’ve tried to be sly about this, but you can bet there’s a post coming on this uncomfortable subject), I’ve accumulated a file folder full of produce-based recipes that should make going plastic-free a piece of dairy-free cake.

A few months ago, I pulled out Crackling Cauliflower from Eating Bird Food and was impressed by how easy it was to prepare – and the roomies died over it, claiming it was one of the best things I’ve ever made. So: score. I confidently trekked to our fave Kroger with my short list of needs to make two giant batches of Indian-inspired cauliflower, onions, and peas tossed with rice I already had in bulk at home. (Have you used Wunderlist, by the way? It’s my favorite app for organizing lists, a habit I just can’t quit.)

Um. Not so fast, darling.

The things you need farmers to grow for you – that they take out of the ground – have been intercepted by middle men, who wrap them in plastic. We’ve come so far from eating fresh fruits and veggies that grocers know we’d rather feel like we’re eating something processed. And if you have any other “restrictions” – like, say, you don’t want to support pesticides so you opt for organic instead of conventional when you can—shopping plastic-free becomes a puzzle. Here’s a collage of the horrors I encountered, including needlessly wrapped corn on the cob, the shelf where the out-of-stock organic cilantro was supposed to be, and the conventional and organic options for cauliflower, both wrapped in our dreaded chemical frenemy, plastic:


Without the time to travel to another store, I had to make the best of it, and I’m really not proud of the results below on the left, where, with the exception of red onions and an unrelated mango, everything was packaged. Next time, I could get the majority of these items at a health food store with little to no packaging, and at least I used my cat bag, pictured on the right:


Once home, I was in for a few more surprises. I thought I was so smart avoiding the bags of frozen peas, but the canned ones are… different. I’ll unabashedly admit that I’m into aesthetics (should have been an art history major!), and the canned peas were a huge disappointment in texture (mushy) and especially color (less like bright green grass, more like muddy fatigues). And, the garam masala I mixed up last month was stored with plastic wrap:


I can already see that fighting with my past self will need to be the subject of a post all its own later this month. What do we do about all the plastic that’s already in our lives? Lest this post be a total bummer, though, I’d like to declare that game night was still a success. Without my asking them to, a couple of my fellow gamers brought plastic-free items! We had a vegetable pizza from Katie (who jokingly said she was scared to bring plastic to my house), and monster cookies from Rachel, both in foil, and both delicious:


In fact, we were so caught up in eating and yapping that it took us a while to get around to the word games.

So what do I take from my disappointing shopping trip? Our efforts have to go much further than the individual. If a quick stop at the store is a struggle for me with the level of privilege I have - this whole challenge is a game in itself, and a luxury - then how can we expect to put a stop to the constant stream of plastic that ends up in landfills and in oceans? I can clop across town these days because it’s summer and I’m not on contract to teach. I have the time, education, and organizational skills to plan ahead. I have a salary that, though modest, allows me to choose the stores I patronize with only a little regard to their cost. The ultimate goal in this “game” I’m playing might need to be about persuading the big guys to make changes.

The underprivileged should not have to think about going plastic-free. We should all have easy access to clean, package-free produce. So, this blog will continue to explore the complexities of a plastic-free life. Although food issues will continue to be one of my major interests, I have some posts coming up that will venture into other topics, like my viewing experience of the documentary Plastic Paradise, the budding world of sustainable fashion, and the busy intersection of the personal and the political. What issues would you like to hear more about?