No Plastic Kitchen Basics
Buying food can be a little tricky when it comes to buying without plastic. Some things are pretty straight forward like not putting your fruits and vegetables in plastic bags, or not buying any food that comes in a plastic container (dates for some reason always come in plastic), or citrus, garlic, onions or potatoes come in plastic netting. I personally don't care if a recipe calls for a specific ingredient or if my husband or I have been craving for something, if it comes in plastic netting, it does not come into the house.
It's relatively easy to shop without plastic if you're a vegan but what if you eat meat and dairy?
Here are some things I do because I love cheese and yogurt, and my husband needs to eat some meat during week.
Buying Cheese - There are only two kinds of cheese at our whole foods that do not come in plastic - they both come in wax paper. I suggest going to your usual store and going through the cheese section and finding something that doesn't come in plastic - hopefully it's the kind you like. Another option is to go to a cheese and butcher store. They might wrap their cheeses in paper, but if they don't you can take your own clean cloth napkin (plain or with beeswax - we'll go over this a little later) and ask them to put it in that. Farmer's markets are another option though again not all farmers wrap their cheese in paper.
Buying Meat - We are very specific about the meat we buy. Best option: Wild caught/hunted by someone you know and trust. Second best option is to buy it from a farmer you know - who treats his/her/zir animals well, with respect and love. The third option is to buy it at a store like whole foods where you can see where the meat came from - what farm, what the farm's practices are like, what kind of life the animal had etc.
When you buy from a small farm, you're most likely going to buy the meat frozen because they aren't big enough to have fresh meat every week. They take a number of their animals to the slaughter house at a time, where they kill the animals and process the meat and package it. Then they freeze it and the farmer sells the meat over a period of time (weeks to months) instead of over 3-4 days. The problem for those of us who don't want to use plastic is that any frozen meat I have seen, always comes in plastic. Though I would love to support small farms and farmers, I've started not buying my meat at the farmer's market - You decide what feels more important to you.
I buy our meat from WholeFoods - Local farms, Grass-fed/Pasture-raised and wild caught. I get my chicken at the butcher also so I don't have to get it in plastic. Same thing with fish, red meat and bones. ALWAYS ask them to wrap it in paper even if you think that's what they're going to do any way. I've had a few instances where the person put it in plastic because I didn't speak fast enough.
Buying Milk - If you're a dairy person, there are farms all over the country that sell their milks in glass - when you return you can get your bottle deposit back. The lids are plastic and they get "recycled", which isn't ideal because a glass bottle when it's recycled and be a glass bottle again but plastic always down cycles. Even though it's not a perfect system, the glass bottles with the plastic tops seems like the best option out there at the moment. I personally prefer raw milk from grass-fed animals but where I am that's not available in glass so if I must have some milk, I get the local glass jar. If you live in Europe, I'm sure it's much easier to find milk in glass.
Non-Dairy Milks - Instead of purchasing, I suggest making these, unless it's rice milk - I am yet to find a recipe that produces something edible. Buy your organic nuts in bulk (bring your grocery bags to bag them), soak your nuts over night and put them in your blender or VitaMix the next morning with fresh water. Here's a basic almond milk recipe. You can purchase cheese cloth in bulk (it will come in a box rather than in plastic and will be a lot cheaper) and use that to strain instead of a plastic mesh. When you're done straining, you can dry the nut mush in the oven, low temp, put it in your clean and dry vita mix again and fluff it out to use as almond flour later. You want to make sure it's totally dry otherwise it'll get moldy.You can make this with whatever nut you'd like. Nut milks usually last about 3 days in the fridge. The nut flour can be used to bake.
Note about Almonds - Almonds require a TON of water to grow. Right now they are not the most sustainable nut to eat or make milk out of. Check out this article on almond production in California.
Yogurt - Yogurt in most stores in the U.S. comes in a plastic container. If it's in a glass jar, for some reason they still feel the need to wrap the jar in plastic - silly. The best way to not grab plastic home with your yogurt is to make it at home and it is SUPER easy. What I do is buy a quart of yogurt that I like which has live cultures in it. You have to read the label and make sure it's full fat, has no added sugar and has a list of LIVE bacteria. If it was ultra pasteurized, there won't be any live bacteria in there. Next step I take a number of clean 16 oz glass ball jars, fill them up with milk, scoop up a tablespoon of yogurt in, close the lid, shake, shake and shake and then put them in a water bath on the stove, or straight in the dehydrator, or if it's a warm day (you ready for this?) I put it in my car and cover the top with a blanket so they aren't in direct sunlight but are in a warm incubator. My previous landlord taught me this trick and it works great. You can't drive around with the yogurt in the back because it needs to settle and can't be disturbed but if you know you're going to be home all day (like on a Sunday), this is the way to do it. I keep it in the car for about 10-12 hours or so. Some people like to heat the milk up first or to warm it up, I don't because I'm lazy. I won't heat up the milk anyway if I'm making it with Raw Milk but it's nice to warm the milk up (anything below 118 F is considered raw/not cooked) because then the bacteria start growing faster as opposed to putting cold yogurt in a cold glass of milk and waiting for it to come to room temperature for the cultures to grow. The temperature you want to keep the yogurt at while it's incubating is between 100-112F.
You can find other recipes online, if you want to get fancy but honestly this is how I make yogurt. It's easy, takes very little active time and tastes great. The longer it incubates, the thicker it will be.
If you like greek yogurt, aka strained yogurt, take your yogurt and put it in a cheese cloth, and hang it somewhere in your kitchen with a bowl under it so the liquid (water and whey) drain into that bowl. You can use that whey (protein) in your smoothies, or give it to your pet if you don't want to ingest it yourself.
Kefir - You can also make Kefir but it's more time consuming and needs your attention. What's nice about kefir is that when you have too many kefir grains (they're called grains but they aren't actual grains, just colonies of beneficial microbes) you can give it to friends and neighbors who can then start their own batches - much like kombucha mamas. But be warned, it is a little like having another pet in the house, in that it needs the right temperature and needs to be strained at certain times and put away in the fridge. It becomes a little bit of a hassle when you travel for long periods. Kefir also doesn't like metal so you will have to get a plastic strainer. Here's a website where you can read about how to care for Kefir grains. This website says you can cover the kefir and milk mixture - I've never covered it with a lid. I suggest making this in ball jars with two part lids. You can take the flat round part out and instead put some cheese cloth down and then tighten the outer ring part of the lid around the mouth of your jar, so that your milk and grains can breathe.
Kefir Cheese - Just like strained yogurt - Once you have your kefir separated from your kefir grains (don't eat the grains) you can lay down a few layers of cheese cloth and put your kefir in it. Hang it and let it drip for at least 24 hours. It will shrink considerably in size as the liquid drains. Once you have the consistency you like, you can roll it on some herbs or black sesame seeds and put it in a small ceramic (like a ramekin) or glass bowl and cover it with olive oil, so it doesn't have contact with air.
The more time you want to spend in the kitchen and the more you want to experiment, the more options you have, but if you have kids or are already juggling a lot and the idea of making things at home is too much, then just start with the easiest stuff like not putting 2 apples in a plastic bag and your 3 onions in another. It's really OK for your food to touch one another in your grocery cart.
As you get comfortable, you'll see that things like making your own yogurt takes very little hands on time and mental space, and will be able to reduce your plastic use without even thinking about it. Just like brushing your teeth at night before you go to bed is something you just do and not think about, making yogurt will become second nature.
Up Next: More on No Plastic Kitchen - Storing Food Without Plastic