The nine biggest sins of packaged food
We live in a society where almost everything can be purchased single serve, individually wrapped and stuffed with enough preservatives to last a life-time – a very short life-time for most of us if we don’t pick up some slack.
A simple fact of life is that some things just come in packets. Bread, even from a bakery, comes in a plastic bag. We don’t go the butcher to be handed a handful of mince meat, and a carton of milk wouldn’t be much chop without the carton.
Beyond that simple carton of milk, it is easy to cut corners with pre-packaged ingredients: garlic from a jar, powdered stock, instant noodles, canned vegetables and packet mixes. I too am guilty of pre-prepared ingredients in times of need. It seems easy to buy a packet mix, add meat and pre-chopped vegetables and microwave some pre-boiled vacuum packed rice than cook from scratch – but it’s not real food. We are sacrificing our health, and the environment, to eat food that brings instant gratification but no satisfaction - the idea that it takes a long time to make something from scratch is a myth.
I was shocked the other day when I caught an episode of an Australian cooking show demonstrating to viewers how to prepare meals by assembling a few fresh ingredients with pre-packaged recipe bases (during which I uttered profanities at the television in front of my mother). The TV show host was even using garlic from a jar (obviously fresh garlic is a rare and expensive item that requires great concentration and skill to prepare).
As this show is spawned from a series of best-selling recipe books, I am going to assume that there is a target audience out there somewhere. Some of you will surely write comments on this post telling me I have no idea what I am talking about because I don’t have six kids and two jobs and obviously have the luxury of time to prepare proper meals. But I don’t need to buy a cookbook or watch a television show that tells me how to add water to a packet mix, and neither should you (because, if you look closely, you will find that those nifty packet mixes do come with cooking instructions printed on the packet – it’s very convenient).
All these packets, according to the Australian Food and Grocery Council, add up to over 4.2 million tonnes packaging waste every year both in the home and at work. And while we recycle 2.7 million tonnes of this packaging each year, this leaves gap of 1.5 million tonnes of packaging waste for landfill, and this figure could be dramatically reduced by consumers making smarter choices.
Now I’m not suggesting for one moment that anyone should join a commune, shun shoes and shampoo and establish a neighbourhood animal bartering system, but just think for a moment the next time you go grocery shopping: “If the item that I am buying needs to be wrapped in plastic, wrapped in plastic again, bubble wrapped then put into a really big box with a bow on it, do I really need it?”
On with the list:
1. Fruit wrapped in plastic: it’s already in a packet but yet our major supermarket chains insist on placing two avocados on a plastic tray and wrapping them in cling-film, which does truly defy logic, as I am sure there is nothing they need to be protected from in your average supermarket.
2. Pot noodles: a polystyrene container that one adds boiling water to and eats out of with a ready supplied plastic fork might fill that empty feeling in your stomach, but convenience is its only redeeming feature.
3. Individually packaged pet food serves: Responsible pet owners feed their animals at least everyday; it surely can’t be that hard to think ahead and buy in bulk?
4. Take-away coffee cups: are sometimes a necessity in a caffeine emergency, but if you get your take-away coffee from the same place, at the same time, every day, BYO cup and you could save at least 300 take-away cups from the rubbish every year.
5. Herbs in a tube: do not last much longer than herbs that are just herbs and they taste like…well…not much really. Stand up a bunch of parsley or coriander in a small jar of water in your fridge and it should last you at least a week, or even better, grow them.
6. Individual butter pats: are great if you are a germ-a-phobic who cannot share a tub of butter with anyone else in your household. If not that’s one little piece of foil in the bin every 10 grams.
7. Bottled water: should not compete with tap-water in a first world country (those in Adelaide may beg to differ). Great for travelling, yes, but bottled water sales add up to over $500 million a year in profit in Australia alone for the soft-drink companies that repackage something that comes (almost) free from the tap.
8. Pre-made cookie dough: does not fool anybody. Home made cookies do not originate from plastic wrappers, and plastic wrappers are not a shortcut to happiness. It is not okay to feed your family pre-made cookie dough because you are too busy.
9. Over shopping: is the worst out of all packaging sins. As a nation we throw away, on average, one bag of groceries for every five we buy. A few moments of planning (remember when we used to actually write shopping lists?) will save you money and space in your garbage bin.
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