Can You Have a Plastic-Free Thanksgiving?

Posted: November 28, 2012 in In My Life
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Over the past weekend, I was back home in Oregon to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. My mom has been following my blog, and she knew I was trying to live plastic free. She also told my grandma, who was preparing Thanksgiving dinner, about my pledge.
A roast turkey prepared for a traditional U.S....
Great, this is going to go well, I thought.

I have a loving and supporting family, but when it comes to my environmentalist vein, I tend to drive the family a bit nuts. Heck, they’re still just adjusting to me being a pescatarian. Trying to make it five days without purchasing plastic or consuming food packaged in plastic? I figured I didn’t stand a chance.

I guess it’s a measure of how supportive my family is that they tried at all to get food that was plastic free. Even with our efforts to reduce, we weren’t able to entirely eliminate the plastic. Allow me to break it down:

The Jello Incident: The first night my girlfriend and I stayed with her parents in Portland. As per normal, the moment we stepped into the house, we were inundated with offers of food. Normally, I just politely refuse the food, preferring to leave with my waistline intact. However, I discovered almost immediately that my girlfriend’s mother had made an irrational amount of Jello. And by irrational, I mean ten boxes. Of Jello. I knew that Jello powder was contained in plastic bags within the boxes. Plus, all the Jello jigglers were stored in little plastic cups (thankfully, reusable) covered in Saran wrap (unfortunately, not reusable). I figured it would be impolite to refuse all the Jello, so I settled on having one of the cups.

Success at Breakfast: Most mornings over the holidays, I escaped with a banana, eggs, and pastries or rolls that came in cardboard packaging. Breakfast proved the easiest meal. I was forced to refuse to pick up my mother’s cinnamon dulce latte at Starbucks at one point, because she didn’t have a reusable cup. Adding that one to the Christmas list!

The Big Meal (a.k.a how I totally suck at Thanksgiving): I’ve never really been a fan of the traditional Thanksgiving foods. Through childhood, I was content with some turkey, a few rolls, and some fruit salad. It took twenty years of my life to decide to opt-in to stuffing. I still don’t eat mashed potatoes, gravy, or cranberries—and now turkey has been replaced by salmon. In other words, I suck at Thanksgiving. So let’s look at where I succeeded and where I failed with my plastic pledge.

Salmon: Bought at a fresh fish market. Unfortunately, it was wrapped in a plastic bag, which I’m afraid was destined for the trash can because of its fishiness. Fail.

Stuffing: Comes in a box, but inside the box is a plastic bag. Fail.

Fruit Salad: Although some of the fruit (apples, oranges, bananas) was plastic free, the berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries) were definitely packaged in plastic. Fail.

Jeesh…I’m not doing very good, am I?

Bread Rolls: Finally, success! These came wrapped in foil from the catering that also delivered our pies. Win.

Beer and Wine: The wine cork was real cork, as opposed to plastic (the virtues of plastic over the endangered cork tree are another issue entirely). However, the beer bottle lids have a little plastic seal, which makes them not entirely plastic free. Fail-ish.

Olives: A guilty Thanksgiving pleasure of mine—and one that comes in a BPA lined can. Fail. At least I’m in good company, since Beth Terry—my plastic free heroine—recently posted a confession regarding these subtle and sinister plastic-lined metallic villains.

Pie and Ice Cream: This came from a catering service, which delivered the pie in a plastic-free box. Was the pie made from ingredients that came in plastic? Probably. I guess I can’t have your cake pie and eat it too. The ice cream container didn’t have any plastic windows, so that was a plus. I’m a little suspicious of ice cream containers though. The cardboard is suspiciously durable. Plastic perhaps?

Lunches etc.: I have to give kudos to my mom on this one, and not just ’cause she’s my mother. She dug up a recipe for these focaccia-bread-like creations that included freshly minced vegetables, cream cheese, and salad dressing. A bizarre combination, to be sure, but also one that was utterly delicious and plastic free—or so she assured me. She also made chocolate chip cookies that, with the exception of the chocolate chips, came from plastic-free baking goods. It got me to thinking that chocolate chip cookies are actually great plastic-free goodies, if you buy the chocolate chips in bulk. That’s probably a post for another time, though.

Conclusion?

Traveling while living plastic free is hard. Add to that trying not to offend your family, or your significant other’s family, and it becomes an even greater challenge. I learned a lot from the weekend. The best part was having a conversation with my parents, my aunt and uncle, and even my grandparents about my pledge off plastic. It made them think about their habits, and it changed the interaction from me preaching to them about environmental degradation to us having a constructive conversation.

When was the last time you talked to your family about reducing waste?

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Comments
  1. my76xj6c says:

    I’m really enjoying this, Greg … can’t wait to hear my Mom’s take on your lifestyle!

  2. My family thinks I’m crazy. I’ve been talking to them about reducing waste since the 2nd or 3rd grade when Ronald McDonald (how’s that for irony) came to my school to teach us the three R’s. As crazy as they think I am I’ve definitely rubbed off on them over the years…reusable water bottles (most of the time) – check, cloth napkins (some of the time) – check…baby steps!

    Very admirable challenge you have undertaken, Greg. Interested to hear more about your experiences!

    • Very cool, Elisabeth. I remember learning about the three Rs back in grade school as well. I think a lot of people remember the last R (recycle), but I wish more people would reduce and reuse. Christmas time is always a great time to force reusable water bottles and coffee mugs on relatives 🙂

  3. Beth Terry says:

    Hi Greg. Don’t beat yourself up for other people’s plastic. You can only do so much on your own, and it sounds like you’re doing a lot!

    Cork trees are actually endangered when wineries don’t use cork as opposed to when they do because cork is sustainably harvested bark. The tree stays intact. But if there is no demand for cork, the forests are cut down to grow other things. There’s info about it on my blog and also how to tell if a bottle has a natural cork stopper, if you’re interested.

    Yes, all cardboard ice cream containers are lined with plastic, I’m afraid.

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