Plastic Challenge #6: Plastic-Free Groceries


Current social paradigms have made us increasingly dependent on plastic. This addiction is most noticeable when meandering through the aisles of a grocery store brimming with food wrapped in plastic.

As a committed group of environmentalists, the Save Our Shores team is constantly working to break free of this toxic bond with zero-plastic waste at our events. But it’s not always easy to do.

chipsThe team was faced with this dilemma when preparing for a recent staff retreat. The problem? How to feed eight people (with a variety of dietary restrictions: vegetarians, gluten-free and dairy-free) for two days, without purchasing food packaged with plastic.

Crunched for time, Alyssa, our amazing operations coordinator, quickly recruited her daughter and some friends to help her find items packaged without plastic at a local grocery store. Unfortunately, due to lack of time, few options and a limited budget, the trip was only partially successful.

plastic cupsBut we learned a great deal:
1. Make sure to allot enough time at the grocery store to search for items packaged without plastic—it’s not easy.
2. Ask a friend to help in the search, but be specific about the non-plastic requirement.
3. If you have to purchase items packaged with plastic, reuse the containers.
4. If you have time to prepare food ahead of time, do it.
5. Look for plastic-saving opportunities. For instance, buy powdered hummus and just add water instead of purchasing hummus packaged in plastic. Also, purchase fresh bread that comes in a paper bag or no bag at all.

In order to curb this global addiction to plastic, we all must shift our way of thinking. Part of that effort, is coming up with creative ways to get around its usage, like Alyssa’s delicious Plastic-Free Vegetarian Chili and Cornbread Recipe. (Get the recipe below.)

While the environmental benefits of shopping plastic-free are obvious to the SOS team, in a future blog we plan to provide a more in-depth cost analysis.

In the meantime, here are some ideas we came up with for training plastic-free shoppers:
1. Provide a pocket-sized information card with tips for buying plastic-free.
2. Offer tips for buying plastic-free on the side of reusable bags.
3. Shop the bulk aisle, and fill up your reusable canvas bags or containers.

– Kim Marks, SOS Programs Intern

Plastic-Free Vegetarian Chili and Cornbread

Total Time: 55 min.
Prep: 25 min.
Cook: 30 min.
Yield: 6-8 servings

Chili Ingredients:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
1 cup chopped red bell peppers
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 to 3 serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded, and minced, depending upon taste
1 medium zucchini, stem ends trimmed and cut into small dice
2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 3 ears)
1 1/2 pounds portobello mushrooms (about 5 large), stemmed, wiped clean and cubed
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespooon ground cumin
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
4 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
3 cups cooked black beans, or canned beans, rinsed and drained
15-ounces tomato sauce
1 cup vegetable stock, or water
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Sour cream or strained plain yogurt, garnish
Diced avocado, garnish
Chopped green onions, garnish
2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme

In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions, bell peppers, garlic, and serrano peppers, and cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the zucchini, corn, and mushrooms, and cook, stirring, until soft and the vegetables give off their liquid and start to brown around the edges, about 6 minutes. Add the chili powder, cumin, salt and cayenne, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and stir well. Add the beans, tomato sauce, and vegetable stock, stir well, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro. Adjust the seasoning, to taste.

Cornbread Ingredients:
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, melted

Mix ingredients until combined. Then spoon the chili into mason jars and add cornbread batter on top, bake at 375 F for 25-30 minutes.

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