A small amount of prepared foods have been around since there were first open air markets in any of the big cities of the world. But mostly this took the form of dried meats or already ground spices. And you brought your own cloth sacks.
It wasn’t until the mid 18th century that more prepared and packaged foods were available, and then, only to households that could afford them.
But just as with so many things about the now-dying fossil fuel age, it was after the advent of cheap energy that prepared and packaged foods became widely available and affordable. By now they’re everywhere. In America, we would hardly recognize life without them.
Mistakenly we assume this is only a good thing, no downside.
So easy and convenient, it’s like magic!
Since the early twentieth century, when women began being bombarded with advertising messages touting the ease and alleged convenience of packaged foods, we’ve bought into the Madison Avenue dog and pony show.
By now, our most common skill set in the kitchen is tearing off the bright cardboard packaging, slitting the vent in the “film” and nuking dinner. After which, we toss the cardboard, film, and plastic tray into a plastic lined trash can. It’s our dinner contribution to the landfill.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, in 2009 the average American produced 4.3 pounds of waste per person per day. That’s 30.1 pounds per week, 120.4 pounds per month and 1444.8 pounds per year. Each. So, family of four, that’s almost 5,800 pounds.
And this isn’t just in one sack that’s as heavy as lead. It takes up a lot of space. Land. And all those plastics that are made with heaven knows what toxins? They leach into the ground. They leach into the water.
It may just be me but I fail to see the “ease” and “convenience” in this.
I also fail to see how this is representative of the loving good smiles and happy-go-lucky times depicted in TV ads for convenience foods. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!
Women are busy, that’s true. I live it, too. It’s tough to get home at the end of the day and feel like you have to whip up a meal from scratch. Even if you’re a homemaker, there’s so many things to do in a day that fresh cooking can feel like a daunting end-of-day ordeal.
At the same time, with so many indisputable facts about how our lifestyle choices are literally piling up around us, it’s making it more and more difficult to deny the waste and pollution we generate. We have to find a middle ground.
A new leaf
If you want to begin taking a new, more thoughtful and creative approach to family life you can begin by recognizing that every single thing you do connects you to the bigger picture. That every choice you make has consequences. Take these disturbing statistics:
- Americans throw out over 25 BILLION polystyrene cups annually.
- The average American uses an amount of paper products every year that would require an 100 foot tall Douglas Fir to produce.
- Enough aluminum is thrown out every month in the United State to completely replace all of the nation’s commercial airplanes.
- Every year, enough plastic food wrap is produced to cover the state of Texas.
I hope you’ll take twenty minutes to watch Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff. It depicts in a clear, entertaining and educational way just where our stuff comes from, how we use it, and what affect its having on our natural resources, lives and health.
Then I hope you’ll skip the frozen and highly processed convenience foods in the grocery aisles, limiting your choices to a few essentials and buying bulk (with your own reusable containers) whenever you can. You can also preserve and freeze foods in advance yourself, using reusable jars and freezer containers. A lot of convenience, much less trash.
The upshot of all this is that it’s fun to cook food with your family! As an added bonus, less processed foods, in addition to being less polluting, are also in their natural state, making them healthier for you and yours. And natural food wastes can be used for compost, which makes your garden healthier.
Those are really ways to say “I love you” to your family. No cardboard package needed, thanks.
–Lindsay Curren, Lindsay’s List