Category Archives: food

Unpackaged at Last

imageI remember back when I heard about the first package-free store. Unpackaged opened in London in 2010 and was a internet sensation the moment it opened (ok maybe only among us zero-wasters). The only downside – it was all the way over in England.

Well since then, lots of things have changed. The bulk departments of our local stores are growing, the Soap Dispensary opened in Vancouver offering bulk cleaners, soaps, and toothpastes, and our farmer’s market began to stay open every week year round. All these things make it much much easier to live zero waste, but I still had my eye on that first zero waste store.

When Grant and I started planning a trip to the UK, I knew Unpackaged had to be on our list of tourist attractions. In perfect serendipity, the store ended up being just a 5 minute walk from the place we were staying.

image_2The most exciting part of Unpackaged is the bulk yogurt, something I have been unable to find in Vancouver. Second most exciting are bulk oils and vinegar which are sometimes available but not easy to come by. And now that we’re here, the achievements of Unpackaged are especially notable because, from what we’ve seen in London supermarkets, it’s pretty darn hard to live zero waste here. I’m talking 2 or 3 choices of package-free fruits and veggies and everything else wrapped in plastic. They do seem to have fantastic recycling with public bins everywhere and food scraps pick up at homes, but the key to reducing waste is catching it at the source, and it’s not easy here.

So kudos to Unpackaged not only for doing what you’re doing, but for doing it in a country where pretty much no one else is!image_3

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Filed under consumerism, food, packaging

Zero Waste Beer

Living zero waste isn’t about deprivation; it’s about living with less and figuring out better solutions that just happen to not involve disposable packaging. And it’s about time we talked about beer.

growlerBeer is one of Grant’s very favorite things, and in Canada, all the major domestic brewers (Molson, Sleemans etc) refill their glass bottles. It’s a carryover from before the age of cans, and luckily it has stuck with us. We also have excellent take back programs (known in the US as bottle bills). That 10 cent deposit we pay on every beer can or bottle seems like a little thing, but it really works. The National Brewers Association reports that Canadians recycle 99% of their beer bottles  – nice work everyone!

Of course the metal caps and cardboard boxes are recyclable, but if you’re looking for a truly zero waste option beyond brewing your own, your best beer bet is to buy from a local microbrewery.

We recently visited Bridge Brewing in North Vancouver where we discovered that the owners Leigh and Jason are kindred souls in zero waste.  They are a microbrewery in the truest sense of the word, recently upsized from a garage hobby to a full fledged business with a tiny tasting bar squeezed into a little industrial strip near the Second Narrows Bridge.

tasting

They mill their own grain and compost it when they’re done, they wash caps for reuse instead of trashing them, and they’re looking for options for their grain sacks beyond recycling. They mostly sell growlers; large refillable glass jugs with reusable screw caps that hold just under a six pack of beer with no disposable packaging whatsoever! bridge brewingLeigh, who sports the awesome title of Director of Consumption, says she doesn’t like folks using plastic cups, so she even has a stock of glasses she lends out if you’re buying a keg. It’s this kind of customer service that makes me think that Bridge is going to be around for quite a while.

capsMicrobreweries mean you’re buying direct from the source – supporting the local economy, and getting a fantastic, package-free product to boot. If you’re near North Van, swing by Bridge, and if not, post your favorite brewery that refills growlers in the comments!

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Filed under food, interactions, product reviews

A Story of Reuse

photo(22)When my uncle (now in his 50’s) was a teenager, he had a job at a bakery.

I want to imagine a lovely scene of steaming bread being sold from handmade baskets direct to customers, but in reality, I think they were a wholesaler here in Vancouver, so they just put the bread in plastic bags.

The bags had two holes on one end which allowed them to hang from two rods, kind of like how they do it with bags at the grocery store. But one day the bakery got a new bread bag system which meant that their stockpile of two-holed bags was essentially useless.

My Grandpa, ever the ingenious salvager, got wind of this and volunteered to take them home.

And that is why my Grandparents, and my Mom, and her three siblings, and their kids have been using these particular two-holed, multigrain bread bags for the past 30 some years.

They’re surprisingly thick which makes for perfect for freezer bags. When I visit my grandma she’ll inevitably pull a zucchini loaf out of the freezer, wrapped in tin foil and stored in a certain two-holed, multigrain bread bag. Yes, I know it’s plastic, but I also know that it was rescued from a sure fate in the landfill, and to me, that is the spirit of zero waste.

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Filed under consumerism, food, reusable containers

More Things I Never Thought I Would Make: Eatmore Bars

When I was a teenager, I used to babysit for a family down the street that had a candy drawer. It was, just as it sounds, an entire drawer full of candy. After dinner, if it was a weekend, the kids could each pick one item out of the drawer. And once they went to bed I would settle on the couch with a selection of  licorice, gummy worms, and various chocolatey treats and devour them until my teeth ached.

I remember this particularly because back at my house, we definitely did not have a candy drawer. To be fair, I probably didn’t have enough self control to have a drawer of candy, and we did have a cookie jar filled with homemade goodness, but as everyone knows, cookies aren’t candy.

Whether it was the lack of a dedicated drawer or my naturally ravenous sweet tooth, I have great nostalgia for candy. Most of it centres around the following:

  1. The obvious annual Halloween bonanza.
  2. The customary giddy anticipation of corner store candy purchases where I could spend my allowance however I wanted (generally a box of nerds, a ring pop, or a lick-a-stick because they lasted the longest and I have long been a girl who values a good deal).
  3. Skittles. My Dad would occasionally come home with a coveted package of these shiny fruity wonders. I associated Skittles so closely with being a “Dad candy” that I was actually surprised years later when I realized that anyone could just walk into a grocery store and buy them.
  4. And finally, the eatmore bar. At some point in my later childhood, after she went back to work full time and we started packing our own lunches, my mom began buying bulk packs of eatmore bars. Usually we had granola bars, but when the eatmores were in the house, each of us kids were allowed half of one in our lunch. It was the ultimate treat: soft and chewy, salty sweet, peanuty goodness, and it’s something I’ve missed since we headed down the zero waste path and stopped buying things like plastic wrapped candy bars. (I told you I was nostalgic about this stuff)

Anyway, today I unexpectedly discovered that my Whitewater cookbook had a recipe for eatmore bars in it. Even after all my do-it-yourselfing it never even occurred to me that I could MAKE them. And now, after all of 5 minutes, I have a whole pan of candy bars in the house.

If only I could figure out how to make skittles, I’d be set. . .

PS-If you want to try eatmore bars for yourself, there’s a similar recipe here

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Filed under DIY, food

Gumboots and Soup

perfect handmade soup mugs from http://www.mugrevolution.com

Yes, it’s that time of year. My mystery volunteer squash that threatened to overtake the garden have been harvested. The raised beds are looking a little bare, save for a few remaining carrots and beets, a scrawny row of last minute radishes, and the over-producing kale and swiss chard (Grant was done with kale back in June).

The wet weather has blown in. In short, it’s soup time.

My friend Keith called and insisted we go hunting for wild mushrooms. Dreaming of mushroom soup, I grabbed a few containers and we headed out to harvest a local and zero waste meal. Turns out that the mushroom patch wasn’t, as I’d expected, in the forest. It was right downtown. On the edge of a large grassy median in the heart of Yaletown (which, if you’re not from Vancouver, is a pretty fancy pants area).

And that is how I ended up in my gumboots harvesting mushrooms on a median in downtown Vancouver at rush hour as streams of business people walked by. (Never one to draw attention to myself in a public place, I found it a tad embarrassing). I was a little worried about the toxic traffic fumes impregnating the mushrooms, but Keith insisted he’d done this before.

In the end, we had wild, urban, shaggy mane hungarian mushroom soup for dinner (hungarian mushroom soup courtesy of The New Moosewood Cookbook – that recipe alone is worth the price of the book); zero waste, local, and pretty darn fun.

 

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Buttery Goodness with Zero Waste House Guests

We recently played host to some friends and fellow zero wasters who were visiting from Iqaluit. I have to say, living in the extreme north, they definitely have a harder time of it finding low-packaging food, but, armed with a pantry of bulk food, they’re doing an amazing job!

After enthusiastically taking full advantage of all Vancouver has to offer in terms of restaurants, we got together for a home-cooked meal. It turned into a collaboration in local food; we picked greens from the garden, boiled spot prawns, and, most excitingly, we made butter from scratch.

I’ve made butter a couple times before, but I realized I hadn’t posted on it. It’s dead easy, and definitely worth a try. It’s especially fun in a group or with kids because you can all take turns shaking. All you need is a jar and some whipping cream.

Put the cream in the jar.

Shake shake shake until the cream turns to whipped cream. . .

which in turn becomes a solid lump of butter in a watery liquid (buttermilk).

You can salt it if you wish.

Drain the buttermilk to use for baking or making pancakes the next morning.

That’s it!

Quick note – if you are storing your butter for awhile, you have to wash the remaining buttermilk out of it or it will go rancid.  Ours never stays around long enough, so we skip this stage, but I gather that you either put it in a strainer or just knead the lump of butter in your hands while running it under cold water.

PS – If you’re still wondering how you can live zero waste in the Frozen North, check out  subzerowaste (the name of which cracks me up) .

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Manual Coffee

I’m one of those people who loves the smell of coffee, but hates the taste (I’m more of a tea girl),  so it was no hardship to me when Grant’s coffee grinder broke.

But for those for whom coffee is the essential start to every morning, you’ll understand his panic. You’ll understand that having freshly ground beans is non-negotiable. And you’ll understand why, on the morning that the grinder broke, he opted for the next best option  – a hammer and a paper bag.

Besides creating a racket, a hammer reportedly does a mediocre job of coffee grinding.

The next morning, still intending to buy a new grinder or at least look for a second hand one, he came up with another option: the cast iron mortar and pestle. It’s heavy enough to grind beans and deep enough to stop them from popping out, it uses zero electricity, and it makes much less noise than either the hammer or the electric grinder.

  

Apparently the grind is not fine enough to make a satisfactory espresso, but it works perfectly in the french press which means that our fancy espresso machine is going on craigslist, our broken coffee grinder is going to the e-waste depot, and our household is suddenly lighter by two appliances.

I’m sure glad he didn’t just rush out to get a new grinder.

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Filed under Around the house, DIY, food