01.05.2008

Ditch the Plastic

Wholefood writer Jude Blereau says "go glass and get real".

Wholefood writer Jude Blereausays "go glass and get real".

IWAS watching a cooking show (Australian) on TV the otherevening, only to see this beautiful piece of well-raisedmeat wrapped in plastic and then steamed. This practiseis not uncommon in commercial cookery today and, indeed,is happening more and more. This article is not to rantabout such behaviour, but to bring to the forefrontof thought that as humans, we continue to adapt to technologywithout thought.

I have said before that one of the challenges forthe 21st century will be to bring heart and soul totechnology, and to find ways to adapt the many advancesin ways that enhance, not detract, from our very beingness.Plastic would be one of those technologies and its usein food production has become pervasive.

The problem with plastic, as in most petrochemicalproducts (especially pesticides) is the presence ofxeno estrogens – fake or pretend estrogens thatoverstimulate the estrogen receptors and, in many cases,replace the body's ability to uptake its own.The implications of this are enormous and lead to manyproblems – hormonal, impaired foetal development,and cancer are a just few examples in which xeno estrogensare considered to play a major role. You could absolutelysay that they are not body compatible. We are, as asociety, infatuated with speed and achieving an endresult more quickly – food is no exception. Theuse of soft plastic wraps and plastic storage is almostendemic.

There is virtually no food today that is not touchedby plastic. Let's start with the butcher –all meat is covered in plastic as it sits in the cabinet;it is no longer wrapped in paper once purchased butin plastic and, most often, with the added bonus ofa plastic tray. I recently asked an organic butchercould he please just put the meat in some paper…no, he had no butcher's paper there at all, andtruly the look on his face was as if I had asked couldhe organise a delivery to the moon . He could just notwrap his mind around the "absurdity " ofmy request.

Meats are now rarely hung for aging, but rather packedin plastic for a "wet" aging, and most meat(including organic) is set on a plastic tray and wrappedin soft plastic wrap. About 80 per cent of all fruitand vegetables are packed in plastic. But the problembecomes more severe when foods are packed or producedin plastic that will undergo heat, including take home/takeout soups and meals in plastic pouches or cups, and(becoming more common) the lining of tin cans. But evenbeyond this, the use of soft plastic wrap in food productionis endemic. Pastry is rolled with plastic and to achievea lovely thin pastry for tartlets, pastry is lined withsoft plastic wrap and weighted before cooking.

Meat is wrapped in soft plastic wrap and cooked (steamed,roasted etc) in restaurants, and the example on TV wasjust how it is these days in the industry. It makesthings easier and quicker. These are only a drop inthe ocean of examples I could give you. The softer theplastic, the more transference of xeno estrogens, andeven more so when heated. It must be obvious to youthat heating – most notably by microwave –of foods in plastic containers or wrapped in soft plasticwrap is a problem of massive proportions, yet it isthis type of food that is most common in day to daylives.

So what do you do? Resist wherever possible the useof soft plastic wrap. I prefer to not use it at all.I'm not always successful at that and sometimesuse it for sealing, but I see this as a weakness onmy part and seek to find other ways including tea towels,little "shower caps", glass jars with lidsetc. I can tell you that when I do use it, it is becauseI am stressed and tired; the lure of easy and fast isvery seductive. But I never use it for heating.

Certainly my mother and grandmother survived amazinglywell without it and their lives didn't fall apart.

Containers for fridge and freezer storage? Some ofthe best on the market are Pyrex. They come in roundand rectangle options, from tiny to large, and thoughthey have a plastic lid, they are fabulous. Store/freezein glass, thaw if required, then remove the lid andcook. We all are guilty of using plastic take out containersto freeze, me included, but if you can move towardsPyrex, all the better. In the pantry, I prefer to storein glass. I like to buy a lot of food from bulk bins(sooo much cheaper) and recycle the paper bags fromshop to shop. If I don't have glass jars to storethese foods in at home, I do like to stack similar things(sea vegetables/legumes/sugars) in one large plasticcontainer, but they are already in their paper or purchasedpackaging. It does help me organise and keep thingstogether. I don't buy something and then storeit loose in its own plastic container. I'm nota fan of plastic storage systems. Wherever possible,store in glass.

Let's talk the pointy end – heating. Please,never, ever have food or reheat food in plastic –any kind of plastic, thick or thin. If you eat out,this will be virtually impossible. If you MUST (andI would be dragged kicking and screaming) use a microwave,please do not use plastic based containers to do theheating, and please don't put it in a bowl andcover with soft plastic wrap. Please don't putthat lovely potato in its plastic microwave cocoon.It's just as quick to steam your vegies, honestly.I agree the potato is a long affair, but if you wantreal food that can actually support you, then that'sthe way it is. If you need to re heat a grain, put itin a china bowl and put that in a saucepan. Fill withenough water to come half way up the side of the bowland then cover the pot with the lid and gently steam– it really doesn't take long. If you needto heat a stew, put in a small pot. If it is frozen,add small amount of water and heat very gently.

The drive to remove plastic shopping bags from ourlives is picking up steam. I'm starting a newdrive so come on board, see how you go and let me know.The thing that makes it hard is always the time issue.It is possible and doable, it just does take a bit oforganising. The recipe for this month ? It's toshow you it doesn't take long to cook a good dinner– proper fast food.

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