By Ruth Garbus
It’s all true.
Like, flying is terrible for the environment, but also not seeing your newborn nephew who lives across the country would be terrible for your soul. Or, meat consumption contributes majorly to climate change, but collagen peptides and bone broth make your 90 year old grandmother healthier and help her thrive.
It’s all true. And it’s really uncomfortable.
The clash between the health and safety of loved ones and the health and safety of our planet is a hallmark of our era. And sometimes it’s upsetting to see the compromises other people, or businesses like our co-op, make. For instance, we’ve gotten some negative feedback about the packaging changes we recently made to our pre-sliced deli meats and cheeses and pre-cut fresh fish, from soft plastic vacuum packs to hard plastic clamshell containers. Many of you who support our co-op have wondered why we would make such a change.
Our Deli Manager, Max B., explained that the switch is the result of the implementation of HACCP, which stands for Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point. This is an FDA program executed by the state that seeks to minimize any chance of food-borne illness. It involves creating evidence-based protocols to prevent every possible instance of potential vulnerability.
Vacuum-packed foods are one form of ROP (Reduced Oxygen Packaging). ROP, if not used properly, can increase the risk of dangerous bacteria on certain foods (other raw meats and cheeses are still safely packed in ROP in our store). HACCP requires businesses that use ROP to come up with a detailed plan and maintain extensive records for each individual food that is packed with ROP that poses a hazard. So essentially, the choice was between a heavy burden of time and paperwork or using new, non-ROP packaging. For us, that choice was clear. Our relatively small operation is often stretched thin as it is, and adding more bureaucracy to an already robust level of safe food-handling practices (and for a relatively small amount of product) wasn’t a reasonable option for us.
There is a silver lining: these new plastic containers are, in a couple of ways, more ecologically sound than the soft plastic vacuum packs. The clamshells are, yes, bulkier and seem to be more wasteful, but they are made of 80% recycled material and are recyclable themselves. The vacuum bags were not recycled or recyclable.
In the bigger picture, though, we know this doesn’t change the real issue: plastic pollution. No matter how small, single-use plastics, from their manufacture to the landfill, are a massive problem for our biosphere. Yes, plastic helps keep us safe – it can protect us from food-borne illnesses (in the case of these containers), or from COVID-19 (in the case of protective equipment or home test kits). But it is also a dangerous material that should be manufactured, used, and disposed of carefully and wisely, and only when necessary. Unfortunately, though, this is not the world we currently live in.
What can you do today, this week, or this year to help with plastic pollution? You might consider getting those same deli meats and cheeses sliced to order at the Deli counter. We offer the same exact products there (but with a smile!), and you can request that they be wrapped only in compostable paper. And, of course, our Bulk department offers a wide array of nuts, seeds, grains, flours, herbs, and spices, all waiting to be decanted into reusable containers brought from home.
To find out more about plastic pollution and ways to help, visit www.breakfreefromplastic.org. You’ll find links to films, podcasts, and articles, plus opportunities to be of service, whether it’s through signing a petition, spreading the word about legislation, or contributing money.