Eco lunches

by Michelle Lasley

Michelle Lasley is a mother, wife in Pacific Northwest learning to balance green dreams with budget realities.

August 19, 2009


Categories: Food, The Green Life

Peter's Eco Lunch Bag

A homemade duck-cloth lunch bag.

I’ve noticed lately two things:  1) there are a lot of tips to show you how to build a green lunch and 2) there is a lot of talk about how organic food doesn’t hold any more nutrition than conventional food.  The discussion that could happen based on these trends is amazing, and I would like to add a few points to hopefully further the discussion.

When I’ve seen eco-lunches discussed on a blog via Twitter or otherwise, they always point to something you can buy.  Sure, buying things is great for the economy, but it’s not so great for planet-wide-consumption practices.  So, unless you don’t otherwise have an option – for say a reusable lunch bag, and really, any bag will do, buying shouldn’t be your first choice, unlike what these blogs point out.  Which, incidentally, they always seem to direct you to some sponsor who just created this nifty Indian print eco-lunch bag for a small price of $39.95.  Convenient eh?  Regardless, the point they make is a good one – stop bringing stuff in your lunch bag that you throw away.  When I was growing up we had lunch pails.  And, anyone who’s seen an old movie probably will recognize the tin lunch pails factory workers 50 years ago brought to work.  Even commercials feature the coolers (Coolmate) that construction workers hoist on the steal beams from which they dangle while enjoying their lunch.

Reusable lunch holders are not a new topic, just revisited with Indian print.  So, let’s get back to that.  Stop bringing that paper sack.  If you do bring the paper sack, remember to recycle it when it’s all used up (too many folds and tatters to be used anymore).  If there are grease stains on it or oils leftover from your lunch, throw it in your city compost program or any program you know of that does hot compost.  Typical backyard composting doesn’t get hot enough to kill diseases or animal fats, which could attract rodents, something most cities want under control.  Hot composting usually yields temperatures that are, well hot enough, to kill any bad stuff.  Ask your local extension office for more details. We used to use a paper sack for Peter’s lunch, but after several weeks of use, the bag tends to disintegrate.  So, he asked me if I’d make him one.  I had left over duck cloth (100% cotton) from another project, so I used that.  Now he has a durable, very reusable, and washable canvas woven bag to carry his lunch.  If I were to do make more of these bags we’d want to use organic cotton or perhaps hemp.  And, we’d want to ensure, as best we could, that the cloth was being made at minimum in the US.  If you opt to buy a new lunch bag, make sure it’s made locally.  Organic products are better, but I wouldn’t suggest breaking the bank for any of those options.  Use what you have in your home first.

So, your big container is now reusable, the next step is to make sure the rest of the lunch items are in reusable containers.  Remember, if a greenie is telling you something is completely wrong, they probably aren’t familiar with thinking about things on a spectrum.  For example, throwing away a plastic bag would be on the “wrong” end of a spectrum, whereas reusing a plastic bag would be one step away from “wrong”.  So you can think of all materials in that same sense.  The closer an item is to being reused multiple times and biodegradable would make have it fall on the “greener” end of the spectrum.  For Peter’s lunch, we use one stainless steal fork, two reusable plastic containers, one sandwich paper, and today, two plastic bags.  Occasionally, I will include a cloth napkin, depending on the meal as he doesn’t use these at work.  Ideally, we’d reuse the plastic bags, but the realty is we probably won’t.  So, this is a tick against our eco-lunch.  The plastic containers get reused until they break and fall apart, with repairs along the way to extend their use.  Clearly, we do not throw away the stainless steal fork.

Finally, when considering an eco-lunch, it’s important to think about what you are actually eating.  If you package instant noodles and individually wrapped items, you’d have a few ticks against you in your eco-lunch.  The things you eat need to be green too (not just in color!).  So, make sure you’re eating as locally as possible and minimize packaging on those items.  Make your own snacks and cookies and package them in reusable containers.  Make fresh yummy dinners, and make extra.  Use those extras (otherwise known as leftovers) in your lunch.  Peter’s lunch contains two leftover dinners, a sandwich, a freezer burrito, and cookies.  He also takes a Nalgene bottle filled with water to work everyday.  Skip the sodas and bottled waters and bring your own beverages.  A Nalgene bottle is not the optimum bottle to use for anything considering it’s made of plastic and the BPA concerns.  However, it still functions and he’s owned his for more than 5 years.  If the Nalgene wears out, we may consider a Sigg or something similar (stainless steal, no BPA concerns, should last longer).  First though, we’d use what we have around the house.  Everything in Peter’s lunch is homemade except the freezer burrito and the peanut butter used for the sandwich.  I made the bread, the jam, and the dinners; and the cookies were a homemade gift from his mother.

Creating an eco-lunch needn’t be difficult or stressful.  Just remember to keep basic sustainability concepts in mind:  the three Rs and the triple bottom line.  Reduce, reuse, and recycle your lunch and containers as much as possible, eat locally created organic foods, and enjoy!

The other point I wanted to discuss was organic food.  I’ve seen several studies lately that are spilling the beans on organics:  they do not have more nutrients than “conventional foods”.  As surprising as this may be to some, I find these studies odd because I don’t recall many greenies making that point.  The point made, often, about organics and being better for you has to do with how they are created.  Sort of garbage in, garbage out.  If something is created embroiled in pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides, wouldn’t you then be full of pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides if you consumed said item?  Remember we are taught when little that we are what we eat.   Where are the studies being done to link the food we eat to rising rates of cancer?  Where are the studies being done to show that people who live in agricultural areas replete with pesticide use also die of cancer or certain types of cancer at rates higher than the “norm”?  Those are the studies that should be done regarding organic foods.  There are suggestions that the purer the soil the purer your food, but aside from that, what I recall, no one has laid claim to organics having more Vitamin A than the next carrot.  My suggestion?  Ignore the studies that are trying to pull the wool over your eyes regarding organics.  Organics are better for you, better for the people that grow and pick them, and ultimately better for our planet.

1 Comment

  1. Max

    Thank you for the great information. I believe we all need to start thinking about sustainability in all aspects of our lives. Even if someone isn’t interested in the environment thinking sustainable is going to save them money, save valuable resources and from my viewpoint improve the environment.
    We are an environmental company that is trying to do something about all the plastic bottle pollution. We developed a plastic bottle that can be reused, recycled and are biodegradable. Keep the good suggestions coming; your efforts are making a difference.


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