Blog #105: Let’s prepare for Plastic Fasting - When on the Move!

February 2, 2023
Monika Weber-Fahr
This Blog is for those of you who are considering or have already decided to join me - for the 40 days (or some portion of them) of this year’s lenten period - in committing to Plastic Fasting as a lenten practice. The Blog is also dedicated to those who really have no intention to do this but are just kind of curious … to hear how disruptive, or even rewarding, it would be when avoiding - as much as possible - the use of single-use plastics that our fast food and instant gratification world has made such a big and yet environmentally damaging part of our lives.   
Today’s Blog looks at how to avoid single-use plastics when on the move: When we are out and about, on a train ride, a hike, a plane, at a museum, at work, or otherwise away from home. When on the move, we often see the nicely stocked stores in train stations, along the road, in cafeterias or other places that offer all sorts of drinks as well as a quick bite or a snack, and we will quickly see that most of what we’d like to purchase comes in a plastic bottle, is wrapped in some sort of plastic film or kept in a plastic container. Even many of the salad bars that have begun using paper-based containers will still offer plastic covers for these containers. What to do? Well, there are two answers: Bring your own drink or food - or bring your own bottle or box empty and get it filled right then and there.
Foto: My three essentials for Plastic Fasting on the move: A flask (for water), a mug (for the occasional fresh coffee), and a box (for sandwiches, carrots, nuts etc).  I may have to re-consider the box since its not great for packing salads, let's see how the journey goes...  
Purchasing your drink and asking for it to be served in your own mug, cup or bottle is a somewhat exciting endeavor - at least for an introvert - since it requires a conversation and sometimes some kind of a compromise with the staff in the coffee shop or Kiosk that you are asking for help. By now, I have done it many times - the coffee shops in Vienna that I tried seem to be totally fine with a process that involves me handing over my mug and them filling it with coffee (or hot water for a cup of tea or just tap water). Not so easy when giving them my flask - because they are unsure how to charge me, and getting the tea bag into the flask also sometimes is a challenge. Oddly enough, when in Germany I got a somewhat fearful reaction a few times - food inspectors seem to be persistent in some places, not allowing staff in coffee shops to just fill someone’s personal cup that may or may not be hygienic. In some cases, I had staff simply refuse my request, in other cases they actually took the time to clean my mug, and once or twice or so the person on the other side would whisper “Well, there is no one here right now, so I’ll just do it”. In most cases, a lovely conversation would ensue, creating space for the staff to express their appreciation of what you are doing. After all: They see how plastic (and paper) cups and mugs are mounting up and don’t like it either.
Flasks, mugs, and containers are easy to find - you probably have them in your kitchen anyways. For a flask I use one of the stainless steel ones that have recently become very attainable. The fancy hiking stores sell them, but also Spar had a cheap version on offer some time ago that is just as functional. Some people may prefer a proper thermos - but I find those heavy to carry around. Also, the flasks also take carbonized drinks and keep them (mostly) fresh, so you may find that attractive. For a mug, I use something with a lid that one can close - just to avoid accidents. And for a container, I often use a simple sandwich box. Some people may prefer something with a better lid - particularly for salads that is useful; I am still learning.
You might ask yourself how hard I find it to always have a bottle or a mug with me? Really, not so much. Yes, I’ll do it on a hike - but when I am in the city, I can’t be bothered to always carry that flask with me, was the reaction of someone I talked with. Well, you may think that, of course - but quite frankly, what I am doing here is precisely what any Mum will do that leaves the house with small children: We always have drinks and food packed, and some of us have gotten so good in the logistics of packing (empty the flask when you get home; fill it up in the morning and put it in the bag right by the door) that you end up not even thinking about it. So if every Mum can do it - so can you!  In terms of logistics, all you will need is a slightly larger shoulder bag or a small backpack to carry the mug around - and yes, I have taken one such mug in my little backpack even into the Wiener Staatsoper (somewhat uselessly because I found out that they serve drinks in porcelain cups or glass bottles anyways! - praise the Opera’s caterers).
But what about snacks and food? Here life gets to be a bit more restrictive. If you are already on the move but do not want to buy snacks that come in a plastic box or with plastic wrapping you will often restrict yourself to bakery products - because they mostly come in a paper bag. That’s perhaps attractive for some of us but definitely not always everyone’s go-to health-food. Avoiding plastic also means that I get to have a lent pretty much devoid of snack bars - so I will say good-bye to Mars, Bounty, Snickers, and their friends. I can prepare things ahead of time, of course, whether baking a cookie or making a salad, and take them with me. This does not have to be complicated. Myself, I am a big fan of white-beans-with-tomatoe salad or rustic bean salda with pumpkin seed oil - quick to make, easy to pack, and it will survive the day even in warmer temperatures. If you are pressed for time: Get those tomatoes, a cucumber or carrots on the market or in the package-free stores that you may have found out about by now. As always, the trick will be to have a good container or box. Which reminds me: You can of course also take your container to the fast food place you have in mind - you favorite Döner, the Buddha Bowls, or just your local cantina  - and have them fit your order in your box (rather than in a plastic wrap or container with a plastic lid). That really works - been there, done that - just try! 
So, yes, Plastic Fasting when on the move requires you to plan ahead. Pack your flask, mug, or container. Maybe prepare a snack and pack that, too. It may involve replacing your favorite but plastic-wrapped snacks with something else that you perhaps brought from home. But isn’t that what fasting is about? Re-considering our lives of convenience and instant gratification and instead getting our eyes off ourselves and off what serves and pleases us - so that we can get them back onto the Lord and our life of faith. Christians around the world are practicing Plastic Fasting, here and there, and the Anglican Communion as well as the Anglican Church have formally embraced such initiatives various times and in various places. In fact, the GreenAnglicans offer day-by-day schedule on what to do and how when committing to Plastic Fasting. So, please do feel invited to join me (and many others) on this special lenten journey.
Stay tuned - next week’s Tips and Tricks for Plastic Fasting will take a look at what to shop for regular food, how and where!
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