Blog #106: Let’s prepare for Plastic Fasting - When making a Meal!

February 9, 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 whether - and how - it’s even possible to commit to Plastic Fasting when making a meal and thus shopping for food. Spoiler alert: It’s not easy but it’s possible. And: Some of your favorite food may be out of reach while plastic fasting. But then, isn’t that what fasting is all about?  About abstinence or abstention? .
So this week I went to my local Spar and Hofer to check out what food I can and cannot buy when committing to Plastic Fasting.  I was looking for things that are not packed fully or partially in a plastic wrap, box or glas-with-a-plastic lid.  And it turns out that, indeed, committing to Plastic Fasting will require me to abstain from quite a long list of things: Most Yogurts (with the exception from a few that come in glass containers), all cottage cheese, all the cheese and cold cuts that come ready-packed, néscafe, most teabags, practically all sweets, all my favorite chewing gums, and quite a lot - even though not all - of the vegetables. Thankfully, some oil and vinegar come in bottles, often but not always with tops not made from plastic - what a relief! Salt, pepper, and other seasonings? That may get interesting! Will I spend the 40 days of lent with a vegetable-only diet? Potatoes, tomatoes, kohlrabi, cabbage, lettuce, and so on are all great - but what about a little bit of protein, what about some spices?
Foto: It's all there - at your local Zero-Waste store (Unverpacktladen) in Vienna - Pasta, rice, lentils, all sorts of things, all without the plastic wrapping, bag or box. But don't forget bringing your own containers - they have some you can purchase, but in the long run, having your own helps!.  
Unverpacktläden (elsewhere they are called Zero Waste Stores or Minimal Waste Grocery) are the solution, and YES!, Vienna has quite a few, and you can even find one near you by using an online map. So off I went - looking to figure out how this works; the shop I chose is Lunzers Mass Greiserei, off Praterstern in the 2nd district, easily reachable via metro and S Bahn. Important: Luckily I remembered ahead of time that one should bring one’s own containers - they have a great variety that they can sell you, but you’d be better off to come with whatever little boxes you have to be filled right then and there. To my relief: They had practically all things I was looking for - pasta, seasonings, beans, lentils, tea, and so on, and I could pack it in my own containers. And yes, these places seem to be super well stocked. Not a whole lot of variety, perhaps, maybe not all of it from my favorite brands, and yes, more expensive, but the food itself is there. And who knows, I may end up shopping and eating more carefully and thus have less food waste in my fridge? The world’s best husband was initially rather skeptical but then got quite excited when he found out that they have some kind of a machine that allows you to create your own Nutella-type mix, basically determining how much chocolate, nuts, sweets etc you want to have in your chocolate spread… finally, he may have a reason for going with me to the Unverpacktladen, too.
A final thought on shopping for food Plastic Free: How to store the food - in particular the left-overs - is a non-banale question, and it is worth a good after-thought. Usually, one would use cling film or plastic film - once thought to be an essential need in our kitchens. Well, I will not be using any of this during Plastic Fasting, but in fact I had begun eliminating cling film from our kitchen for some time. How to pack cheese or cold cuts or other things that one would normally use cling film for? Well, there are two great options: Firstly, you can (re-)use jam or honey glasses - that’s where most of our cheeses go in. Secondly, you can get wax cloth -  apparently something that was used much between the 1920 and the 1950s and then got somewhat forgotten (when cling film started appearing in the shelves of our supermarkets I presume). Wax cloth is made from simple cotton cloths that have been treated with bee wax - ideally from organically managed bee hives. You can find them in many stores - ask for Wachstücher - or you can order them: I found a fabulous son-and-mother team that have set up their own little Wachstuch production sourcing their wax from their own bees. Not cheap, but reusable many many times.

Foto: Check out wax cloths as an alternative to plastic film - it keeps your food fresh, in the fridge and outside, for a long time, and you can clean it and reuse it many many times. The picture here is from the website of a small store that specializes in wax cloths - based on wax from their own honey bees here in Austria.

So, yes, Plastic Fasting when shopping for food - and when storing food - requires you to plan ahead. Find out where your next Market or Unverpacktladen are, take your containers and go shopping there, shop the unwrapped or paper-wrapped food in your local supermarket or bakery, and make sure to not deploy single-use plastics when storing your food. And yes, there may be a few things you simply cannot have - during Plastic Fasting - because they are only available in plastic containers. 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 do about hygiene products when looking to avoid plastic containers and boxes. 
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