Our family is on a bit of a journey to try and make more environmentally friendly and socially responsible choices. One of the big things we are trying to do is to reduce our plastic consumption. These days plastic is absolutely everywhere. I think we have all got so used to plastic that we are blinded to how much of it there is. Seventy or eighty years ago things were very different. My Grandma brought up her family in the 1940’s and 50’s. Mum remembers when her father brought home their first plastic cups. He threw them all on the kitchen floor to see what reaction he would get when they bounced instead of shattered. Plastic was ‘new-fangled’ and Grandma didn’t have much of it, yet she managed just fine without the plastic we have become accustomed to. So what were her tricks?
Tips from my Grandma’s kitchen!
Use a container. Grandma had tins and jars. A container and a lid removes the need for cling film or zip lock bags. Choose to reuse a yogurt container and lid or ice-cream container rather than put them out straight away with the recycling. Label with a vivid! Or use a glass jar with a screw on lid.
Put a plate over the top of a bowl, or use two plates. Put food on one plate and cover with another, brilliant! Food stored this way is stackable.
You can use a tea towel or a piece of fabric and a large rubber band. Fabric used in this way can be washed and reused. Food covered this way breathes so you don’t end up with damp or slimy food. Cheese used to go hard when stored this way (but remained usable), nowadays cheese in plastic goes slimy or mouldy.
Cellophane, a rubber band and a jam jar works well too. In fact at craft fairs you can find homemade jams and chutneys with cellophane lids that are airtight!
Grandma didn’t have plastic straws around the house. Instead, occasionally as a treat they had waxed paper straws. My mum remembers these from when she was a little girl. They were seen as a treat. We now have a supply of paper straws in our kitchen. A more recent alternative to paper straws is re-usable metal straws. We have a few of these and we love them.
Lunch paper can be used to wrap sandwiches. Grandma used grease-proof paper to wrap sandwiches. My Mum wrapped my school lunches with lunch paper. It worked fine then and it’s still fine now. Used lunch paper can go in the backyard compost heap at the end of its life.
My Grandparents had a large vegetable garden and grew a lot of their own fruit. I don’t know if it fed them completely or if they had to supplement it but it was just how people did things back then. Vegetables and fruit these days often come pre-packaged with moulded plastic trays and plastic bags, or even shrink wrap. If you grow your own vegetables and fruit, then they don’t come in plastic packaging. Just pick fresh from the garden. Not everyone has the room for a vegetable garden (we certainly don’t), but you would be surprised how much you can grow in fish bins and pots.
In Grandma’s day they didn’t use plastic bin liners. In our house we have abandoned bin liners altogether. Every couple of weeks, we simply wash the bins out with hot soapy water. If you can’t face life without a bin liner, then choose eco-brands that are compostable.
There were no plastic supermarket bags in grandma’s day. Baskets, paper bags and reusable bags must have been the norm. Most people are catching on to reusable carry bags, and increasingly you can get re-usable produce and bulk bin bags. I have a little collection and very rarely need to use the plastic bags supplied in the supermarket.
Dish brushes and cleaning clothes weren’t made from plastic in Grandma’s kitchen in the 1940’s. In a previous blog I talked about using alternatives to plastic dish brushes. This is a surprisingly easy switch to make.
Think mindfully about food. In my Grandma’s day, she didn’t have a fridge. Instead she had a food safe to keep food cool and protected from flies. I suspect that she was more aware of how fast food would perish and used food quickly before it began to spoil. She made smaller amounts of food so she didn’t have to worry about storing the left overs. This is a great way to reduce food waste.
Try ‘stretching’ butter. My Grandma brought up her family during WW2 and wartime rationing. She never bought spreadable butter in a plastic container. I have now stopped buying margarine or spreadable butter products because they come in plastic. A wonderful friend of mine gave me a WW2 era recipe for ‘stretching’ butter while rationing was still in place. So simple and effective, I wish I had known about this earlier. Here is the recipe to make 500g of butter into 1kg of stretched butter.
You need: 500g of butter at room temperature, 1 cup cooking oil (whatever type you prefer), and one cup water.
Simple whiz up the butter in a food processor (or with a hand held mixer), till whitish and pale, then add the oil and water half a cup at a time and mix until blended. Scrape it into a container with a lid and pop it in the fridge. If you want to stretch the butter further you can add 1.5 cups of water and 1.5 cups of oil. I prefer the mixture to be slightly firmer and not to melt quickly so I use less oil and water. I was told that this ‘stretched’ butter is fine for baking but I haven’t actually tried it. However it does taste great on freshly baked bread, and you never need to deal with a greasy plastic container again!
There are other things you can do too.
You can try to avoid convenience foods. This is hard to do and believe me I still struggle with this one. But more and more I am considering my purchases and choosing to avoid buying things that come in disposable plastic packaging. Or better still try making your own convenience foods; muffins, crackers, bread or biscuits taste better if they are home made.
Tinfoil can be used in almost exactly the same way as cling film AND it can be recycled! One person I have spoken too prefers cling film because she can see what’s in a container. An easy way around that issue is to have a permanent marker and simply write on the tinfoil. While it is energy intensive to manufacture it is reusable (if you take care of it) and recyclable. Used tinfoil isn’t clogging up our oceans.
Beeswax wraps might not have been around in the 1940’s but they are an option these days. They’ve become increasingly popular in the last few years. Check out my blog on these nifty alternatives to cling film.
My Grandma and Grandpa didn’t buy anything they didn’t need, and they didn’t throw out anything they could use. They grew up in the depression and lived through WW2, times were tough. They saved string to reuse, they saved wrapping paper to reuse, and Grandpa apparently straightened old nails to reuse. I think my grandparents would be stunned to see how people take plastic for granted. Thinking about Grandma’s kitchen I can’t work out why we even need it. If she could manage to bring up a family without plastic during a war, I am certain I can do it today. Challenge yourself to make a few small changes and you will be surprised how easy it is.