The other morning, I came across an advertisement for a refrigerator in my “Bon Appétit” magazine. The ad shows a beautiful display of fruits and vegetables, refreshing juices and tantalizing cheeses. The refrigerator is so welcoming and luminous it almost resembles a garden. Here’s the picture:
I stared at this photo for a minute before realizing that this refrigerator featured not a single piece plastic. Well—not any easily identifiable plastic. The meat is entirely in butcher paper, the fruits are in glass bowls, even the cheeses appear free from their typical plastic skin. After studying it closely, I can find only three lids that appear to be plastic-made: the one on the glass milk jug, and two on the salad dressing bottles.
Here’s a closer view:
What I find fascinating is that this is the picture of an ideal refrigerator. This is what advertisers believe Americans want to see when they open the fridge door with a growling stomach. They know this view will captivate us, make us desire to own this fridge, live this healthy life. Here’s not only a wealth of rainbow-colored fruits and kelly-green spears of asparagus and rosemary, but also a refrigerator that’s almost completely plastic-free.
Do the advertisers believe that we find plastic ugly—dingy and cheap-looking? Yes, I think that’s part of it. But this photo made me wonder if we also, on a more subconscious level, don’t like the looks of plastic because we know what it signifies—chemicals. Refuse, even. Glass jars and paper-wrapped meat seem to signify higher quality, fresher, safer, purer foods. The irony is that plastic containers do keep foods really fresh—at least fresher than paper, which I experienced this week when I bought some chicken breasts wrapped only in paper (they were still good, but before cooking them, I had to slice off several hardened bits that had glued themselves to the paper).
Regardless, it seems so strange to me that this ad shows us what we wish our refrigerators’ interiors looked like—foods displayed attractively, none wrapped in plastic. Yet, how many real fridges are anywhere close to this image?
Here is a photo of my own refrigerator. Undoctored. A little picked over. Honestly, embarrassing. Plastic where I wish there wasn’t. Nothing at all like the advertisement’s view:
This is my refrigerator two weeks into trying hard to rid myself of plastic. My husband’s food shares this space (I’m not forcing him to give up plastic, though he’s been making an effort to join me in my challenge wherever he can), so there will continue to be some plastic yogurt containers and the like for him in the months ahead, but still there’s plastic in my fridge that’s mine, too: plastic that existed before my experiment started, as well as plastic for food storage. (I’m allowing myself to use any plastic that I owned prior to April 22nd, just trying not to accumulate any new plastics.)
Don’t the hypothetical people who own the perfectly stocked refrigerator in the advertisement have any leftovers? Don’t they have to marinate their meat in Tupperware, or for heaven’s sake, keep their cheddar from molding by sealing it in a Ziplock?
This picture got me thinking about not only how much we rely on plastic for food storage after we cook meals at home, but also how much we need it for take-out deliveries and for leftovers from restaurants. Plastic goes hand-in-hand with food packaging.
This past week, I went to a Mexican restaurant and was served a gigantic (and delicious) portion of enchiladas. When I asked to take the remainder home, the server carried my plate away and returned with a plastic sack wrapped around a Styrofoam box. My stomach dropped. It was my fault. I should have remembered my leftovers would almost certainly involve plastic wrapping.
But I love leftovers. Doggie bags signify a treat for me because I get to savor a meal twice. I think for us all, it is so hard to steer clear of plastic if it means not getting to have the leftovers we want or not getting to order our favorite foods. I’ve been trying painfully hard this week to avoid ordering Tom Yum soup from my favorite Thai place—it is delivered in a plastic container that’s also wrapped inside of a plastic bag to keep from spilling—so last night, in spite of feeling tired and not wanting to leave the house in the rain, Evan and I went to the restaurant instead. I’m going to try to go more to restaurants when I can. I’m going to try, too, to split portions with friends or my husband to avoid leftovers, and will also be trying to remember to pack this little handy container with me when I go out to eat:
It’s a collapsible Tupperware that, on Earth Day, volunteers from an organization called Green is Universal were handing out. It appears to be a plastic, which is a bit of a bummer (though I can’t decipher what kind of plastic as it has no symbol on it—so maybe it’s another kind of material), but plastic or not, this container does make it much likelier that I will be spared several more Styrofoam-box-in-a-plastic-bag situations when I have some restaurant leftovers.
Yes, I can avoid more plastic while dining out by using this container, but still, when I arrive home, leftovers in tow, this bit of plastic will go in my refrigerator. It will add to a view inside my fridge that is painfully unlike what I saw in that ad, depressingly far from the ideal.