Livin' the plastic-free life: Revving up the self-sufficiency thing

(Kasey Clark/

Back in March, in a fit of lunacy/major adrenaline rush/white person rant on awareness, I decreed that I'm giving up plastic. Overall, it's been going pretty well and because I've developed a sort-of aversion to product packaging in general, it hasn't been that difficult to avoid plastic. I'm fortunate that I work on an organic farm, have access to some amazing food and connections with local farming friends who can provide me with food not in plastic and/or we've stricken a deal where I provide them with containers and they give me the goods. While I have revved up the self-sufficiency quest, this project hasn't been all magical, eco-bliss. At times, it's become a little maddening.

I've been told by people that they don't like going shopping with me - I lecture too much on how some product is bad, or generally, depress the hell out of them ("Is this fair trade?" - sorry, more like "Did you know that the majority of bananas, chocolate and coffee are harvested by slaves?!"). Yup, buzzkill. It's OK, I'm fine with it...

Thus far, I've lived without plastic, and the few times I've had to "splurge" (blocks of my favorite tofu are not easy to find shrink-wrapped in plastic, so I gave in, bought it and ate my feelings - delicious), I did feel a tinge of guilt but tried to not get bogged down by it. I feel pretty confident that if someone asked me about where to get something not plastic-wrapped, I could provide that answer.

And, since you are all dying to know, here a just a few things I've made without the use of plastic:

Homemade vanilla extract
  • milk, butter and yogurt (yup, I even milked a cow - thus the picture above)
  • salve/lip balm 
  • cereal/granola
  • vanilla extract (Get three vanilla beans, slice lengthwise to expose beans, leaving the ends intact and place in a jar [salad dressing jars or a large mason jar are great]. Pour 60-proof [or greater] vodka or vegetable glycerin over the vanilla beans and pods; seal with a cork or appropriate top, and let sit in a dark spot on your pantry shelf until the extract is a caramel-ly color - about 2 months. The longer it sits, the better it is.)
  • fabric bulk bags, made from scraps, old T-shirts, etc.
  • almond milk (recipe in upcoming post - along with what to do with the remaining pulp) 
Interested in the DIY thing? This book - Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills (Microcosm Publishing, $7.00) by Raleigh Briggs - is a godsend. It's written in a humorous, thoughtful tone and Briggs' illustrations and commentary make the DIY process much more accessible. She covers how to make homemade household and beauty products using existing household supplies and gives a comprehensive guide to plants and gardening basics. Plus, it's published by a really cool company.

I cannot thank my inspiring, homesteading friends enough for their patience and guidance. And, before you, cynical reader, write this off as a a project by someone who has way too much time on her hands (I work more than 50 hours a week, so don't even go there) or new-age yuppie experiment, keep in mind that I'm in no means wealthy (my income shows that I'm probably below the poverty line) and anyone could do this experiment, regardless of his or her financial situation, family dynamics and political affiliation. And, yes, there is work involved, but I cannot express how rewarding it is until you actually participate in it.

On those lines: Because I'm making so much of my own things, I've saved a considerable amount of $$$. It's not really scientific, but I can tell you that I used to supplement my farm-grown goods with a trip to a local store almost every week. I've been able to cut back on my grocery store visits to once a month (yay, saving gas!), relying mostly on bulk sections for the majority of my pantry needs. Once you cut out plastic, shopping the perimeters of stores OR avoiding stores completely will automatically make you a smarter consumer.

Since learning about where my food comes from and how other products are produced, I can't turn my back and simply buy stuff. I feel the need to psychoanalyze a product, if I really need it or determine if I can make it myself. (To quote a child whom I once babysat, who was writing a musical [no big deal], "If you knew what was going on my head right now, you'd be screaming." That's not meant to sound crazy-pants or that my thoughts are really that maniacal, but just go with it.) And now, in addition to all the ethical angles I take into account, I'm now hyper aware of the plastic factor.

Food. Plastic. The rising cost of oil. Global warming. This isn't my attempt at spoken word, but rather an attempt to show you that these things are intrinsically connected. Plastic is a huge deal, and if I can eliminate it - and hopefully encourage others to do that same - why shouldn't I?

My next investigation/consideration: Since many vegetables - especially organics - are grown on plastic sheeting or mulch for faster growth and to reduce weeds, can I have a clear conscience when eating peppers, eggplants and tomatoes? Should I live without them? What are other plastic-free, efficient and productive growing methods?