Plastic Packaging Is a Suffocating Barrier Between Food Growers and Eaters

CC BY 2.0. Janet McKnight

British chef Tom Hunt has an intriguing take on how eliminating plastic packaging can revitalize our food system.

Tom Hunt calls himself an ‘eco chef.’ In other words, he’s a chef who cares deeply about the environment, minimizing food waste, and making careful choices in the running of his two restaurants to reduce their impact on the planet. This takes the form of sourcing local, seasonal ingredients and cooking thrifty, sustainably sourced cuts of meat and seafood, as well as focusing on nose-to-tail cooking and its lovely-sounding vegetal counterpart, root-to-fruit.

Hunt’s professional eco-sensibilities have transferred to home, as well. In an article for The Guardian, Hunt describes the almost-zero-waste journey he’s shared with his girlfriend and how it has changed their kitchen for the better:

“We’re steadily using up all the packaged stuff that we had already, and as we do, the kitchen gets clearer and less cluttered. You don’t realize how much there is until it starts disappearing. The fridge and cupboards are becoming far easier to organize and cleaner.”

In the article, there was one phrase that I found particularly fascinating. Hunt calls plastic food packaging a ‘barrier’ that exists between shoppers and the source of their food. Once that barrier is removed, “you discover thriving markets and producers. You have conversations and build relationships.”

It’s such a wonderfully accurate description, both on a literal level and a metaphorical one. Literally, the presence of plastic packaging tends to be indicative of long-distance transportation, of long-term storage capability, of strict health and safety regulations (not necessarily a bad thing). The items with the most packaging usually come from a supermarket, where a shopper’s only connection with their origin is a sign stating where they’re from.

Metaphorically, these plastic barriers destroy the understanding and connection and joy that should ideally exist in the farm-to-feast process, because that’s what plastic films and coverings do. They inhibit respiration and kill what’s beneath. Think of the child suffocation warnings on plastic shopping bags. Think of a plastic tarp on a lawn in summertime. Think about getting caught beneath an inflatable swimming raft at the beach. Remove these plastic coverings and life can thrive.

The same applies to our food. By choosing to eliminate unnecessary plastic packaging, you will be forced to seek out local alternatives, to eliminate middlemen (and ‘middle stores’), to connect with original food sources. The exchange of food for money becomes direct. The dozens of eggs, dried beans, milled flour, organic vegetables, maple syrup, honey, and free-range meat you buy go directly from a farmer into your vehicle or bicycle pannier. They don’t need scads of protection because their journey and life span is relatively short.

It was only after consciously deciding to minimize plastic packaging that I discovered the many food providers within my community, particularly those that will accept old packaging for reuse (my favorite!). This experience has truly breathed new life into my relationship with food, one that, from now on, I’ll happily attribute to Hunt’s removal of a suffocating plastic barrier.