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By Mississippi Market Board Chair, Heather Haynes
The primary lesson I learned from week two of the Zero Waste Shopping Challenge: We, as co-op members, need to take collective action.
This past week, I realized I couldn’t buy organic chicken legs and thighs at the co-op (with bones, to make bone broth) that weren’t either shrink-wrapped in plastic or on Styrofoam trays wrapped in plastic. I could buy natural (non-organic) thighs in butcher paper, if I wanted to go the non-organic route, but I didn’t.
After this discovery, I called around town to see if I could get organic chicken legs and thighs without plastic at another store. I do the vast majority of my shopping at Mississippi Market for a number of reasons, including mission alignment and the convenience of making one stop (and using less gas). But this is a zero-waste challenge, so I needed to do some research. I found that I can get bulk organic chicken legs and thighs elsewhere but can’t have them put in my own container. They would still need to be wrapped in butcher paper, and I would have to drive considerably further to get them.
For a while, to be honest, I felt a little depressed and helpless. Other than really loving bone broth on chilly mornings, I don’t mind eating vegan. And I had time this past week to make my own bulk lentils instead of using canned ones, but some weeks I don’t have much time. For my quick go-to meal of cheese and crackers, I can make my own crackers when I have time and store them. But the cheese part of this meal, whether dairy or vegan, is problematic. And the days of bulk dehydrated refried beans, soups, hummus and other “instant” meals have disappeared.
Why? Well, if you consider that the co-op is a business driven in part by market forces, they disappeared because people stopped buying them. I don’t know about you, but I feel much busier and more rushed than I did 10 or 20 years ago, so I understand that people need convenience. And bringing your own containers and shopping bulk is not universally considered convenient. Waiting for the butcher to wrap your meat takes more time than grabbing something pre-packaged. But visiting six different stores just to stay package-free also isn’t convenient, or a good use of resources.
So, what do we do? We need to balance our needs for convenience with stewardship of resources, our planet, and our community. To do that, I am asking for your help. My purchasing power alone can’t keep a lot of what I once bought on co-op shelves, and it won’t bring back bulk instant soups and hummus or get bulk organic chicken legs and thighs into the meat case. But, if we collectively request these things, we can reach critical mass. If we each look for ways to meet or adjust our needs for convenience while taking strong steps toward stewardship, we can make tangible progress toward a more sustainable future.
Please join me in talking to co-op staff, writing on comment cards, and sending emails. As co-op members, we have the power to envision and realize the future we want to see. And when we are successful at getting some of our requests met, please buy these products consistently. This is the only way they will continue to be available. I’ll commit to doing my part, but I can’t do it alone; I hope you will join me.