Eating out is a huge part of most Americans’ lives.
In cities we have all these great international cuisine options, and even in smaller regional areas diverse choices are increasingly the norm.
However much we like the convenience of eating out though, costs do add up. But somehow we rationalize—and it often is the case—that getting it To Go is cheaper. No tip, no wait, all that (sorry servers.)
But getting it To Go sure adds its fair share of trash.
Sadly, much of it is styrofoam, or clamshell polystyrene. Now doesn’t that sound appetizing? The truth is, no matter how well insulating styrofoam is there’s nothing enviro-friendly about it. And we Americans go through it like crazy.
So what to do?
The Man warms my dinner
Our options aren’t great since the US is so regulation-heavy, imposing limits on consumer choice. And we’re a litigation-happy people—meaning we’re ever at the ready to take someone to court over any slight, real or imagined.
All this spells trouble when you want to convince a restaurant owner to pack it out in your digs instead of theirs.
Still, people-to-people there are ways to circumvent the “Man” and the “System.” If you know the business owner (and even if you don’t) you can ask them to pack your To Go food in the container you brought.
For a doggie bag, this is a non-issue. You just bring your own container, and when you can’t finish that mammoth American-sized serving, you just pack out the remainder yourself.
But in ordering To Go from the counter or by phone it’s hit-or-miss whether your restauranteur will accommodate your container.
Don’t let that stop you from trying.
A nice smile, a sweet disposition and firmly handing the container to the order taker with a gentle, “And please use this instead of throwaway containers” can go a long way. Even if you’re in 6 inch spike heels and a killer wrap dress add, “I’m a tree hugger,” and then giggle, smiling like the Mona Lisa.
You little culture jammer, you
You can keep this tactic up for a while. At least until the disposable packing industry gets wind of it.
In the meantime, I suggest using reusable To Go containers that can also double as lunch boxes. Then, nothing’s lost. Here’s two to try:
- My favorite on-the-go food container is a Tiffin, a classic East Indian lunch-box style stacked carrier. Happy Tiffin carries various sizes. The latches and handles make them a snap to use. And they’re built to last. Check out their whole website for all kinds of shapes, sizes, sets, bags and the whole gamut.
- Then there are little Bento boxes by Lunch Bots with or without dividers. See their fun silicone accessories if you want to dress it up. I love these because most Japanese Bento boxes these days are plastic. Traditional ones are wood and sell for, oh, a couple of hundred bucks since they’re almost all antique. But today they’re lacquered plastic. I like these stainless steel ones better for a variety of eco-reasons.
There are plenty of plastic resusables on the market, from Ziploc style flexi-plastics to “eco-companies” touting BPA-free versions. But I’m not a plastics fan since only rare kinds are biodegradable. I say stick with real materials where possible.
But if you feel you have few choices, and really want any eco-To Go container you can get, opt for various versions of the ecoclamshell. It looks just like a styrofoam container, but it’s made of a dishwasher safe material that can be reused.
Big on college campuses for kids taking food from their dining halls or commons, the eco-clamshell is a helpful way to get students into the reuse loop.
But to me it’s still a polypropylene.
If so, you know where to send the royalties.
Take me to the river
It can’t be that hard for us all to start carrying some version of the reusable To Go container on our bikes, in our hatchbacks, or at the bottom of our overstuffed mondo-bags.
Gently sparkling creek beds and shimmering blades of grass kissed by sun will thank you. As will the cosmic wow.
Did I just say that?
–Lindsay Curren, Lindsay’s List