Usually when the new year approaches, I take stock and make my list of resolutions. Like many people, I often resolve to hit the gym more and to take a mindful approach to my diet. Sometimes the list can be ambitious and lengthy, a surefire prescription for failure. Last year, however, I set a more realistic course and limited my resolutions to three: to hit a savings target by December, to take my lunch to work everyday, and to exercise daily. So as 2018 came to a close, I was fairly satisfied that two of three new habits had been established. My savings account was a fatter, but so was my waistline. And it wasn’t from the lunch I had started packing. The resolution to get to the gym with regularity is back on the list!
Why it took me decades to get in the habit of packing a lunch, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because for years, I was surrounded by a surfeit of dining options. Within a three-block radius of my office, I had the choice of Mexican, Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese fare, all excellent. If I had a hankering for a burger, I could hit the greasy spoon on the corner. My favorite French bistro served breakfast until 2pm, and I could never resist their platter of scrambled eggs, bacon, and a heavenly pancake swirled with crème fraiche. Why substitute any of this for a PB&J from home?
And I actually enjoyed eating out, never ordering take-out, but actually taking the time to sit down and enjoy a lunch-time meal with a colleague. I’m a big believer that one should nevereat at one’s desk. The table is a place for conviviality, and the relationships with your colleagues play an important role in making the workplace an enjoyable place to be.
But about six years ago, our office moved to an area with few restaurants and with it went my noontime ritual. The most convenient place to grab a bite was the new Whole Foods down the block, and it almost immediately became our version of the corporate cafeteria, a great place to grab all sorts of take-out prepared foods.
Now back to my new year’s resolutions. I had that savings goal in my mind. There’s some truth to why Whole Foods earned the moniker “Whole Paycheck,” though I probably wasn’t spending any more than the days when I was dining out at restaurants. But honestly, I also had become bored with the grocery’s daily offerings, and there was no reason not to pack the leftovers of some of my husband’s delicious home-made dinners.
I wanted to tighten my belt, both literally and figuratively, and I resolved to pack a healthy lunch every day. But what also dawned on me was that with every take-away lunch from the store, I was leaving a pile of garbage in my wake. Plastic beverage bottles and cardboard food containers, while technically recyclable and compostable, took energy and resources to produce. I began to look at my home-packed lunch through the lens of consuming less.
I resolved that no part of my lunch would wind up in the landfill. That meant that my PB&J and carrot sticks would find their home in a bento box I purchased long ago and not in zip-lock bags. Instead of grabbing a paper towel for a napkin, I packed a cloth napkin, because why should they only be used for meals at home? And if I wanted iced tea with my lunch, I figured I should just brew some ahead of time and bring it my glass bottle.
When I think about our planet drowning in plastic, it seems like such a small thing. Really, what’s the big deal about bringing one’s own lunch to work? It’s not like this one change of habit would make even the tiniest dent in what is an insanely huge problem of single-use plastic waste. But this minor pivot in my daily routine has actually done something to my way of thinking. I’ve become much more mindful of what waste I’m generating in all aspects of my life.
And the tide is turning. Just this past month, the city where I work passed an ordinancethat will phase out the use of throwaway foodware in restaurants. This comes on the heels of a state-wide ban on single-use plastic bags, and ordinances like this are proving to worktoward altering our habits and behavior. I’m hopeful these types of mandates can open people’s eyes to our environmental impact – but we still have a long way to go.
I get a certain pleasure when I unpack my lunch each day. I love the conviviality of the table, a chance to catch up with my colleagues on their weekend plans, or to hear about the latest books they’re reading. There’s often an exchange of “oooh, what are you having?” followed by a discussion of what’s just come into season. It’s the slowing down in the midst of the day, forgoing the rush and perceived convenience of running out for a bite to eat. It’s a small thing, and it is good.