Bread, Butter, and a Reusable Lunchbox


Thanks to Rhea Kennedy of the You are Delicious blog, for this guest post.

When I was a kid, my parents gave me weird food for lunch and packed it in weird ways. God bless them, they sent me off into the world with chunks of tempeh, entire raw portabellas, dark whole-grain bread with thick pieces of cheese inside. These treats were invariably wrapped in waxed paper, which my mother had deemed better for you than plastic baggies or packaging from a factory. As soon as I was old enough to notice this was different from the other kids’ cold cut sandwiches in neat Ziploc bags and individually-wrapped string cheeses, I became mortified.

Around the same time, I started attending Hebrew school in the evenings – something I approached mostly with dedication, although I occasionally dragged my feet about going. After all, it wasn’t the Christian kids’ religion class (which we all just referred to as Religion) that got them out of school early once a week. To me, those who went to Religion sat in the soft cloak of normalcy—and I didn’t.

Fast forward a few years.  I now follow Jewish tradition with pleasure and am a zealous whole foods foodie. Although eating and religious study practices may be hard to take for an image-conscious little kid, I now understand eating whole foods, keeping kosher, saying brachot and other thoughtful ways of approaching food are central to my life.  Indeed, I’d argue that observing these traditions – in combination – is rather revolutionary.

Thinking back to my mother’s waxed paper, however, I realize that the revolutionary ball often gets dropped around food packaging.  Compared to what we put in our mouths, how it gets there doesn’t necessarily seem like such a big deal.  But as a proud Jewish food enthusiast, I’ve found that taking care to transport food in a sustainable way offers an important opportunity to wrap our food with meaning.

Tips for Packing a Sustainable Lunch

  • Get some Gadgets – Start by purchasing some fun gadgets to replace the disposable, petroleum-based containers and bags that dominate lunch time packaging.  My favorites are Wrap-n-Mats and Indian-style “tiffin” lunchboxes. I use my Wrap-n-Mats for toast or a scone in the morning and for sandwiches and chips for lunch. If I’m bringing rice and curry or something else that’s not so wrapable, I go with my Indian lunchbox, which is a food container and a lunch bag all in one. You can get one at a site like Angelin Home or find one at an Indian grocery store. I saw a similar container used in West Africa, so other international food stores may carry them, too.
  • Use what you have – To avoid having to use disposable plastic stuff, I keep a fork, spoon, and bowl in my office and, for road trips, in my car (a direct and easy carbon offset!). Reusing packages, like empty 8-ounce or quart-sized yogurt containers, has also become part of my sustainable wrapping regimen. I use them mostly for storing bulk grains and beans.
  • Make it a lifestyle thing – There are many different ways to practice sustainable food packaging – ones that won’t get you any odd stares and, in some communities, earn you tsk tsks if you don’t follow them.  In this category, I would include drinking from a reusable water bottle like a Klean Kanteen or a good old Nalgene and carrying around your own coffee/tea mug. And of course having reusable shopping bags on hand for those unexpected shopping trips. They’re available not just at Whole Foods but at many supermarkets now, and also at

Forgetting these, for me, would be like putting an orange on my Seder plate without everything else, or biting into challah on Shabbat without wrapping it in the motzi.

I’d love to hear other sustainable packaging ideas from you…

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4 Responses to “Bread, Butter, and a Reusable Lunchbox”

  1. mathmom Says:

    I looked up the wrap-n-mats and they seem cool, except… the ones made in the US are lined with PVC, which I’m not sure about using regularly next to my food (or my children’s food) and to get the alternative PEVA-lined ones (is that any better? I think so) you have to order them from China. Do you know which version you have, and do the plastics impart any odor/flavor to the food?

  2. Stacey Says:

    In addition to keeping a fork & spoon in my desk drawer, I also brought my own cloth napkin and kept in my bag a tidy little bundle consisting of a fork & spoon wrapped in a cloth napkin.

    I like to bring soup to work and found the best way to do this (when it’s not just a can) is in a glass jar. It’s heavier than using a plastic soyogurt container, but it also won’t pop open during transit and the presentation is so much better (plus that plastic-toxin thing).

  3. Rhea Says:

    I bought my Wrap-n-Mat before there were so many choices and it didn’t say if the plastic lining was PVC. It doesn’t have any plastic-y smell or flavor, though. If you try one version or the other, let me know how it turns out!

    I love using glass jars, too. Forgot to put that one in! Thanks!

    Transit is another topic that could merit its own post… bringing a sloshy lunch on the Metro or a bike during rush hour requires extra ingenuity.

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