As I discard the plastic wrapping and foam tray on my recently purchased zucchini, carrots, and mushrooms, and the plastic bag housing bell peppers, I can’t help but feel an internal struggle about how my allergies impact the environment.
Formerly a member of Greenpeace, among other environmental groups, and an avid recycler and reuser, I am often torn between whether to purchase wrapped foods that I feel are safer for me, or loose produce items that are less wasteful. In all honesty I feel significantly less worry when I buy produce that has been bagged or wrapped before reaching the grocery store. It’s not unusual to find loose bins of nuts or other allergens in stores, and those residues can transfer onto fruit and vegetables easily as people shop.
My other concern is the checkout conveyor belt. It’s very common to see dairy spills, crumbs from chips and snacks, and other residues on the conveyor. I used to only buy loose produce and I would not bag it, so everything touched the belt as I checked out. On more than one occasion I had an itchy mouth or hives, even after washing the items when I got home. I decided it was not worth the risk and switched to using bags or buying mainly bagged/wrapped items.
While I am careful to recycle packaging where possible, I often wonder if my food allergy is having a negative impact on the environment. The amount of Lysol wipes, individual plastic bags, and paper towels I go through can at times feel insane. So many allergy-friendly foods are individually wrapped, a necessity given that we have to carry food on us all the time. And when my eczema is bad, I go through countless pairs of cotton and plastic gloves.
I am conscious about using glass containers instead of plastic wrap, Stasher bags instead of single use plastic ones, paper plates made from recycled materials, and reusing my grocery bags when I forget to bring a reusable one. But does carrying a reusable grocery bag make up for my other infractions?
I’m not sure there’s a right or wrong answer to the questions I’m posing in this article. At this point I think it’s just food for thought. My top priority is my health and safety. When I hear about grocery stores going packaging-free, I feel a pang of fear in my gut about how that will increase the likelihood of cross-contact with allergens, while at the same time I applaud their initiative on an environmental level.
Perhaps this is just one of the common conundrums of living with an autoimmune disease; if I could be free to fully participate, I would. Something I so often find myself reiterating. What are your thoughts?