Archive for December, 2011

Recent events in the Czech Republic, where I spent some time in the 1990s, have changed how I see the holidays this year.

In his work, the late Vaclav Havel, former Czech president, revolutionary, dissident and playwright often focused on the concept that even the powerless have power.

Havel had a gift of making lofty and seemingly difficult challenges appear simple and straightforward. He did this by appealing to our sense of decency. For example, a lone shop keeper can stand up to an entire regime he does not agree with by simply making the choice to not post a sign in his store.

I think Havel managed to make change possible because he would bring an idea down to its most basic level—big change on a small scale.

He simply asked us to live in truth.

When I think about our situation in the West regarding our mainstream food system, and its complicated relationship with industry and politics, which somehow pits yield and profit against quality, I am tempted to just bring it all down to its most basic level.

We can exercise our plea for accessible, decent, healthy food through the little choices we make every day.

We can stand up against the plethora of “edible food-like substances” that line our grocery store shelves and fill our world with advertising by simply making the choice to not buy them.

Could it be that simple?



There’s a new grocery store model under development in the U.S. If it catches on, it might just change American eating habits.

in.gredientsis slated to open in East Austin, Texas, as soon as they get their building permit approved. Co-founded by brothers Joseph, Christian, and Patrick Lane, and partner Christopher Pepe, they describe themselves as the first package-free and zero-waste grocery store in the U.S.

The concept is reassuringly simple: sell food from local vendors in bulk to customers who bring their own containers to the store. Customers will be able to buy fresh local produce in season, organic grains, spices, loose tea and coffee, dried fruits and nuts, flours, oils, dairy, local meats, local beer and wine, and household cleaners and toiletries.

Customers will bring clean containers from home, weigh and label the containers at the store, fill the container with a food item, bring it to check out, and then pay. They will also have the opportunity to allocate a portion of their purchase to a charity.

You only pay for the food you want (not the packaging, estimated to add 10-20% to your grocery bill), and for the amount your want (only need a ½ a teaspoon of sage? Not a problem). Compostable containers will also be available for purchase at the store if you don’t have any of your own.

in.gredients will be waste-free, local, and — as much as possible — organic.

The goal of this community-minded business is to reduce waste and improve the availability of healthy food in an area that is otherwise something of an urban food desert.

According to their website, single-use packaging makes up 40% of the 1.4 billion pounds of waste that are dumped in American landfills every day. Yes, that’s packaging that is used once and then tossed out.

By doing away with the packaging at the start, the group is putting the emphasis on the Reduce and Reuse in the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle mantra.

They also call it precycling.

Whatever you want to call it, less is definitely more in this case, as even recycling our current packaging requires energy and the burning of fossil fuels.

I wish these guys all the best. I hope they go far. And I hope they give other Austin-based food giants a healthy run for their money, as the more “good food” out there, the better it is for everyone. That said, education will be key in converting a customer base that is otherwise used to buying and eating processed or convenience food.

What is at stake here is not just a different shopping experience that asks you to bring your own jars and containers to the store. in.gredients is essentially asking people to purchase real food, ingredients if you will, and prepare their meals from scratch. This, in my view is the real challenge.

I look forward to hearing their success stories.