I work downtown, and like many people, I often eat out for lunch. Actually I guess that's an understatement because to be honest I eat out almost every day. Eating out at lunch is convenient, and it's a good time to socialize with my co-workers and associates - but it comes with consequences. And by that I mean the plastic and Styrofoam containers most ("fast", ie: not sit down) lunch places dispense their food in. If I start to think about all the plastic and Styrofoam entering our landfills each day because of take-out containers, I start to feel sick and like the whole system is just ridiculous. When did we start eating out of a package we're just going to throw away 15 minutes later? I somewhat sympathize with the situation - most of the places downtown are too small to house their own washing facilities, "Biodegradable" take-out containers carry a premium, Styrofoam is relatively light and cheap, and if people bring their own containers it potentially raises food safety issues. At least that's why I presume things are the way they are. But as I'm enjoying my lunch, I often look around me and wonder if anybody else is thinking what I'm thinking - what a waste it is to eat like this!
It's strange because when I'm up at school in Santa Barbara, I bring home lunch almost every day, usually leftovers. I guess it's because I have more time to cook, plus I try to be frugal on my student budget. I bring lunch in a glass container, and since we have a common kitchen in our building, we can easily whip something up or heat something up with the common plates, utensils and glasses we have. If someone does buy out, we know by word of mouth the places on campus that allow us to bring our own containers and plates, and so that's always an option. But this summer, working in a business environment, with long business and commute hours, and having a paycheck, I guess sadly I've just been getting a little lazy about preparing my own food. Plus I like going out to find food with my co-workers and exploring at lunch time. Which of course means I end up eating out of Styrofoam and plastic on most weekdays - blech!
So a few weeks ago I started to contemplate places that I thought would let me try my own container. I felt a little strange about it, seeing as I'm not in student-run Santa Barbara and instead the Honolulu business district - and I wanted to do it at a place I went to semi-regularly. So the place I decided to try out is a small hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop in TOPA (if you eat in TOPA, you know what I'm talking about). They have a cute salad bar and variety of soups and will make your sandwiches fresh, plus they have a bunch of healthy drinks and chips to choose from. I've been going there since I started working, and I thought since they used small paper bags and wrapped their sandwiches on paper plates with plastic wrap - instead of using large Styrofoam containers like most places - perhaps they would not mind bringing my own container. The first time I felt strange. I asked for my sandwich to get put into a plastic container, and the ladies kindly let me. Then the following times I've used my own container for the salad bar. I do feel like I elicit sometimes weird looks from the people around me, but it's better than using Styrofoam I'm going to throw away 5 minutes later. So far this is the only place downtown I've tried bringing my own container, but I'd like to try more. It'd just be nice if I could know ahead of time if I'd be rejected or not.
So my question for other Kanu members out there - has anyone else tried bringing their own container to restaurants, outside of say the Farmer's Markets and similar outdoor venues? Would you be willing to share those places and your experiences? What are other people's ideas about reducing waste from take-out containers? Do you bring your own "hashi" (a habit I picked up in Japan) when you go out to eat at a place you know will give you plastic utensils?
I know we here in Hawaii love eating out, and we love our plate lunches, but at some point I think the system has got to change - and maybe I should start by vowing to bring home lunch more often.
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