Feast Bags

I recently gave a workshop at an outdoor education event and, along with all of the other presenters, was acknowledged for my services with a “Feast Bundle” as part of what is known locally as the Woteca Challenge! The gift was a beautifully hand painted bag inscribed with the words “Mino Bimaadiziwin” – or “Live the Good Life” in the language of one of our First Peoples.

Keep in mind that apparently when our First Peoples went to a community feast, they brought their own parflech case made from deer hide and decorated with porcupine quills. The bag contained utensils made from wood and clay and copper. So the legend goes. My Feast Bundle gift was modern.

Two thoughts to live by: There is no free lunch, and,  Always look a gift horse in the mouth.

If I had received a Feast Bundle in “the good old days” the contents would have slowly recycled back into Earth to become food again in some form. Not so with the modern Feast Bundle. But before I continue, keep in mind that we in the environmental literacy movement had begun white colonial litterless and boomerang lunch campaigns way back in the 80’s. I cannot count the number of litterless lunch bags and contents I have received and given away.

At one point my wife said to me, “Do not bring one more mug, enviro logo T-shirt or bag home!” Yes, across thirty years you can accumulate a lot of well meaning stuff.

So, last Saturday, 2019. I received my Feast Bundle. The Mela-Ware bowl and plate set was my first flag. Followed by the 100% polyester napkin, a Sail metal mug made in China, and a set of beautiful stainless steel wooden handled cutlery made in Japan. The Sail mug was from the local Sail store at a remarkable 70% sale reduction – smart economics.

However, there is a new ethic in town called Cradle to Cradle. The idea is that if you can’t get it back as food, you shouldn’t create it in the first place.

For those who are not aware, Mela-Ware is tableware made of melamine-formaldehyde resins intended for repeated use. Melamine is a white crystalline compound made by heating cyanamide and is used in making plastics. Formaldehyde is a colourless pungent gas in solution made by oxidizing methanol – it can cause respiratory irritations and cancer. (Ah, living life better through chemistry.) This plastic is commonly known as melamine-ware. It is economical and widely used around the world due to its durability, and good chemical stability and heat resistance, but is not microwave safe. And while not a one-time disposable plastic tableware, it is not recyclable.

As for the napkin, polyester is a synthetic fiber derived from coal, air, water, and petroleum. Developed in a 20th-century laboratory, polyester fibers are formed from a chemical reaction between an acid and alcohol. In this reaction, two or more molecules combine to make a large molecule whose structure repeats throughout its length. Polyester is not considered eco-friendly.

My “feast bag” gift was given with the best of intentions. It is a reminder to bring our own utensils to the community feast and to not leave any garbage behind. The road to extinction is paved with good intentions, so was this a feast or famine bag? To reduce the ecological footprint of a product, one has to look at the distance it travels from point of origin to point of sale. One also has to consider the production process from extraction to waste disposal. I fear that the ecological footprint of my modern Feast Bag was far greater than it’s good intentions.

So thanks, but no thanks. I’m keeping the bag, but the stuff is going back.That’s the bottom line. We have enough “stuff” in our cupboards to fill a community’s Feast Bags. Don’t need more stuff. Need environmental literacy.

Grow local, eat local, shop local. buy local and feast for seven generations.

The way I see it.

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