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"Styrofoam, like messes up the world."

Let me start by saying, I’m not sure if Whole Foods chicken is actually humanely raised. From what I have researched, it can be pastured, at least some of the time, but I haven’t done enough digging around to figure out if I’m actually buying the best choice or if I’m being greenwashed..

But until I know better, I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt and buy it – or at least try to.

The shopping for chicken story

This is what happened last week. I was in Whole Foods and I saw that chicken legs were on sale for 99 cents a pound. That’s a really good price. I check the label and I see a bunch of words that make me feel reassured – vegetarian feed, roaming free – stuff like that. Like I said, I’m not sure if it’s green washing or true but I was wiling to go with it.

I pick up a pack of chicken – there are two legs in the pack – which is not enough for my family, so I sort through looking for something bigger pack. Every pack only has two legs. Plus, each two-pack package is set on a Styrofoam tray. Damn, I made that myplatsiki pledge.

It’s close to 7 at night and I’ve been up since 6. I’m really exhausted. I just want to buy the chicken, be done with it and go home. I put the four packs in my cart. I notice just how much plastic wrap each pack uses. I can’t do it. I put the chicken back. As I walk by the butcher counter getting ready to leave my bargain behind, I remember that when I splurge on grass fed beef the butcher wraps it in good old fashioned and environmentally friendly brown paper.

Excuse me?” I ask the butcher, “I wanted to get some of those 99 cent a lb chicken legs but they only have them in two pack. Can you make me a bigger package?”

“How many do you want?” he asks.

“About 8.”

“Ok.”

The butcher is a middle-aged guy with a bit of graying at his temple. He’s solid, like a good old Midwestern corn-fed cut –with a Brooklyn accent of course. He lumbers out from behind the case filled with rows of marinating kebobs and leads me back to the pre-packaged chicken in the other case.

“Which ones do you want?”

“No,” I say, “I want some that haven’t been wrapped in plastic. Can’t you make me a new pack from some chicken in the back and wrap it in paper?”

He shrugs.

“Not sure. Gotta ask the other guy.”

The butcher returns to his post behind the sirloin and calls into the back. A slight, curly-haired boy comes out pushing a big cart with rows of chicken sausages in Styrofoam trays. His darkish skin pops against his pristine white butcher coat.

“Whas up?” he asks me. When he says it, it sounds formal and busyness like.

“I wanted some chicken, this chicken, but I need more than what’s in these little packs. Can you make me a bigger pack?”

“How many do you need?”

“About 8.”

Ok, give me a minute. As he finishes up unloading his trays of chicken sausage I say.

“You guys shouldn’t use Styrofoam.”

“Yeah,” he says, “Styrofoam is bad.” He points to the vacuum-sealed bag of chicken breasts. “We’re thinking of moving to this.”

“But that’s still plastic.”

“Yeah but Styrofoam is really bad. It’s like messing up the world.”

“I agree, but what about that plastic.”

“We recycle. “

“You recycle this kind of plastic.”

“Sure,” he says, “ just ask customer service. They take it all.”

I think about my bags of plastic home in my kitchen waiting for a place to be recycled. I don’t think he’s right but I’m willing to allow myself this tiny glimmer of hope that I can move the trash out of my house and into somewhere that’s not the landfill. He picks up 4 packages of chicken from the display.

“These ok?”

“No.” I say, I” don’t want from here. I don’t wan to make trash.”

He thinks for minute. He clearly wants to help me.

“It’s ok,” he finally says, “I’m making it. Not you.”

I really want to be over and done with this chicken buying.

“Ok,” I say hesitating. “He takes the chicken behind the meat case. I see him start to unroll a big sheet of paper.

“But you’re going to make trash,” I object.

“It’s ok,” he says, “it won’t be you.”

I really want this to be logical and so I almost let him do it. But as he begins to unwrap the yards of plastic that hold the two chicken legs to it’s problematic Styrofoam casing,I realize how ridiculousness this solution is.

“No,” I say, “I can’t. It’ll make double trash. First, there’s the waste you’re making by unwrapping my chicken. Then there’s the extra paper.”

He mulls over what I’ve just said.

“No,” he says, “it’s my garbage now. You don’t have to worry about it.”

A friend  at work had tried to do the same thing for me that afternoon. When I’d complained about wanting chips from the vending machine, he’d said, “It’s ok, I’ll get them for you. It won’t be your garbage.”

I couldn’t get the chips. And I couldn’t buy the chicken.

“You want it or not?” my friend the chicken guy asks. He’s very patient with me.

“No, I can’t. Can you do me a favor and tell them I couldn’t buy this chicken because it was packaged with Styrofoam. Tell someone.”

“Ok,” he says. I wonder if he’ll remember.

Customer service to the rescue. Sort of.

After I checked out I go to customer service.

“I need a rain check,” I say, “for the chicken.”

“They ran out?” the pierced girl asks me.

“No. It was all wrapped in Styrofoam and a ton of plastic. I wanted them to give me some in paper but they didn’t have any.”

“Oh,” she says. She nods in agreement and pulls out her pad to write me my raincheck. “Styrofoam is bad.”

“Can you let them know I wouldn’t buy they chicken because it had Styrofoam.”

“Sure,” she says, although I don’t believe her at all.

“Do you recycle plain plastic?” I ask her as I’m leaving. “Beyond the bin for the #5 containers in the back?”

“Nah, “ she says. She shrugs. “Just the plastic bags. That’s about all.”

What’s the moral of the story?  There’s always been Styrofoam is in my chicken.

After all this I realized that the chicken I normally buy from Whole Foods also comes on a Styrofoam plate. And the real kicker is that according to the Whole Foods website, they do meat and poultry “the old fashioned way” :

The meat expert standing behind the counter at your nearby Whole Foods Market is prepared to serve up whatever cut of meat catches your eye in the cooler or case, packaged especially for you and accompanied by cooking tips and sage advice only a real, experienced butcher can provide.

So does that mean that vacuum pack is more old fashioned than Styrofoam? I really hope not. I guess it’s time to do more research into the chicken question.

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