Musings of a Crafty Activist

My Brother, the Non-Believer.

I recently had an interesting discussion with my younger brother regarding single-use plastic bags. This Christmas, my aunt gifted me three, mesh produce bags designed to be used in place of the plastic bags provided by grocery stores. My brother was amused by my excitement, and made the clipped remark that the bags were unlikely to make a difference in the grand scheme of things. I was alarmed at his take. Younger than me by 8 years, I expected him to have a more progressive opinion on this topic in particular. Those of us that are young, I think, feel keenly the dangers of global warming, pollution, and the like. And, while his comment seemingly indicated indifference, upon re-examination, what lurked below the surface is better categorized as hopelessness.

A World of Worry

The current health of our dear planet has been on my mind a lot lately – as, I am sure, it’s been on everyone’s, whether consciously or unconsciously. With activists like Greta Thunberg rising up and demanding that we not only take notice of Mother Earth’s condition but that we take action, I can’t help feeling inspired. Accompanying this inspiration, however, is an intermittent anxiety which leans dangerously towards the same hopelessness exhibited by my youngest sibling. An anxiety that no amount of personal recycling, public transportation, gardening, second-hand shopping, or clever re-purposing can fix the oppressive ecological problems set in motion so very long ago.

#LifeIsComplicated

To better explain this anxiety, I’ll do what those my age are prone to do and cite pop-culture thus keeping things light and #relateable.

I recently binged the first three seasons of ABC’s The Good Place, and something articulated by the character Michael (played by the lovable Ted Danson) resonated with me as I am sure it did with a million others. He said, “These days, just buying a tomato at a grocery store means you are unwittingly supporting toxic pesticides, exploiting labor, [and] contributing to global warming”.

For my brother, if, miraculously, the issue of the single-use produce bag were resolved, the problem of the disingenuous tomato will still exist. And, not only does the problem exist for him and for me, but for everyone we know and everyone we can imagine. And, how can we be sure that for every plastic bag we refrain from taking – for every ‘tomato’ we bother to research before purchasing – that there aren’t five other people out there doing the exact opposite?

So to counteract this fear, I stop driving to work and try to make my own soup. And, while these actions temporarily abate my anxiety, other problems begin to arise as I see those around me trudging down a similar path. I begin to fret that being ‘thrifty’ and ‘earth-conscious’ has gained popularity as a fashionable trend. That large conglomerates are capitalizing on the idea of ‘eco-friendly’ in a very unfriendly way.

Roots to Branches

As a member of this American society I find I have trouble trusting the stores I buy from, the articles I read, and the television I watch. I’m suspicious that everything has its slant. That the ultimate goal is to make an extra dollar or to pedal a lucrative viewpoint, regardless of the many people who may be exploited in the process.

The advent of the mass-produced Reusable Food Wrap is one such item that arouses this suspicion. While, at its core, I think the idea of a reusable food wrap is an incredibly wonderful one, I worry that the growing industry which surrounds this concept is morphing into something that stands in direct opposition to all things ‘reusable’ and ‘earth-conscious’.

Perhaps the production of food wraps is supplying new and needed jobs. But, can I be sure that the people employed to make these wraps are being paid properly? That they are part of unions and above age 15? Can I be sure that the new demand for Jojoba Oil won’t put the Simmondsia Chinensis at risk for extinction? Are the bees who produce the wax well cared for? By what means is the fabric produced? Is it free of harmful chemicals? Is this newfound need for pine resin slowly killing our planet’s conifers?

These are the questions which roll through my head as I compare prices online and peruse the ever-growing list of DIY recipes. Will my participation in this market truly and in the long run help the Earth? Or am I buying into a trend that  – as evidenced by the diminishing Corylus tree and avocado plant –  will ultimately cause a great deal of harm?

There are literally millions cashing in on the Reusable Food Wrap craze.

A Hard Bargain

The weight of these questions and concerns are tangible. I feel them. I see them weighing down the people who surround me. And, from this confusing hurricane of inspiration, anxiety and hopelessness arises a new emotion: resolve. Because, at this point, I’ve no desire for pity, a pat on the back, or a ‘you’re doing your best’. Like Greta, I believe it’s time to acknowledge just how hard the road ahead is really destined to be, and how much we need to cast off the hopelessness which has made a home in our collective psyche.

As a means to motivate, shame, and guilt one another into behaving more earth-consciously we bandy about the phrase ‘it’s not that hard‘. As in, it’s not that hard to recycle. It’s not that hard to use a re-usable bag. Research your purchases – it’s not that hard. It’s not that hard to walk. Make it yourself. It’s not that hard. While, in reality, each of these things – for a million different reasons – is hard.

And this concept is one that we need to lean into. We need to lean into the idea that we have been raised to consume and to dispense with. We need to accept that changing these habits, as well as other fundamental practices that have been ingrained in us, will be no small feat. It’s going to be incredibly hard because, up until now, we have been doing what is easy not what is right, and it has led us to rock bottom.

The excellent thing about rock bottom, however…

We Interrupt This Dismal Broadcast...

Voila! It works!

While I am sure you’re eager to get back to the dreary subject we’ve so far been discussing, I’ll now interrupt myself to give you what you really clicked for – Tips n’ Tricks on how to make the perfect Reusable Food Wrap.

As mentioned, DIY Beeswax Wrap instructions – some more rhapsodic than others – populate every nook and cranny of the internet. But, after much reading, I settled on Mountain Rose Herbs Blog Post titled The Complete Guide to DIY Beeswax Wraps (AND Beeless Vegan Food Wraps!).

While the author does take you on a winding journey through her first four – semi-unsuccessful – attempts, she also provides clear, step by step instructions and a welcome vegan alternative. After attempting it myself, I was also pleased to discover that everything happened just as the author said it would.

It does indeed take 20 – 25 minutes for your ingredients to melt, an initially uneven distribution of your mixture is to be expected, and over-saturation is not the end of the world. In short, her instructions prepare you for the mistakes you are bound to make and how best to work around them. As a self-proclaimed trial and error sort of gal, I really connected to her method. Of course, we each find ways to augment a recipe to our own tastes, and so I would now like to share with you my personal augmentations.

My Two Cents

In our TCS Food Wrap Kits, we include a ‘tip’ sheet that boils down to this observation: Ending up with a good, sticky food wrap is dependent upon 3 things – 1) the amount of pine resin used, 2) avoiding over-saturation of your fabric, and 3) the ‘baking time’ of the wraps.

1.

The Rose Mountain Herb’s recipe directs you to use .35 oz of pine resin. But, personally, we found that using as much as .8 oz produced a better result. So, in our Food Wrap Kits, we include 1 full ounce of pine resin, and we encourage you to find the ratio that works best for you. If you discover that your cooled wrap is not quite sticky enough, you can simply add a bit more resin to your double-boiler mixture, reheat your wrap for a few seconds in the oven, and re-coat it with the new mixture. As I said, trial and error is a completely acceptable approach when it comes to this process.

"My double-boiler set-up.
My double boiler set-up.

2.

Next, if you notice that your wrap has become over-saturated (the tell-tale sign will be an uneven wax build-up on either side of your fabric) simply put it back in the oven but leave the door open, and, using your paintbrush, mop up any excess mixture. Then, wipe the still-hot excess on the inside of your glass measuring cup so as to avoid a build-up on your brush. (And, so that the mixture itself may be re-used.) Additionally, check your parchment paper for wax build-up. If you notice any, you can replace the parchment paper with a new piece. Or, (in the spirit of re-using) you can use the same open-oven/brushing method to remove the built-up wax.

Keeping your wrap partially in the oven makes redistribution and excess removal simple!
Keeping your wrap partially in the oven makes redistribution and excess removal simple!

When doing this myself, I discovered that – after applying my initial coating – it was necessary to flip the wrap and remove/redistribute the beeswax mixture multiple times. While semi-tedious, this method garnered the desired results. To streamline this repetitive process, I suggest leaving the hot pan in the oven and removing only the parchment and fabric to do the actual flipping.

The over-saturated, waxy buildup is apparent here on both the wrap and the parchment paper
The over-saturated, waxy buildup is apparent here on both the wrap and the parchment paper.

3.

As for ‘baking time’, Rose Mountain tells you to leave your wraps in the oven for 2 minutes after your initial coating. Other recipes say that you should leave them in for as many as 4 minutes. We suggest that you start with 2 and just keep a close eye on the fabric. If you notice it starting to smoke, do as your instincts tell you to do and take it out! You want your finished wraps to have a sort of sticky/grainy texture rather than an overly waxy texture. However, cooking them for too long can cause your ingredients to dry out.

And for good measure...

Lastly, I leave you with this positive discovery: The measuring cup can be salvaged and the paintbrush can be re-used to make more wraps. If you’re planning to take up food wrap-making as a serious hobby then investing in a specific glass measuring cup will save you having to clean it out. However, if you’d like to clean it, do so while the glass is still warm, verging on hot. Using a paper towel wipe the residue from the inside. Repeat the process but add soap and very hot water, wiping until the glass is clear. Remember, all these ingredients are edible so a little residue isn’t dangerous.

It's All Uphill From Here

Through these Food Wrap Kits we hope to empower you a little bit, to assure you that, we are doing our best to purchase ethically sourced products and materials, and, most of all, to remind you that taking control of your personal purchasing, consuming, and making is very hard and so so important. So, keep fighting the good fight. Take the bus, shop second-hand, do your research, vote, make your own clothes and repeat because it absolutely matters.

As J.R.R. Tolkien so wonderfully articulates in a conversation between Frodo and Gandalf in his Fellowship of the Ring,

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

And on that wise note, I leave you with this:

  1. Reusable is the way of the future.
  2. Making your own things – clothes, food wraps, etc – keeps you conscious of where your ingredients and materials come from, teaches you the value of your labor, and gives you agency.
  3. You CAN make that. You CAN do that.

-Maisie

Food Wrap Kit Ingredients:

Bulk Apothecary White Beeswax

Bulk Apothecary Golden Jojoba Oil

All Things Being Eco Pine Resin

Andover and Art Gallery Fabrics Quilting Cottons 

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