The world of zero waste can be a challenging but extremely rewarding lifestyle. Every decision, choice and action you make has a meaning and a responsibility. But it has opened me up to a range of other green lifestyles that I never quite appreciated before, for example, buying seasonal and organic produce, supporting local businesses, and eating plant-based and avoiding animal products. For me, all of these different concepts are important, and I am slowly trying to work them all into my life, in particular, eating plant-based.
Living plant-based and plastic-free can get quite tricky, and one of the most common questions I get is:
"How do you get enough protein?"
In fact my mother checks that I am eating enough every weekend call I get!
Since I am someone who spends every morning before work lifting weights in the gym, my protein intake is also of considerable importance to me too. And although It took me a few months to work out a plan, I now have a list of plastic-free protein sources that are available in Konstanz and probably most cities.
And this list includes everyone! Whether you eat meat, are vegan or have allergies, there is always a plastic-free option for healthy protein. Although I separate the protein into categories, of course you can pick and choose whatever suits your diet! I eat mainly plant-based and love seitan, but I do still drink cows’ milk and sometimes eat cheese and meat in restaurants.
1) For the omnivores...
If you are someone who eats meat and fish, then plastic-free protein is a lot more readily available for you! It is so easy to switch from buying your meat wrapped in packaging in a supermarket to buying it “loose” at a local butcher or fishmarket. All you need to do is ask for paper wrapping if you are only buying a small amount, or if you are cooking for many, bring your own containers! Steel tins, glass mason jars and Tupperware all work well. Farmers’ markets are also good places to buy unwrapped meat, and often you can find local and free-range sellers. Or if your supermarket is big enough, there might be a meat and fish counter where you can buy fresh meat from. Don’t forget to ask the assistant to weigh your container first!
2) For the veggies...
As a vegetarian, plastic-free options are still pretty rife. Eggs are a fantastic choice, as they are so versatile and quick to make, and they come in cardboard boxes almost everywhere. They also contain about 6 g of protein! There is also of course dairy, which has loads of possibilities without the potential emotional weight of meat. As I said, I still drink milk every day with my protein shake, but there is also cheese, cream, yoghurt and quark for the Germans out there… All of these contain a range of protein, but also have a lot of other good stuff in them such as calcium, vitamin D.
3) For the vegan and plant-based...
…and lactose intolerant. If animal products aren’t your thing, then I found out that the best sort of protein is soya, in particular tofu. It took me over a year to find plastic-free tofu, but I finally discovered in one of the few “Asian” markets in Konstanz, thanks a German friend who loves Korean food! Apparently, in Korea it is very common to have fresh, unpackaged tofu available, which is presented to customers in big buckets full of water. In Taste of Asia in Konstanz, they have a much smaller version of these buckets, and every Saturday I go there with my own metal tin, spatula and knife to scoop out my tofu and cut it to size to fit in the box!
Konstanz is a small German town with not a lot of foreign influence, so the fact that we have an Asian shop here with unpackaged tofu is not only remarkable, but also means that other larger towns and cities should also have options like this available, so go hunting!
4) For the soya-free...
In case you are allergic to soya, or if you have a problem with genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) or the companies that produce them, then things can start to get trickier. However there are still plastic-free options! My personal favourite is seitan, a food substance made from wheat gluten. I swear I eat this almost every other day! I love seitan because it has a meat-like texture, which is a great when I still get my omnivore cravings because I can eat guilt-free. What’s more, it contains a huge amount of protein! I managed to find seitan mix almost entirely plastic-free in an organic supermarket in town: it comes in a paper packet (but has a sticky label). To learn how to prepare it, you can check out my previous post!
5) For the gluten-free...
If you so far have not found anything you can eat on this list, then you really are a fussy eater! But jokes aside, there are STILL options available for you. As an Indian, I was taught by my mother that the absolute staple of our diet is beans and lentils and some spices. Even at the end of the month when you are waiting for the next pay cheque, you can always cook yourself a decent dish with these foods and stay full; they have a great combination of carbs and lots of protein, and are often very cheap. If you are fortunate enough to have a zero-packaging store in your town, buying waste-free beans, chickpeas and pulses is easy, and you can take your own containers to fill up. Otherwise I recommend buying in bulk; often Asian stores are good for this sort of thing (because we are good at feeding huge families!), however you will still be producing some plastic waste, albeit a reduced amount. It is also possible to find beans and chickpeas in glass jars in organic stores, which can be reused or recycled.
I have covered all of the main sources of protein you can get without any or with minimal plastic or packaging. However there are also lots of other foods, like green vegetables, nuts, mushrooms and some grains that also have a good protein content per gram or per calorie. All of these have been summarized in a handy table below.
So yes, you can live plastic-free and still get a load of healthy protein, and the same applies whether you are veggie, vegan, plant-based, avoid certain food groups or are living on a budget. Like I said at the beginning, living zero waste is challenging, but it only takes some research, a little organisation and a lot of perseverance to discover and invent simple solutions to achieve your goals. A pretty decent rule for life, hey?