When you’re preparing your mishloach manot (gift baskets for Purim), there’s an opportunity to create gifts that are sustainable, healthy and delicious. Too often in our single-use, throwaway culture of convenience, mishloach manot can become equal parts unhealthy foods and heaping trash, adding more to the four pounds of trash Americans generate on average per day. Instead, however, we can bring intentionality to the preparation of our mishloach manot and be inspired by the teaching of bal tashchit (do not destroy or waste).
Here are some ways to create mishloach manot that are safer for the environment and your (and your recipients’) body.
Ditch plastic wrap and packaging.
We are literally drowning in plastic. From ocean gyres of swirling masses of plastic the size of Texas to beaches and fish filled with plastic micro-beads, plastic is everywhere. Plastics take hundreds to thousands or even millions of years to degrade. It’s a horrifying thought, but the great news is that there are many easy ways to reduce our plastic use.
- Wrap foods in parchment paper (which is compostable), cloth napkins or towels (which are a great gift on their own) or reusable glass jars or cloth bags.
- Skip individual packages; all those plastic bottles and personal sized foods are cute, but are wasteful and often not recyclable. Instead, consider buying nuts and dried fruits in bulk and packing them in cloth or paper bags or sachets. And leave out the bottled water completely.
- Give your mishloach manot in a reusable cloth bag (for a fun activity, buy plain ones and have kids decorate them with cloth markers, paint, buttons and more) or even a metal tiffin that can double as an easily transportable food container in the future.
- Instead of just food and tchotchkes, make reusable items part of your gift basket: bamboo travel utensils, metal or glass straws and reusable beverage containers.
Give the gift of health.
We live in a country with an over-abundance of unhealthy foods that are filled with sugar, fats and chemical ingredients. The Jewish philosopher Maimonides taught that we must care of our bodies and those of others: “It is a positive mitzvah to remove any obstacle that could pose a danger to life, and to be very careful regarding these matters, as the Torah teaches, ‘Take utmost care for yourself; and guard yourself scrupulously’ (Deut. 4:9).”
- Make your food, rather than buying it. It tastes and looks better, and you know exactly what went into it.
- Leave out any packaged foods that list ingredients you cannot pronounce.
- Swap out the bottled water or sodas for fresh, loose teas, a delicious, healthy alternative with much less packaging.
- Share one of your favorite recipes, and fill your mishloach manot with the ingredients it takes to make it. This is a fun way to encourage people to prepare a delicious meal and prevents you from giving a pile of unwanted junk foods that may later go to waste.
- Give fresh produce. It’s delicious and requires zero preparation.
Consider the environmental impact of the foods you give.
Agriculture is a significant contributor to environmental degradation: one-fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock, including dairy cows. Pollution runoff, filled with pesticides and animal waste, pollutes drinking water. But we can be part of the solution to these problems, and Purim is a great time to start.
- Consider making vegan food items. Not using animal products lifts a heavy burden on climate emissions and water pollution and leaves some happy cows and chickens.
- Stop by a farmers market to buy seasonal fruits and support local farms.
- Give edible seeds and plants. Inspire someone to start to grow their own herbs or foods by including seed packets and/or plant clippings for their garden, whether on a kitchen counter, balcony or in the backyard.