Sunday, July 26, 2009

Calling all yogurt lovers!

This article is from Betty fan, educator, dj, ever-talented, ever-helpful Eric Betthauser! You may have met him at the Saturday farmer's market downtown. (Thanks for all your time and enthusiasm, Eric)

Ah, fantastic plastic. It has brought so many benefits to our lives, not the least of which is lightweight, shatter-proof food containers. Trouble is, they still often become long-term residents in the local landfill. So, what about recycling?

Charlottesville is better than most places, in that our city will recycle any plastic bearing the #1 (PETE) or 2 (HDPE). But, in most municipalities, “if it doesn’t have a neck, you can’t recycle it”. That includes plastic ice-cream pails, sour-cream tubs, defensive tackles and, yes, yogurt containers. It may be the “right” number (1 or 2), the recycling truck might even pick it up (they trash them at the end of the ride), but it’s not going to be recycled.

So, what’s an eco-conscious dairy lover to do? Well, you’ve got a few options:

 Make your own. Many of us do it, and it seems to be becoming popular again. Truthfully, after conquering the learning curve, making your own yogurt or kefir is pretty easy. With yogurt, the best method that I’ve found is to use a Thermos:
1. Bring a pint of milk to about 120o F (you can use a candy thermometer).
2. Stir in ¼ cup of plain yogurt.
3. When the mixture is at 105-110o, pour it into a Thermos, seal it, and put in the oven with the light on. (Or, you could wrap the Thermos in towels and set it in a warm place.
4. Let the mixture sit at that constant temperature for 7-10 hours (the longer it sits, the more tart the yogurt).

You can also buy packets of starter culture at natural-foods stores (rather than using a pre-packaged container of yogurt); it is produced by the Canadian company Lyo-sant. If you’re not willing to do the make-your-own, you have several other options:

• Reuse those containers. This may go without saying, but reusing is always step 1, before recycling. The only trick is to figure out how comfortable you are with reusing plastic, which may leach chemicals.
• Buy from Stonyfield Farm. They have a recycling program, by which you can send them your old (clean) containers, and they will recycle them. The inherent problems are that:
1. You need to package and pay to send them (although they do respond by sending you
2. The energy, time, and expense of shipping something many kilometers (they’re
based in New Hampshire) may offset the benefits.
To their credit, Stonyfield Farm has done extensive research about packaging, and the simple fact that their yogurt is in lightweight Polypropylene (#5) plastic saves a lot in shipping (and therefore in gasoline). Also, they now put recyclable aluminum foil on their yogurt, rather than plastic lids. This makes it harder to reuse the containers, so, again, it’s a tradeoff.
• Gimme 5. This program was recently started by The Preserve. You can send any plastic containers bearing the number 5 (Polypropylene) back to them, and they will eventually turn them into toothbrushes. Whole Foods is also sponsoring this by placing drop-off bins in their stores (not in Charlottesville…yet),
• Buy kefir. Never tried it? This Middle Eastern drink, similar to yogurt, is readily available. Properly pronounced /kÉ™-FEER/, it’s more of a liquid than yogurt, and it’s produced with a different starter culture. As a result, the flavor is a bit stronger than yogurt, it can be slightly effervescent, and it can even contain a small amount of alcohol. Helios produces plain, peach, raspberry, and other flavors, and they’re all made from organic milk. Helios is now owned by Lifeway Foods, who also produce a line of regular and lowfat kefir, some of which uses organic milk. Additionally, Lifeway has begun offering small bottles of the Indian drink lassi. All of these products are bottled in High-Density Polyethylene (#2), recyclable virtually everywhere.

Making kefir is quite simple, too: Place the starter culture in a container of milk, let it sit at room temperature for a day or two, strain, and enjoy. Starter grains are available at natural-foods stores, or online at (a Minnesota company)

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