A Tale of Four Lunches

One part of my job managing a post production facility in downtown Minneapolis is to help our clients and worker bees obtain lunches.   When projects are on a tight deadline, it is customary to work through lunch, which means meals are brought in.  I have strong opinions on the waste of to go packaging.  Some of the meals I pick up seem to me illogical and insane; yet restaurants keep serving them and people keep ordering them.

Today’s post is a quick sketch on how the little decisions you make at lunchtime make a big difference in trash generation.  For more, check out my Low Package Lunch Crash Course.

Lunch #1 Turkey Burger from Ike’s, sub side salad for mashed potatoes

Turkey Burger from Ike’s, sub side salad for mashed potatoes

Wednesday Post Grade: F

This lunch for one person from Ike’s came in a large shopping tote.  Normally it comes with a side vat of mashed potatoes in a polystyrene container.  Here, a profuse side salad in an imposing octagonal plastic container substitutes the mashed potatoes.  Does anyone want a salad this big when they are already having a turkey burger?

The burger is wrapped in wax paper and then slipped into a box board sleeve.  This retro touch is the most endearing part of Ike’s packaging.  The toppings for the burger (lettuce, tomato, onion) come in a separate plastic container with yet another plastic cup holding cole slaw.  Plus a plastic cup for  salad dressing and another for a condiment that wasn’t requested–BBQ sauce?

Where this lunch loses points: At pretty much every turn.  Too many fussy separate packages and a side so large that you are bound to throw food away; which is even more wasteful than the packaging.  This lunch earns an “F” for Far-Too-Depressing-to-Endure.  It also earned Ike’s an email of protest from yours truly.

Allison recommends:  Don’t order take away food from Ike’s.  If you want to eat their food, sit down in the restaurant.

Lunch #2 Three Baja Chicken Tacos from Baja Sol with Slaw, Chips and Two Varieties of Salsa

Three Baja Chicken Tacos with Slaw, Chips and 2 Salsas

Wednesday Post Grade: C+

We didn’t completely bomb on this lunch of chicken tacos from Baja Sol.  The bag is much smaller which is a significant material savings to begin with.  They have an excellent self serve salsa and chip bar, so it is easy to bring your own containers for salsa (as I did here) without causing a fracas.  The ones Baja Sol provides are annoyingly small anyway.  The bags for the chips are about as minimal as can be.  Aluminum foil can be recycled with cans.

Where this lunch loses points:  At Baja Sol it is difficult to use your own bag, because they bag your meal before bringing it to the counter.  Three small tacos have more surface area to wrap than one substantial burrito.  The side of slaw comes in a polystyrene container, and will tempt you to use a polystyrene fork if you didn’t bring your own.

Allison recommends:  Forgo the side dish, or if not, bring your own fork.  Try a burrito instead, which comes wrapped in a wispy piece of wax paper and does not come with a side dish.  Bring your own cup if you want a beverage.  Bring your own containers for salsa (my favorite is their hot salsa mixed with mango salsa).  Stay away from fajitas and enchiladas because they come in a large polystyrene container.

Lunch #3 Buffalo Chicken Wrap from Macy’s Marketplace

Buffalo Chicken Wrap from Macy’s Marketplace.  Plate not included!

Wednesday Post Grade: B+

Macy’s has many wrap sandwiches and Buffalo Chicken is their most popular.   Wraps are good choice for a low package lunch because they are like a little salad plus a sandwich all rolled into one efficient sheet of paper or foil.  Normally this sandwich is placed in a plastic Macy’s sack, but it is easy to ask for no bag.

Where this lunch loses points:

Macy’s has the chicken and cheese crumbles for their wrap sandwiches pre-portioned in plastic bags, so a couple plastic bags were used in the making of this sandwich.   Having watched them work, I also wonder how many plastic gloves they go through in a day.

Allison recommends: Ask for no bag.

Lunch #4 Chicken Banh Mi Sandwich from World Street Kitchen

A patriotic lunch choice!

Wednesday Post Grade: A

World Street Kitchen doesn’t even try to put your banh mi sandwich in a bag.  A single piece of checkered paper and you’re on your way.  Lunch can’t get much simpler!  This photo was taken last fall when the downtown Minneapolis food trucks were still in full swing, so you’ll need to wait until spring for them to come back.

Allison recommends:  In the meantime, try a gyro/falafel/hummus sandwich from Trieste Cafe. They are a great independently owned restaurant in the Lumber Exchange building.  Their hummus pita sandwich bursting with fresh veggies knocks my socks off.  Stay away from the combo meals which come in polystyrene containers (unless you dine in).

Let restaurants know if you don’t appreciate their packaging options.  Also let them know if you do!


Bringing your lunch from home in re-usable dishes earns an A+.  When this isn’t feasible, consider bringing your own sides–cut raw veggies, a piece of fruit, or a handful of nuts to round out a one item meal without additional packaging.

The Wednesday Post hopes you will lunch your way to a stellar report card.  Thanks for reading, and bon appetit!

Happy Ending Addendum

I received an encouraging response from Ike’s!

Ms. LaBonne,

As a matter of fact we have just started looking at some different options
for packaging our To Go orders.  We are trying to find containers that both minimize waste, yet protect the
integrity of our food.  Not an easy puzzle to solve but we are working on it!

I do want to thank you for letting me know your concerns, and I promise you
that when we find the right containers, we will be making a switch!

Thank You,

Bill Morris
Managing Partner
Ike’s Food and Cocktail’s, Downtown location


2 responses to “A Tale of Four Lunches

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