The Founding Ethics of Khala Cloths Beeswax Wraps
by Asa and Tamar McKee
I've always been an environmentalist. I owe that to my parents. I grew up farming organically and spending weekends selling our vegetables and flowers at farmer’s markets. My mom cooked everything from scratch and taught me how to prepare and store vegetables from canning, freezing, to fermenting. I guess that is where I first learned and just knew that food did not need plastic to preserve its integrity and nourishment.
But for many years, I never truly appreciated the knowledge I gained from my family background, except that it helped me get jobs, like working in green houses and landscaping. Then I had a family, and the great importance of these old skills and their abiding ethics finally came into profound view - like ensuring organic food for our children by growing our own, and storing this produce as healthy food for the winter.
I grew up with a big backyard garden that my mother kept. It was fertilized by the manure of our horses, who would watch us over their paddock gates as we worked in the garden adjacent to them. When the harvest was greater than what my family could eat and store (split between plastic bags (!) in our deep freezer in the garage and canned jars in the kitchen pantry), we’d take a wheelbarrow of produce to the corner of our street and sell out in a day.
Such strong memories I have of that garden and how it sustained us growing up, that when Asa and I started growing our own garden with our own family, I began remembering so much that I had not thought about in years, even decades. When we started canning, it took me back not only to my mother’s kitchen, but her mother’s kitchen, particularly the smell of canned peaches. In this great reawakening, I realized the path that had been laid down for me by my family, and knew I had a chance to do the same for my children. What would that path be? And how could it lead them into a less endangered and taken-for-granted world?
New Ways, Old Ways: Beeswax Wraps vs. Plastic
Having children creates a love that is impossible to explain (we will leave that to the poets). Because of such love, we realized we needed to do more. We started examining at our plastic use. We were washing plastic bags and reusing them but felt there had to be a better, more grassroots way.
Plastics themselves are relativity new, part of what philosopher Donna Haraway would call the “Great Acceleration” of modernity and progress after World War II.... So what did people do before plastic? What did we (do we) throw out by turning to a more plastic-dominated world?
We stared researching, looking back over time and across cultures....and discovered several “old” traditions of food storage alternatives to plastic. Two in particular caught our attention: the use of tree resin to seal earthen or glass containers for long term storage, and the use of wax-infused cloth as removable covering for containers. In North America, such practices of food storage were commonplace as little as 100 years ago, but now (like so much of the world) have been heavily supplanted with plastic alternatives. (Think about all the ziplock bags, Saran-wrap, Tupperware, and other plastic food storage items used the world over.)
We started playing with two pre-plastic ingredients in particular – tree resin and beeswax - to infuse cloths with. We were experimenting with how we could update this method to the food storage landscape of the 21st century…
Enter coconut oil. With its natural antibacterial properties, health benefits, and ability to be ethically sourced, it just made sense (and more cloth pliability too!). It then took us a while to create the perfect ratio blend because we wanted to create the most ideal natural alternative to plastic. Slowly but ever so surely, Khala Cloths beeswax wraps was born.
The Great Future... A Less-Plastic World
Sometimes the best solution is one that already existed. We spend so much time trying to make things simpler that we forget to look at its future impact. We often think of the scene in the film, The Graduate, where Denis Hoffman’s character, Ben Braddock, is told by Mr. Maguire, in almost secret, worshipful tones: "Plastics… There's a great future in plastics.”
To us, this scene typifies how plastic started entering both the consciousness and the commodity chain of the mid-20th century. And now here we are, trying to tame this “great future” that's taken over our oceans and is killing the human and greater-than-human world.
What if we started saying something like - “Khala Cloths…There’s a great future in Khala Cloths?” -instead?
Come see for yourself (shop).