By Shaun Daniel, Sustainability Resource Center
Behold, the humble Mason jar.
Beloved of the homesteader, adopted by the hipster, this all-purpose food and beverage vessel is a storage and sustainability wonder. And I’ll tell you why.
As the standardized canning implement, the jar was invented by tinsmith John Landis Mason in 1858. (The same year he invented the first screw-top salt shaker, believe it or not.) Mason had been working on an improved lid and threaded jar design that would simplify the cumbersome system of sealing lids onto glass jars with wax around the lip. Mason’s invention led to widespread home food preservation.
The idea of canning had been around for some time, ever since ol’ Napoleon Bonaparte held a contest for a way to preserve food to feed his armies on their ill-fated trek across Europe and Asia. Nicolas Appert, a confectioner and chef, won that competition in 1810, discovering in the process that food in a heated and hermetically sealed vessel wouldn’t spoil – that is, until maybe the whole food thing is made irrelevant by the commands of a military dictator leading a doomed march to Russia for personal and national glory. But back to the Mason jar…
There’s a reason this thing has been with us for more than a century and a half: it works. The Mason jar is a glorious example of appropriate technology. Allow me to sing its praises.
- Able to microwave? Check.
- Able to freeze? Check.
- Recyclable? Uh huh.
- BPA-free? Yeah, the jars are glass. (And newer lids are BPA-free, too.)
- Withstands falls from sink to floor? Sure, most of the time. Seen it, done it.
- Won’t fly open or leak in your bike bag on the way to work? Yessirmam.
- Doesn’t demand its exact lid-mate like a Tupperware diva? You betcha.
- Replacement pieces available at virtually any grocery store? Yes, convenience on Aisle 6.
- Standardization across manufacturers? Indeed. I mean, can you imagine if Ball or Kerr had gone the route of Apple and Microsoft, and we were all speculating as to the next iteration of the Mason 7.0 while cursing as we search for the right charging cord? Because you know it would have a charging cord.
What makes the Mason jar so incredible is its simple, elegant design. The uses are practically infinite and the thing never goes out of style. You’ll pass it on to your grandkids someday, which is something you can’t really say of a 50-year-old iPhone. Mason jars are appropriate for everything from weddings to leftovers to piggy banks to salad dressing to firefly catchers to junk storage to sewing kits to terrariums and I don’t know what else. There’s always food preservation, of course.
A shift to using pragmatic, durable items like the Mason jar might just add up to more far-reaching changes—a move away from cheap consumer goods, disposability, and planned obsolescence. The next step could be cradle to cradle design in our jars and more. How about it, you new-era John Landis Masons?
Call me a hipster (I prefer radical homemaker), but that, my friends, is why I use the mighty Mason jar. I encourage you to give it a try, too.
This article is the first in a new blog series to focus on fun, practical tips for leading a more sustainable life. If you have any tips to suggest, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shaun Daniel is a graduate student in Environmental Humanities and a graduate assistant in the Sustainability Resource Center.