The Insider’s Guide to Life: The Revolution Will Not Be Bagged

ColumnThanks, I brought my hands.

Hi, I’m Sara, and I don’t use bags. Oh, sometimes I use my bags, I just don’t use yours. San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Dallas, everywhere I go, I’m not bagging it. Today’s message comes to you from Cape Cod, where I’m embedded with EcoSalon’s DuFault unit, also not-a-bagger. Here, we’ve been eyed suspiciously for buying not one but four avocados and plopping them into a roomy handbag instead of a plastic sack. We’ve bought and returned a sweater without a bag, picked up new earbuds without a bag, even bought a battery – all without a bag.

Sometimes there’s no escaping the bag, even when you bring your own. Social mores ensure that the bottle of wine picked up on the way to the dinner party be brown-bagged inside your bag. At least they don’t try to bag the housewarming orchids at most stores. But on those inevitable days where I forget my Envirosax or my swag of bag from the latest green event, and I’m not in the mood to go fetch it, I simply go bag free. I endure the social ostracism in the name of toned upper arms in addition to my environmental sensitivity.

This concerns people, who, it turns out, really believe in bagging things. I’ve learned even picking up truffles sans-sack warrants a stare, never mind that the chocolate comes in a bag already. Walking down the aisles holding my geranium dish soap, a Pink Lady apple, brie and head of dino kale, you’d think I was juggling obese ferrets on a Ritalin bender. “Do you want a bag? A basket? Hey, how about a cart?” a stock boy will ask, hoping I’m not about to throw a ferret at the wall or launch into my life story. Some days, I want to reassuringly scream, “Hey, guy? I’m not crazy lady!” but restrain myself, knowing this will hardly help my case. What happened to carrying things with our actual arms? Stocking up for the Superbowl I get. You’re going to need a bag or five, maybe even a cart. Stocking up for a wild night of pear and spring greens with goat cheese for dinner? I rest my case.

Most of the time, I’m just amused by how relentless the bag pushers are. Rather than sigh in irritation during my moments of canvas bag forgetfulness, I’ve actually taken to forgetting my reusable bags on purpose just to see if I can be allowed out of the store without a bag for my chives or new d’Orsays. No one has called me crazy to my face. But their eyes say it all.

Don’t take my word for it. You, too, can enjoy confused stares and with any luck, mild arguments.

I can report that the box that was once bulging with pretty gray Restoration Hardware bags and shiny Annual Event sacks is down to just one lonely, wrinkled Fred Segal bag, with no plans to refill. I don’t even get the occasional paper bag “for the recycling” anymore; the bin is outside my front door, and it occurred to me recently that the connection between bagging recyclables for a nine yard walk to the bin and my ever-hopeful aspiring muffin top was more than a little coincidental.

A jug of organic tea, the fresh bundle of tulips, a bag of Feline Pine, a bar of paper-wrapped grapefruit-scented vegetable soap, actual grapefruits: all perfectly capable of getting home without a bag, though you will need hands or the crook of an elbow. Considering the facts on bags, though, there’s really never an excuse to use one in the event you forget your own. You can ask for the paper bags, but if you’re only picking up a few things, why not toss them into your purse or better yet, work those biceps.

Most things, it turns out, just don’t need bags. Why, for example, does a handle of bananas need its own bag, as a recent cashier insisted? I know conventional banana skins are teeming with pesticides but I think the carton of cream can handle cozy company with some organic bananas for the three-minute journey home.

If all the bagging is any indication, humans are pathetically fragile. And if individual items such as detergent and multivitamins are so toxic they need their own baggage, why are we putting them on and in our bodies at all?

Being a resident of San Francisco, I seem to end up at Mollie Stone’s more than I’d like. It’s a grocery store chain that cannot decide if it wants to be Whole Foods or Safeway, and ends up failing at both. (The prices are high and the quality is notoriously inconsistent.) But I am at least morally outraged by the baggers at Mollie Stone’s, who are customer-service-hellbent on bagging things in as many layers of bags as possible, and that counts for something. Think the already-bagged baguette doesn’t need its own bag inside your bag? Think again. That hormone-free rotisserie chicken in the sealed plastic suitcase? Unless you insist, and sometimes anyway, that chicken is getting its own bag.

Whatever happened to wrapping things in twine and brown paper, or just…well, holding them? In a short 40 years of convenience plastic, we’ve become hooked on bagging it. Double bagging it, as if we need one for the road. Separating food from cosmetics, soap from sundries, categorizing our consumption in concentric rounds of poly. If you’ve stopped the bottle, it’s time to stop the bag, too.

This is the latest installment in your editor’s column, The Insider’s Guide to Life, exploring topics such as media, culture, sex, politics, and anything else. Cheers and spellcheck!

Image: taberandrew