Sunday, March 20, 2016


When the perky checker at the Natural Foods Coop thanked me for bagging my groceries last Thursday, I replied, “You’re welcome, but I’m not bagging to be helpful, I’m doing it because I’m obsessive compulsive.” She thought I was funny so I didn’t tell her I was serious. The checkers usually thank me for bagging, and I usually reply “you’re welcome.” This time I fessed up. Perhaps there would be no cataclysmic ramifications if a bagger failed to put my vitamins next to the toilet paper, or (heaven help me) bagged red peppers in the same bag with the eggs. But you never know. I have my own ideas about how I want my groceries bagged. I cannot tolerate illogical bagging. I have a vendetta against dangerous bagging. Thus far, I have stuck to bagging my own groceries and have not attempted to bag other people’s groceries. This could change. You will know it’s about to change if I sew myself a cape with an image of a celery stalk on it.

If grocery stores even provide training to baggers, I doubt it includes instructions about how to bag groceries. Instead, it apparently involves instructions to ask every patron how their day is going. Some baggers do a better job than others, but I suspect that has to do with intelligence. Good baggers are probably actually undergraduates studying electrical engineering who got a job bagging groceries to earn money to buy textbooks and wire. Most baggers don’t do such a bad job, although I have occasionally had a renegade bagger fling items into the bags as if the apocalypse will descend any minute. It takes talent to puncture the box of dishwasher soap, drop the pears on the floor, spill onion powder in the bottom of the bag, or knock the lid off the container of peanut butter. The problem is more often that baggers don’t do it the way I want it done. I don’t want apples or bananas on the bottom of the bag because they bruise. Crackers, kale, and eggs obviously (you would think) go on top. Frozen foods go in the same bag with dairy products and meat to keep these perishables cold. (No, I do not want the fish placed in a separate little plastic bag. I brought all my own cloth bags. What does that tell you? Duh.) Produce goes together in the same bag. Combine heavy objects with light objects to evenly distribute the weight (no, I don’t need a scale to figure this out, why do they? – it’s not rocket science). Etcetera. And leave the cashews out, I’m eating them. Obviously.

Never underestimate the importance of proper bagging. Once, a bagger put too many mango lemonade jars into one of my canvas bags. She loaded the bags into my cart, I paid for the groceries, and then I discovered sticky orange liquid pouring from my cart and puddling on the floor, splattering as it dripped. Baggers and checkers, suited up and fully equipped with an impressive assortment of colorful cleaning aids, descended on my cart, as if it was the site of a nuclear reactor core meltdown. They removed the broken jar, whisked the remaining undamaged jars out of the bag and wrapped them individually in plastic bags (since they were covered in sticky juice), and put the soaked canvas bag into several layers of more plastic bags. I had brought my own bags to avoid using plastic bags, which contribute to the continent of plastic floating in the Pacific Ocean. As a result of the spill, I wound up taking home enough plastic to form my own personal island composed of microscopic synthetic granules.

During the clean-up, the lady behind me in line commented, “That smells yummy. What was in that jar?” I told her it was mango lemonade. My words spread down the checkout line like a blessing whispered from the Temple Mount and repeated by the multitudes; as if it was the answer to the question of why humans exist on the planet, the words “mango lemonade” were murmured reverently from one person to the next. It smelled so good that everyone wanted a piece of it. The customers behind me in the line told the checker to wait a second, and they went to get their own jars of mango lemonade. A sudden run on mango lemonade ensued. I enjoyed the delicious scent all the way home because my shopping bag was drenched in it. But it was a canvas bag, so I ran it through the laundry. Good as new.

These days the checkers thank me for bagging, but not so long ago the checkers thanked me just for bringing my own bags, which I have done since the first Nixon Administration (when common sense was illegal and I risked arrest for attempting to protect the environment). Earlier in this century, checkers routinely thanked anyone who brought their own bags, and when they thanked me for bringing my own bags, I would say, “I’ve been bringing my own bags since before you were born.” Some of my canvas bags are older than most of the checkers. You can tell how old those bags are because they say Vote for McGovern. I have brought my own bags and bagged my groceries in them since the days when I could buy a week’s worth of food for fifteen dollars. In those days, the checkers insisted that I bag my groceries myself because they didn’t know how canvas bags worked and they feared that if they opened those alien devices they might explode. Nowadays, where I live, everyone brings their own bags because plastic grocery bags have been outlawed. A few bandit plastic grocery bag gangs still roam the wilds of North County. But for the most part, one never sees a plastic grocery bag in this county anymore. People can buy a paper bag or fiber bag (often, unfortunately, plastic-coated for reinforcement) at the check stand. It amazes me to see everyone bringing their own bags, since I was on my own with this for such a long time.

Many people consider having to bring their own bags to the store a tremendous nuisance on par with having to deal with those daily robocalls from Bridgette at cardholder services. I have a few words for people who don’t like bringing their own bags. Listen up, plastic bags never fully decompose. They just turn into smaller pieces of plastic. The most common type of plastic shopping bag is made of polyethylene, a petroleum-derived polymer that microorganisms do not recognize as food and so it technically can’t biodegrade. Even though it can’t biodegrade, it does break down (when subject to ultraviolet radiation from the sun), and becomes microscopic plastic granules, which never decompose either, and instead build up in our environment and our bodies. Truly, plastic bags never die, they only get smaller and smaller until you can’t put anything into them and they put something into you instead. Taking my canvas bags to the store is just one of the many little things I have done all my life for the sake of the planet. One of those little things that adds up if everyone does them. I do these environmentally friendly things for survival, not for kicks. I do these things for the grandchildren. Oops, I’m on the 100% post-consumer waste recyclable cardboard soapbox.

Once, when my two older children were very young, I took them on a cabin-camping trip at the Coast with their preschool. Ron drove up to the camping area after work, arriving at night after we had gone to sleep. This was in the days before cell phones and I had no way to reach him to tell him which cabin his family was sleeping in. The cabins in that area looked alike. I hung one of my canvas shopping bags on the outside of the door handle, hoping he would recognize it as a sign. It worked. Trying to figure out which cabin we were in, he swept the beam of his flashlight across the area and saw the bag. It had the words I shop at the Coop emblazoned in green letters on it. He knew instantly that he would find his environmentally-friendly, sustainable, holistic, super-natural, control-freak, grocery-bagging, obsessive-compulsive wife behind door number three.

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