Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bags of New York.

Welcome to my blog. This is my first post, so I should probably lay out some intentions. Naturally, I am unsure of exactly what I want to do here, but I want to explore issues that intrigue me in food, consumerism, shopping, the environment, sustainability and the like--all while exploring a new city and getting acclimated with a new lifestyle. Ideally, I hope to create a "food blog" that, through exploring issues of eating in New York, also depicts scenes from my life here. I should have blogged when I lived in Paris. So, here we are. I will try to include pictures and links to articles as much as possible (though no one ever reads the articles, do they?) to keep things interesting.

Alright, here goes.

Everyone is at this point probably familiar with the "bag" (specifically, the plastic bag) issue as one of the big "green issues" that we are often hearing about and concerning ourselves with these days. I would like to point out, as an aside, my brief thoughts on the green revolution of late. In my lifetime, I have seen two earth-oriented movements. The first came in the mid-nineties when, as an elementary school student, I spent countless hours learning about recycling, doing penny drives for the rainforests and understanding the "ozone layer" as an important part of our well-being and existence on planet Earth--though this pretty much just made me feel bad about using hairspray and I wouldn't say I really got the implications or science involved. This movement did not follow me much farther than middle school, however, and it was not until I returned from my extended stay abroad that I realized a new, and certainly different, movement of the same type was underfoot in America. This time bigger. More educated. More multi-faceted. People were interested not only in global climate change, but they were also curious and passionate about food/organics/naturals, carbon footprints, sustainability, their health in general, the health of the planet in general, the war, the election, politics (ok, not related), but people were like waking up from a 90s-riche-worryless-happy-sugary-consumerist coma that they had been in for a decade or two and seemed like they cared again. Beyond hairspray. Great, I said.

That, however, is really neither here nor there, nor what I would like to write about, but something I had been considering and contemplating. Of course I consider myself to have been interested in the environment, certainly, all along, like one of those people that claims to have liked the band before they were famous, but the food stuff was certainly something I came into later, starting in France and then continuing upon my return home.

So, bags. Goodness, bags.

In New York, there is a problem with over-bagging. Certainly some situations call for mulitiple-bagging and whatnot, but almost unfailingly, I receive a double-bagged item when I purchase something. When I purchase ANYTHING. The smallest thing receives a bag, if not two, and the city that never sleeps is also the city of fast-paced-ness, as you may be able to imagine, and therefore the bagging of items happens so rapidly that I am unable to note my protest or denial of said bags before I am scooted out the door in the wave of the crowd. I can barely get out my order and my money before, so instantaneously, my bagel is toasted, my change is in my hand and I am being given my breakfast in two bags. It's like there's no time to say, "I don't need a bag, thank you". It is frustrating! So frustrating!

Today I was feeling ready and prepared to put my foot down. I was in a hurry, so I went to my usual spot, but it was so crowded (and it was 8:29--I must be at my desk at 8:30) I was relegated to go corporate, so I marched into Dunkin Donuts to get my coffee and bagel and was still feeling somewhat staunch. I ordered. I refused bag for coffee (first refusal), though I was given a heaping MOUND of napkins on top of my coffee--a practice I have only seen in NY. I then waited for my bagel to toast and be prepared. Upon it's finish, it was given to my original cashier and she started to put it in a bag (though, please know that it is already wrapped in tin foil and placed in its own small bag, like a pastry bag). I refused bag again (second refusal), so she hands me the bagel in its small bag and tin foil and throws a heap of napkins on it. UGH! So aggravating. I proceed to take the napkins off, drop them on the counter and take the bagel (third refusal of excess paper products).

I left feeling like an asshole. She looked at me like she was INSULTED.

This is problematic. Even Jordan, who is in environmental school, has trouble refusing bags, or removing his things from something bagged and handing it back to the cashier. I find that people are often, at least ostensibly, offended when you hand a bag back to them or, at the very least, there is some mild tension or hassle associated with it. This is problematic. It takes, like so many other facets of this movement, diligence. A diligence I am afraid may wane, which could be a microcausal indication for the whole movement.

I carry a Baggu ( with me and bust it out RIGHT away. I am working on being unaffected when I receive hassled looks upon bag refusals or returns. It's doing the best thing for all of us in the long run--both you and the person behind the counter. But it's hard.


Kristen said...

I must reply because this issue of double bagging haunts me at least once a day. We live in this convenient yet wasteful world that, depending on region, can be more detrimental to our environment than other places.

For instance, this morning, all bright eyed and bushy tailed, I walked into Bruegger's Bagels with to-go-mug in hand and asked for a bagel and coffee. Once the process of slathering my parmesan bagel with cream cheese came to an end, the innevitable question came about: Would you like a bag for this? First of all, I was shocked. Living in a "green" city (somewhat) I still have never been asked my preference to bag or not to bag. Of course I declined and took my covered bagel in hand and grabbed my mug of joe. I left with a smile on my face.

Last weekend, however, when I was in Chicago I went grocery shopping. I bought some gum and chapstick. The clerk immediately throws it into a double (plastic) bag and hands it to me. A line had formed but I gingerly took out the chapstick and gum, placed them in my satchel (the bag you bought for me), and returned the two bags to the clerk. Her face became a distorted mess of squinted eyes and confused anger.

Perhaps the bigger the city, the bigger the waste of materials? All I know is going bagless is one trend that needs to step up.

My mom didn't know how to comment, so she emailed me this... said...

I was thrilled when I received a customized Baggu from Erika for Christmas. (This year I received a number of unusually wonderful and thoughtful gifts from my family and this one turns out to be the most interesting. Erika trimmed it with a vintage handkerchief, so it's really pretty!) I use it for groceries and at Target and it has generated a conversation almost every time I pull it out. I feel that, besides saving bags, I have countless opportunities to have friendly conversations with others about the "bag issue" and several people have taken note of the Baggu label so they could get one. The co-op where I shop has also asked me for information and may be ordering them to sell. I love how I can fold up my Baggu and keep it in my purse so I have it with me at all times! So it turns out to be a teaching and awareness tool. too.

In 1972, when I was a student teacher, my students and I started a paper recycling collection center. That was the first wave for me, when people were just waking up to the idea that it was stupid to throw their litter out the windows of their cars and equating deforestation with the vast quantities of paper being consumed. That's when I woke up about food production(e.g., Ralph Nader's early books and teaching my students about what they were really eating...). I am looking around my desk area at the reams of paper that will eventually end up in the blue recycling bins in the copy room. At least recycling is now the norm. That is some progress.

Donal said...

Hi Erika, over here there's a tax on plastic bags. It costs 22c, or thirty something of your American cents to get one at the supermarket. Department stores and bookshops and the like only use paper bags now, and most people will have some sort of sturdy permanent shopping bag. The only problem is remembering it. I guess an excess of paper bags ain't a good thing, but it sure beats an excess of plastic bags. Besides beating England in Euro 88, this is perhaps our country's greatest achievement!

Great to see you have a blog going. I'll stay keenly tuned.

Anonymous said...

Start seeing blind people!

Sweet blog, E. And on day one you are tapping into important issues echoing through the ages of the human condition. These double and triple baggers stand in a long tradition of powerful people who, out of malice or ignorance, try to do "nice things" for other people. They stand with all the communists, the American slavers, and so many others. I don't know if Donal has any input, but I suspect that people like this were the cause of the potato famine. "Napkins are good, we should give napkins to everyone! All napkins all the time!"

But, the double baggers' contemporaries who run our governments are even worse than they are! Have you ever seen or heard those beepers on street corners? Doesn't that seem like a nice thing for blind people? Well, have you ever asked blind people what they think about those beepers? Do blind people recount the "days of death" before the gracious legislators condescended to beep them? Seems like a nice thing to do, but blind people haven't been dying left and right, nor do they need an artificial beep to distract them from the reality of traffic, which they can hear. Napkins, bags, and beepers are wasteful, expensive, and dangerous.

But, what can we say about those plebiscitary patricians and the triple baggers? Forgive them Fadda' for they know not what they do.

frogfotog said...

My personal fave is when you refuse the bag in mid-bagging, and then the clerk THROWS THE BAG IN THE TRASH.

Seriously, with people like that, the Baggu is a good start, but we need something stronger--like public floggings or whatnot.