I alluded to my curtain lace produce bags in my inaugural post, Green, and I thought I’d give them a post of their own. After all, anything this eccentric deserves to have a huge spotlight shone on it 😉
I don’t remember exactly when I made these produce bags, but hazarding a guess, I would say it was about eight years ago. I had been bringing reusable grocery bags to the supermarket for many years prior, ever since the early 90s when The Real Canadian Superstore, the grocery store I frequented, removed the plastic bags from the ends of the checkout lanes and began charging customers 5 cents per bag. Because I’m a bit of a numbers geek and like to add things up to assess impact, I’ll do the math: 24 years X 52 weeks X approximately 8 bags per week equals nearly 10,000 plastic grocery bags I’ve saved.
So I had the reusable shopping bags well in hand when I started thinking about the ubiquitous produce bag. I was quite certain supermarkets were going through reams of them, and unlike plastic grocery bags which can have other uses such as lining garbage bins, the produce bag, although useful for keeping salad greens and the like fresh in the fridge, was something I would usually throw away once produce such as apples, pears, and oranges were unpacked.
A sewer, I searched my stash and found a length of curtain lace which had been given to me at one point by my mother-in-law who was trying to reduce her stash. Because the elaborate pattern was decidedly not my style, I knew I wouldn’t ever use the fabric to make anything else, and as it was more lightweight than plain cotton (I weighed a length of both), I decided the curtain lace was the best option. Sheer curtain fabric would have worked just as well, but I didn’t have any, and as other sewers can probably relate, I was determined to make use of fabric I already had.
I made six of varying sizes, each a basic pillowcase-shaped pouch measuring between 9 and 11 inches wide and 12 to 13 inches tall. Because I didn’t want to end up paying more for my produce, I didn’t add drawstrings or other methods of closure which would add unnecessary weight to the bags. I threw them into the bag of bags I take to the grocery store and off I went.
Now, I’m not a confident person. I would much rather blend in than stand out, observe rather than be observed, so these curtain lace produce bags — slightly fussy and somewhat eccentric — were a bit of a stretch for me. Unfortunately, my very first experience using them felt somewhat like a cosmic joke: slightly nervous about using these oddball bags, I walked into the produce section, and what was the sight that greeted me? A bin filled to the brim with individually-wrapped sweet peppers. To say I was deflated would be an understatement: I nearly cried over the futility of it all, and nearly gave up without even beginning.
Truthfully, futility remains the key word in this endeavour: eight years on, I continue to be buffeted by waves of pointlessness as I look around the supermarket and mark the ocean of plastic packaging my lace bags are up against. I often stand there thinking why am I bothering? as I observe individuals bagging things that don’t need to be bagged; I often feel annoyed that I’m forced to leave my lace bags unused, as the produce I need to buy is already — unnecessarily —- pre-packaged at some produce distribution centre. I know, without the slightest doubt, that my bags are a drop in the ocean, but at this stage of the game I simply keep going. I give a sigh of resignation and then — as though I’m running a marathon and counting the miles — I say to myself, one more. In other words, I mentally chalk up another bag, and I continue on. For the record, I don’t actually have a running tally, but I’ll do the calculation now: 8 years X 52 weeks X approximately 3 bags per week equals about 1200 produce bags I’ve not used.
While 1200 bags may sound like a lot, it really isn’t. In the grand scheme of things it’s nothing more than an inconsequential drop of a drop of a drop in the ocean. So if these 1200 bags do matter (to me), it isn’t because of their impact. It’s because of the principle. The axiom take care of the pennies and the dollars will look after themselves is a good way to think of these bags. In other words, something small and insignificant can rapidly grow to something large and significant if you continue long enough, or if others join you. As ‘Becca from The Earthlings Handbook said to me in a comment, they set a good example. Of course, she said this before seeing what they actually looked like 😉 . I wonder sometimes if I would be setting a better example if there wasn’t an air of the ridiculous hovering around them. I admit that even after eight years, I still find myself pulling these bags out somewhat self-consciously, almost surreptitiously. As much as I would like to say I don’t care what others think, I do sometimes worry that someone will laugh at my oddball ways. No one has though, and quite a number of cashiers — usually women, and of a certain age — have commented favourably on them. They ask if I made them, they say they’re lovely, and that it’s a great idea to save bags. And no, there’s no sarcasm in their voices; they sound completely sincere.
My children, however, have been another story. If I’m slightly embarrassed (still) by these produce bags, that’s nothing to how they felt when I first whipped them up. They were completely aghast at what their crazy-lady mother was proposing to do at the grocery store, the very place they might run into a classmate or a teacher. They would stand by the cart, mortified, as I put pears into a bag. If I asked them to get oranges, and tried to hand them a bag, they flat-out refused. They wouldn’t even put them on the conveyor belt when it came time to check out. Undaunted, I would silently remind myself — somewhat churlishly — that I was doing my part to save the earth for them, and simply continue on, adding 2, or 3, or 4 to my non-existent mental tally.
It’s a testament to my oftentimes stubborn frugality that I have passed up sales on non-embarrassing, non-eccentric, non-curtain-lace produce bags. Our grocery store used to sell them. They were plain, a fine mesh, with strings at the top, and although I haven’t seen them recently, there are many versions available for purchase on amazon.com. I’ve looked at them, considered them, and then dismissed them. After all, why should I buy produce bags when I already have produce bags? And as time has marched on, my kids have come to accept them as well:
One day, about a year ago, my daughter pointed to a check-out display of plain, unobtrusive produce bags marked down to clearance price.
I shrugged and said, “I already have produce bags…”
And as she put the apples — in all their lace-dressed glory — onto the conveyer belt, she replied, “Yeah, that’s true.”
(Next post: Compostable Bags and the Four Rs)