Surprise! I'm a single parent

Confessions of a bag lady
May 4, 2009, 2:46 am
Filed under: environment

Being a Mum on a limited budget who doesn’t get out much I have to admit to kind of liking the supermarket. It’s full of grown ups for one thing. There’s a sort of pleasant camaraderie among strangers. They seem to play music from my era. They have stuff I need.

The supermarket is a place with its own rules – it’s not socially challanging but it is psychologically interesting. It’s human lift behaviour plus plus. If I do the whole task and don’t talk to anyone its no problem. If I have a polite exchange of some sort then it kind of reinforces a sense of community. Totally fake community but somehow it’s good all the same.

I love it when someone asks me a question – breaks out of the ranks of carefully spaced trolleys and the unspoken protocols of browsing bubbles – and says something like: do you know where the mouse traps are? (I did) or do you know if they have changed my porridge packaging? (I didn’t). One that gives me a kind of thrill is when I’m at the check out and the operator holds up a swede or rhubarb or some other produce they have to know the name of to price and they ask: do you know what this is? And I especially like it if they ask me what I do with it.  Then I feel like a TV chef. Or at least someone who has a cooking repertoire beyond instant noodles, bread and coke.

I was completely astounded, disgusted and appalled when I read that one of the top 5 items sold in supermarkets was coca cola. Huh? Its not even a food.

I think another reason I like the supermarket is because its a place I get to spend money. I have a lot of rules to myself ordinarily NOT to spend money. Not to go places where money could be spent. But the supermarket is a place I get to do it with a clear conscience. And because I can go beyond instant  noodles I get to make a lot of choices. The supermarket lets me create menus in my head as I go round kind of like a restaurant but so much cheaper. Within the boundaries of my budget its a place where I get to be creative.

But it’s not all fun in the supermarket. In fact it’s the frontier of green living. You can do it a lot or you can do it a little. Several years ago I was looking for a jar of green curry and asked a worker if there was any out back. While he went to look I moved over several aisles. I was a little surprised then when a different supermarket employee suddenly rocked up to me with a jar of what I was after. I thanked him and then asked how he had found me. Oh, he said, it was easy. I just looked for the bag lady.

Now I’m often guilty of dressing down to shop, but after a momentary think and enough time to see his confident grin turn to the panic of one who realises he has insulted someone unintentionally, I realised he meant my distinguishing characteristic was the fact I had brought my own bags. So that really was upsetting really – there were few of us about that this could be used to identify me.

As I said, that was a few years ago now, I went from sometimes seeing a fellow person a few check outs over from me with their own bags, to seeing maybe one in ten people with bags. Maybe one in ten. I’m being generous actually. It’s a very very small thing bringing your own bags. And there is a lot of pay off:

Your bin isn’t filled up with plastic bags and you save money on council rubbish bags.

The bags can be used for lots of other things.

They don’t break – I’m pretty sure mine never have.

They don’t dig into the palms of your hands, they are in fact pretty comfy.

You can keep your plastic fruit and veg bags inside them and reuse these again.

The special lined ones keep your milk and meat and frozens all nice and cold.

The flat bottoms mean they stand up better and it’s easier to both settle them in the car and unpack at home.

And, apparently, it’s also good for the environment.

Ooops I realised I told a whopper a little higher up by saying I can shop with a clear conscience. Because bringing my own bags has made me a weeny bit more aware of all the extraneous plastic that things come wrapped in. Often it’s refined rubbish that we seldom buy but sometimes it’s a hard choice when strawberries, for instance, have suddenly become perfectly cheap enough to put in school lunches but you have to bring them home in a box of hardy non recyclable plastic with additional disfunctional holes. It gets you thinking.