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Bagging it All

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In case you’ve had your head in the sand all year and missed Marian Burros NY Times article, those plastic bags that they dole out like water at the supermarket are out, out, out. Turns out that after you’ve used them for 20 minutes, the bags take 500 years to degrade and spend most that time being a hazard — killing birds, fish, and sea mammals unlucky enough to ingest them. Plus, the bags festoon tree branches getting uglier, more tattered, and sootier by the year. They’re an eyesore. And before you get all sanctimonious about your paper bags, realize that paper refineries are some of the dirtiest industries going, dumping all sorts of toxic chemicals into waterways and contributing to acid rain, which also kills plant and wildlife. Folks, anyway you slice it, disposable bags — any disposable bags — are a plague.

Apparently, we’re a little slow to catch on over here. European countries like France, Italy and Ireland have been taxing the bags for years. (When traveling, we learned quick — imagine how many fewer you’d use if you had to pay 50 cents per bag?) To battle what has become a serious ecological problem, anti-non-biodegradable bag legislation is going into effect in Paris (and, soon, all of France), San Francisco, Canada, and, closer to home, on Long Island. It’s an unstoppable trend: be prepared to lose those evil bags any day now.

Great, but here’s the fun part: the anti-bag movement offers a whole new sartorial arena to show off in. That’s right—re-usable grocery bags are a brand new accessory, one that’s never been exploited before.

Oh, to have been one of the lucky fashionistas who queued up at Wholefoods at 8 am on July 18th for the ne plus ultra of designer grocery bags, the Anya Hindmarch “I Am Not A Plastic Bag” bag. It cost $15, sold out in no time, and you could only buy three. This canvas tote caused riots when it was offered in Taiwan this year, sending 30 people to the hospital. The rioting is over– it’s actually a limited edition and no longer available in stores – so the only place to buy the bag is on Ebay. You can expect to pay a whole lot more than $15, though. Of course, knock-offs abound and the bag is dinky, carrying only about two sixes of Diet Coke and a tin of Crystal Light – which is probably all you eat if you’re buying an Anya Hindmarch bag, anyway.

A little too label-y for you? How about the brown burlap Stone Barns bag ($12.99)? It has the cute Stone Barns duckling on it. it’s big enough for an entire grocery haul and has a certain, greener-than-thou chic. We love swanking around Wholefoods Market with our Stone Barns bag, flaunting that while you (holding that $1.50 plastic Wholefoods bag) are merely organic, we are locavores. The Stone Barns bag is comfortable to carry, folds easily and is boxy, so it remains standing in your trunk. Plus, the interior is plasticized, so spills can be easily wiped down.

If that’s still too designer for you, go for the ultimate in practical grocery bags: the dirt cheap Trader Joe’s bag. It’s the Gap T-shirt of grocery bags, which has its own sort of cool, reverse-snobbery chic. The bag costs only 99¢ (insulated bags are a bit more), and is kinda tropical/ugly in the Trader Joe’s style. It’s plastic, wipeable and boxy enough to stand up in the car. The bad news is that the bags are small, about the size of a regular Trader Joe’s paper bag, and so a few are required to cover one trip. (Annoying for us, though our fully-packed Stone Barns bag might have some shoppers groaning). The word is out on these handy suckers, the Scarsdale shop was out last week.

Of course—if you really don’t care what people think – reusable plastic bags are available at Stop and Shop, Grand Union and Food Emporium, too. But who cares? In this game of labels, these grocery bags are utterly neutral – saying only that you care about the environment. Which is laudable and all, but….

So, what do we at EATER use? Besides our lovely Stone Barns bag, we’ve been known to offend local shop owners with our extremely ugly (but practical) Ikea bag. It costs all of 25¢ and looks it: it’s huge, Swedish blue and plastic, just like the tarps that cover boats and roofs. And while we’d love to claim superiority to bagism, we do have one label weakness: our insulated Picard bag. Emanating from the French frozen dinner king — the shop that made Parisians notice their microwaves – it’s amusing to see the arched eyebrows of recognition on the streets of Francophilic Larchmont. And we confess to living in hope. We’re praying that the bubble bursts so we can afford a Hindmarch bag.

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