Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Fashionably Socially Responsible?

You know once upon a time Acme used to inquire whether I preferred paper or plastic. I always said paper. With the little handles, they are easier to carry, they are sturdier and my groceries never spilled out over the seat and floor of my car, and they were recyclable. I only ever tossed chicken in the plastic bag. Sometime in my mid 20s between sampling a host of other socially responsible markets (co-ops, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods) and a few gourmet places in and around the city, Acme (and quite possibly the rest of the supermarkets) stopped asking whether I wanted paper or plastic. Suddenly, baggers assumed plastic and before I could get a word in otherwise, half my groceries were thrown into environmentally hazardous plastic bags. Untied. Lumped together in a cart. Rolling across the floor of the car. Half of which I tossed once I arrived home and unpacked, the other half I saved for trash (and in the last 5 months, a nice amount of them have been reused to pick up doggie droppings).

I even poked around the last time I was at my local Acme since I assumed control of my own bagging. There wasn't a paper bag anywhere. What the hell?! The problem with the big boys is that you almost never go for a few things. Like us, you hit that 6 week mark and realize there isn't anything in your fridge, pantry or cabinets. So off we go for an hour long trip to the supermarket marching up and down every aisle tossing in paper towels, canned vegetables, poultry, ice cream, toiletries, milk, yogurt, coffee, you name it. So we'd need about 10 of those canvas bags. We'd need to bring them with us each and every time. I'd like to think I'm responsible and motivated to do that each time. I'm not too sure about my husband. I can't see him remembering to take the canvas tote with him to the market. Let alone be seen carrying it.

The NY Times article this week about London fashion designer Anya Hindmarch, promoting social responsibility with her line of cotton totes got me thinking about this. On the one hand I support what she has done - brought the idea of recyclable grocery bags more into the public eye while spinning it with some fashion sense. However, I'm somewhat suspicious of a bag that literally screams I'm Not Plastic, and of the designer's remarks that it has to cool before the world catches on and does the right thing. For one thing, this article illustrates hordes of shoppers trampling over each other to get their greedy paws on one of these bags. To be socially responsible? I doubt it. Moreover, it means nothing to me if this one bag has the best intentions but the rest of your line is being mass produced in sweat shops under not so socially friendly conditions (note: I don't know if this is the case, but my point is to hold people accountable).

I'm also a tad insulted because not all of us are clueless and not all of us need to buy your brand and your tote to show off what we're already comfortable conveying and doing, and not all of us will feed your ego and say it was you who brought fashion and a socially conscious product and mindset to grocery shoppers. I know the goal of the article wasn't to insult my intelligence or insist that we are all trend followers. I was to make us think. I still support the idea of using cotton or canvas totes and recycling as much plastic as possible. Enough so that I will flock to Trader Joe's and snatch up a few reusable totes and (try) to remember to take them with me to Acme in another few days.

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