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The Bag Lady

I was picking up a few groceries in the local shop the other day, and as chance had it I was checked out by a staff person I’ve had challenges with before. The challenges are over bags – I bring my own reusable bags to the shop and try to avoid any unnecessary bags.

The last time I was in this person’s line, I was scolded for having 2 bell peppers without having put them into a plastic produce bag. When I tried to explain that with only 2 peppers, I could avoid the wasteful plastic bag and not cause any challenge to the system, I was admonished not to do it again. The time before that, I had asked her not to put my onions in a plastic bag prior to placing them in my reusable bags, the response was that as they did not like onion skins everywhere, they “had” to put them in a plastic bag. In this person’s line, there are MANY things that need to be put into separate plastic bags before they can be purchased – whether or not they are already packaged in plastic – soap, dog treats, etc.

So, standing in this person’s line this week, I glanced in my basket and didn’t see anything that might initiate conflict. I was wrong. The staff person grudgingly acknowledged that I had brought my own bags, then proceeded to dramatically place my bananas in a paper bag before placing them in the carrier bag.  When I commented that I neither needed nor wanted them to be in that bag, I was called “that [crude adjective] bag lady” and the bagged bananas were dropped into my bag. I was stunned, so much so that I didn’t react to the crudeness, the insult, or the blatant denial of my request.

What bothers me most is that I have good reasons for not wanting extra bags. I see part of my Christianity being expressed through care for creation: I’ve studied and taught eco-theology, I adore the Marks of Mission for the environmental focus, I consider the created world to be a neighbour I vowed to love as myself in my baptismal vows.  I know the benefits of avoiding plastic bags (have you seen Jeremy Irons narrate the ‘Heal The Bay’ Mockumentary “The Majestic Plastic Bag”? Worth 4 minutes… ). I know the benefits of avoiding paper bags (have you seen Leyla Acaroglu’s TED talk? A great 6 minutes…;TEDSydney ). Hence bringing my own reusable bags. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s something I can do to make a difference.

I know the bag issue has been politically charged; some places ban them, others charge for them. Some shops and/or staff encourage the reuseable bags, some offer rebates for bringing your own bags, some force their brand advertising to be carried by the consumer.

I also know that I will continue to be true to myself and my faith by bringing my own bags – some are home made, some are store-purchased (though usually turned inside out to prevent free advertising).  I’ll stay out of the debate while I make my purchases, and stick to my faith-based convictions against excess packaging. If that makes me the bag lady, so be it.


About Laura Marie Piotrowicz

I’m a high-energy priest, now serving in the Diocese of Niagara, catching glimpses of the kingdom in daily life. I consider church to be a verb, and I’m passionate about prayer, eco-theology, and social justice. I love travel, reading, canoeing, camping, gardening and cooking, playing with my dogs, and drinking good coffee.

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0 Responses to The Bag Lady

  1. Sharon Harding

    From one bag lady to another …maybe we should get T-Shirts that read “proud to be a bag lady!” That must have been an upsetting experience. I’m aghast at the cashiers rudeness. In this town you get refunds for using your own bags. I also see proper stewardship of God’s creation as an integral part of my faith. I am glad that you are going to continue to bring your bags to the store.

    As an aside I have recently read some books by shame researcher Brene Brown. She has discovered that people struggling with shame tend to lash out with shaming and judgmental remarks…. perhaps that is part of what is in play with the cashier.

  2. Kyle Norman

    Next time go in wearing your collar.  And is she isults you as ‘The Bag Lady”  say “Excuse me. It’s REVEREND Bag Lady, thank you very much!”

  3. Thanks both. The person knows I’m clergy – small town, young blonde…

    I’ve been contemplating creating my own bag to do the talking for me – “This bag belongs to a Holy Roller” or something.

    Seriously, though, I’m wondering how to address this – in the community, in this community – I’m making a choice that reflects my faith beliefs, hurts no one, and I’m getting an adverse reaction for it (and, I’m not the only one!). How can we live out our faith in a way that’s genuine and unoffensive and not be put off by such experiences?

  4. Sharon Harding

    Unfortunately one of the realities of living out our faith is that sometimes we will offend others. I think that all we can do is to try our very best to live out our faith as genuinely and lovingly as we can. We cannot control how others will respond to that (if only). For some reason your actions have caused a very adverse reaction in this young lady and I wouldn’t be able to hazard a guess as to why. Still I cannot see that you have done anything unloving or insensitive at all.

    I have a few good friends that I will share such experiences with. They are honest enough to tell me if I my perception is off and it helps to be able to work through my feelings.

    The book Daring Greatly might be helpful.

  5. Wow. Context is everything, isn’t it? I live in part of the country where many cities and municipalities have either banned plastic bags, or charge 10¢ for each bag requested. That being the case, walking into a grocery store with reusable bags or boxes seems to be the norm. Where does legislated bag stewardship come into the equation? Does it? Should it?

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