So the continued shock to my system of being back in Los Angeles after weeks in the mountains continues - and the disparities between life here and there - hit me at every turn. The most glaring of which happened yesterday at the market.
In LA, when you buy groceries, they ask you, "Paper or Plastic?" We (meaning me and lots of other people I know) usually say "Both, please."
The concept behind this is that you have a more secure and stronger way to carry your heavy groceries and then once you get home you can use the paperbag for trash without worrying about leaking because it's covered with plastic. Convenient right? OH, and when you bring food to a friend's house for potluck? You have a great, safe, clean way to carry your offerings. Yes indeed, paper AND plastic together are a reliable, convenient and multifunctional option.
However, this combination is environmentally frowned upon. Or so I discovered.
When I tried to use my "Paper and Plastic" combination this summer in Woodstock I was almost burned at the stake. Good thing we weren't in Salem.
The first time I went food shopping at a supermarket there the pimply faced teen behind the register asked me "Paper or Plastic?"
And I reflexively said, "Both."
"Both paper and plastic."
"Together?" The confused look on the check out girl's face told me she had never heard of this before. Her tone implied she couldn't have possibly heard me right. My instincts signaled "Alert! ALERT!" and told me to abort my paper and plastic plan.
"Oh NO...not TOGETHER. I mean, if you could put the plastic around the cold stuff, that would be great. Just so it doesn't make the bags wet. Then the rest in paper. So I can RECYLCE it. Of course, not "together." Save the planet!"
I had obviously read her right because the next words out of her mouth were confirmed enthusiastically by the equally pimply faced boy bagging my stuff. "You know, I've heard of people actually doing both! They take a paper bag and THEN they use a plastic OVER IT! Isn't that STUPID?!"
I stood there. Silent. Guilty.
It was obvious they felt that any person irresponsibly and needlessly using that many resources at once might as well have been wrapping their hands around a baby polar bear's neck. Or biting the head off a live Pacific Sea Bass.
"Yeah! Wow!" I tried to sound shocked too. I think my guilt worked in my favor. They bought the act. I watched him put two cartons of milk into a thin, flimsy plastic bag I knew would rip before I even got it to the car. The eggs and cereal went into paper bags with no handles. The ones they used in old movies? The ones you can only carry two, MAYBE three at a time? Most inconvenient.
I took my flimsily packed groceries and wheeled them to my non-hybrid car. Bags ripped. Paper tore. I had to make a ton of trips back and forth from the car to the house in the rain - which did nothing to improve the strength of my poorly bagged groceries. A bag tore open and a couple cans of Spaghettios fell out of a bag, rolled under my car and kept going till it fell in the stream next to the house. "Oh yeah...Save the $%&&^$%# planet!" That's what I was thinking.
So you can imagine, that when I hit that market here in LA for the first time since I got back, it was not entirely without relief (and a sense of guilt) that I had them use paper, foil, plastic, frozen storage bags, and WHATEVER else it took to keep my groceries insulated, manageable and safe.
So here's what I'm thinking. YES, being eco-conscious is extremely important. We only have one world. I TOTALLY get it! I ABSOLUTELY want to save it! And I'll be happy to get reusable canisters and lunch box containers for the coming school year; I'll clean my pasta sauce jars and milk containers thoroughly before I throw them away; I will make sure to not mix my recyclables with my garbage.
I'll do ALL of this, if I can just say "Both, please."
Yeah, yeah, I can hear those polar bears groaning.