Who cut the cheese?

I LOVE THE CONCEPT OF ENSURING our planet’s future via reusable shopping bags. But damned if I can remember to bring them into the store with me.

Many of us suffer from a mental health problem known as bag amnesia, or bagnesia, a disorder whereby the repetitive forgetting of reusable bags induces stress and impedes the eco-conscious procurement of guilt-free groceries. For some, bagnesia strikes sporadically; for others, weekly. I often forget my reusable bags at home, or even more frustrating, I get to the checkout at the grocery store and realize that I’ve left them in the car, a half mile away at the far end of the Wegmans parking lot. Some days, I can’t find one anywhere, at home or in my vehicle. Particularly strange, since over time I’ve managed to accumulate about twenty-three of them.

Seven years ago, I bought my first cloth shopping bag from a cheese shop in Montreal. The bag was a thick, durable-yet-soft canvas with a colorful cartoon drawing of a cow, sheep and goat on the side. The caption read, “Que lait cru!?!”, the name of the fromagerie. Since I don’t speak French, I have no idea what this phrase translates to in English, so I just tell people it means, “Who cut the cheese?”

When Wegmans started offering reusable black grocery bags, I bought two. The following week, due to a bout of bagnesia, I left them in the car. When I went into the store, I bought two more at the checkout counter.  The next week, more bagnesia, and two more bags. Eventually, I had at least twelve reusable bags from Wegmans, none fulfilling its purpose, and only one of which I could locate at any given time. After that, when bagnesia struck and I was faced with the question, “Paper or plastic?” I guiltily accepted plastic bags, promising the totally uninterested, bored teenager at the cash register that I would repurpose them for picking up dog poop.

Reusable bags have recently become popular souvenirs, conference treats and marketing tools, like the Sysco Foods canvas satchel that I used as a purse until the strap broke. The message in giving away or selling reusable bags? “We are a company of people who care, and if you know that, maybe you will buy more stuff from us, or at least you’ll think we’re cool.” And some of the companies are cool.  I have an Erma Bombeck Writers Conference bag, an Ithaca Festival (“I am Ithaca”) bag and two Ithaca Farmers Market bags, plus two Greenstar bags and two giardia-hued fluorescent green ones from Sweetland Farm where I pick up my weekly csa. And after I dropped more than a few hints last Christmas, I found NPR’s coveted Nina Totin’ Bag under the tree. Every time I use one of these sacks instead of a plastic bag, I personally save the life of a sea turtle named Ned.

My most recent acquisition is a birthday gift from a friend. This one is the smartest:  it’s dark blue canvas. Most cloth bags are a bourgeois tan, in the same class as khaki pants or an “I’ll-just-buy-another-if-I-stain-it” white polo shirt.  I prefer the canvas to the plasticky woven bags. Sure, you can recycle the plastic ones if they tear, but the beat up canvas ones can be reborn into a new afterlife if they are cut into hankies or diapers. (I’m speaking theoretically, of course. I break out the sewing machine about as frequently as I get my tetanus booster, and I have no plans to ever need diapers in my house.)

A recent search of my home and car turned up five of my twenty-three reusable bags: Nina, Who Cut The Cheese, I am Ithaca, one Greenstar and one Wegmans. Which is more than enough to go shopping, if only I remembered to bring them.

-Amelia Sauter