How many times have we heard this before on the check out line of the grocery shopping? I have to say that I’ve heard it countless times for about 8 years now since I’ve been in the US. Before that, I did not.
And I didn’t hear it before not because we were ahead of the environmentalism curve some 20 years or so ago, but because we have always brought our own grocery bag to the market, that’s just how we have always gone shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables in Brazil and Latin America. One thing to understand first is that, most consumers in Latin America are used to making a two-stop or even three-stop shopping at the local market – usually very small – for fresh fruits, vegetables, and sometimes fresh meat, otherwise a third stop at the meat place is needed, and another at the supermarket to buy the other things on the list, usually non-food items. Food items have always been purchased at these local small markets or flea markets, where fruits and vegetables (and meat, where is available) is much fresher than at the supermarkets.
Here I’m thinking about this the other day when I went to Whole Foods and decided to get one of their canvas totes to continue my shopping “tradition” of always having my own bag. It occurred to me that we, in Latin America, have been doing the “right thing” of not wasting paper or plastic on grocery bags all along, but the same “tradition” was not shared by consumers in the US and probably some other first world nations as well ONLY until now, we it became a trend.
I’m fairly confident – although without evidence – that the availability of grocery bags at US checkout lines stemmed from marketing and the savvy businessman who wanted to deliver to a convenience-minded-population exactly what it wanted, convenience. Who would, after all, remember to bring his/her own bag to shop for food?
I have researched on this topic but could not find anything to back me up, but my theory is that with advancement of machinery and the manufacturing boom in the US after WWII, manufacturers were able to produce mass quantities of raw goods very cheaply, which in turn enabled retailers to offer an array of “incentives” to attract consumers, such as the case of paper or plastic bags. I don’t know when supermarkets and grocery shops started offering paper or plastic bags, nor do I know how consumers did their shopping before these grocery bags were available. (I think Keith could help me with that). I just find interesting how different societies develop its habits around its own environmental and socio-economic conditions.
For one, the US became a very rich country due to the manufacturing boom and that has enable US consumers a lifestyle of abundance and waste. Two, has this manufacturing boom also made people less conscious of its actions, or have Americans inherently been like that? That’s a chicken and the egg question, and I think it’s a bit of both. In Brazil and Latin America, abundance and waste in most people’s daily lives is minimized to the teeth – it’s a sacrilege to even think about wasting – and abundance, it’s stuff that we see in the American movies. Again, it’s the chicken and the egg question: did our scarce environment taught us not to waste or were we “raised” like that already? Again, a bit of both.
Are our markets cheap for not offering us grocery bags? Probably yes. Are we miserable because of that? No. Do they offer it these days? Probably yes, after all, they have to catch up with the first world.
One thing that’s apparent and somewhat bothersome to me is that if the media and marketers don’t get involved in propagating “causes” such as this one, US consumers would never think of doing it on their own. Causes need to become trends, with a lot of celebrity involvement and the whole nine yards, otherwise American consumers don’t pay attention to it. Has life become so automated that people are even told what to think and do? Huh…. I think I know the answer to this question.
In the end again, we just think differently and have had different life experiences that have shaped our lives.