I STOOD IN a drugstore the other day and stared at the shelves of trash bags. There wasn’t half an aisle of bags as at Target, but it was an impressive array for a much smaller store. Plus, some varieties were on sale.

There my consternation began. Should I buy something that was on sale simply because it had been discounted? It was a brand I was unfamiliar with. Suppose the quality was poor? My husband, Paul, does trash duty and I didn’t want to get him riled up if a bag broke. I appreciate the fact that he does trash duty.

I knew I wanted kitchen bags, and lawn and leaf bags. Oh, I wished I didn’t need any bags. I’ve become increasingly sensitive to the amount of plastic we use in our daily lives. It just ends up creating islands of plastic in previously pristine locations. But I couldn’t figure out an alternative while standing there.

There were no lawn bags, so that was a non-issue. The kitchen bags included extra-strong, clear, and scented. I had previously purchased bags that were infused with Febreze, to use for cat litter cleanup, but it did seem like an overload of chemicals to me. Clear was out of the question. My garbage is private. I wondered if extra-strong meant extra plastic. Probably.

I often find myself having such philosophical thoughts while shopping. I think about the environment and the safety and health of workers who picked the strawberries and sewed the shirts. Buying local and in season is important. Then there’s that age-old question, “Do I really need these potato chips?” Or, “Do I really need another mug?”

Years ago I wrote a column I titled, “Lost in the Supermarket,” reflecting on some of these concerns. It’s just become harder to shop since then.


I was familiar with the term “sweatshop” from a young age. That’s how my mother would describe one of her places of employment as a young woman. She worked for “the Seal-Sac,” a manufacturer of garment bags, doing “piecework,” i.e. getting paid on the basis of her productivity. She was forever bitter about this experience, and the word “Seal-Sac” became synonymous, for me, with one of the nine circles of hell. As a sensitive child, I felt her pain. I did not want to end up in a sweatshop.

So I think I’ve almost always wondered where my clothes and other items came from. When the U.S. still had a vibrant clothing industry, garments would come with the seal of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union, which I figured was a good thing. My family even shopped in true factory outlets — located in old cotton mills — in the neighboring city of Fall River, Massachusetts. But, as we all know, it’s rare nowadays to see a “Made in U.S.A.” label on any article of clothing. We know that overseas factories often use child labor and force workers to toil for long hours for little pay.

Children work in farm fields as well, where they and their parents may be exposed to toxic pesticides.

This is why, when I’m in the supermarket in January and all the cucumbers are from Mexico, I decide I can do without. I can wait until July, when I can get an organic cuke at my local farmers’ market, or even from my own garden.

Currently, my list of things to avoid at the supermarket includes GMOs, artificial flavorings, high-fructose corn syrup, and sesame and tree nuts (I’m allergic the latter). I buy local in season, but usually organic frozen vegetables the rest of the year.

I only buy organic corn products; otherwise, they are sure to be genetically modified. I was disturbed to see people frantically shucking corn at the supermarket, desperate to get their ears for the long weekend just past. It’s out of season, I wanted to say. Where did it come from? It’s genetically modified!


While we may want to have an all-American weekend with corn-on-the-cob and watermelon, we don’t live in a climate that produces them in time for Memorial Day. Just because they’re in the store doesn’t mean we have to buy them.

But back to the trash bags. Having left the drugstore without any, I went to the supermarket. They had even more brands and varieties. My eyes started to glaze over — until I saw the word “natural.” These were recycled. Not perfect, but better than the rest.

I grabbed them, and felt a little better about my choices. At least for awhile.

Liz Soares welcomes e-mail at lsoareswriter@gmail.com.

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