Tuesday, April 24, 2007

I’m Not Doing this Because Oprah Told Me To (or, How to Be Green without Being an A$$hole, even though the phrase “be green” sounds a little a$$holey)

As one who quietly flies an ecofreak-flag, I’m always looking for new ways to save money, reduce my personal impact on the planet, and annoy my husband. I drive a teeny-tiny car and live in a teeny-tiny house. I replaced most of the lightbulbs in my home with the cute lil’ piggytail ones. I don’t eat meat. I recycle. I compost. I reuse my bathtowel, even when a little ass gets on it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do have my vices. I like to lay on the couch picking chocolate chip cookie dough bits from my ice cream while watching I Love New York. I enjoy a good bottle or three of wine. I even wear leather. (In the magical world in which I live, this leather comes from hamburgers that will be made for Wendy’s regardless of my own meat-free diet, so I have no ethical problems with this arrangement.)

But still. If there is a tree in the vicinity, I’ll be hugging it. Environmental charities filed me in their “Sucker” folder years ago. Envelope decorated with wide-eyed woodland creatures begging, “Please, don’t forget us?” F#ck it. Where’s my wallet. Photo essay on sea turtles getting tangled in fishing nets and drowning? If I cut you a check, will you make it stop?

Ding-dong. Who’s at the door, you ask? Why, it’s Betty White and Jane Goodall, and they’re both openly weeping! Contact American Express and ask them to extend my credit line. This could get ugly.

Anyway, I have many, many “incentives” from the environmental groups I support. (At last count, this came to about ten groups.) Some of these incentives are canvas tote bags, which I mainly use to cart Daisy’s stuff around. It recently occurred to me that I could bring these to the grocery store and eliminate the need to build my own personal arsenal of plastic bags that could burst from my closet and smother me in my sleep during a windy night.

This weekend we began to hear an echo when we opened the fridge. The moment of truth had arrived: We needed to go grocery shopping. Would I bring the four canvas totes with me to the grocery store and risk looking like a hippie? The forces in favor of conformity (paper or plastic?) were strong. I’m not one to rock the superficial boat. I’m a closet, checkbook activist. I’m not a “Bring Her Own Bags to the Store” environmentalist. Or am I?

Let’s read on to find out…

I told Jason of my bag-replacement plans as we were about to leave.

He sighed and gently suggested, “Maybe you should just go alone.” His wife’s environmental crusade weighed heavily on his shoulders. Why couldn’t she just eat meat and sign up for TruGreen Chemlawn service like the rest of the world? Life would be so much simpler!

I chose my response carefully. “If you stay home, you won’t get any treats.” I affected an air of nonchalance. (Treats = anything not from the natural foods aisle.)

He sighed again, still skeptical of my little project, but headed to the car: my dear, dutiful spouse. So easily bought with a tub of Blue Bunny Take 5 ice cream.

At the store, the tension mounted. My four totes seemed to scream from the cart: “hey, look! A Hippie! Get her!”

(Actually, what they more likely shouted was, “Hey look, an Oprah fanatic!” Because wouldn’t you know it? A few days before I actually bring my canvas totes to the store for the first time to cut down on the plastic bag tsunami, Oprah told millions to do just that on her Green Living show. Only she recommends using the official Oprah tote.)

But I digress. As our cart filled, my heart started to pound. We were approaching the check-out lane. My store is notorious for chatty and observant checkers. Would they snicker at the goofy hippie and her canvas totes from The Wilderness Society and Natural Resources Defense Council?

Casually, I began to load my purchases on the conveyer belt.

And then…the question. The inevitable question finally arrived: “Paper or plastic?”

My head almost exploded. But somehow, I held it together. “Actually,” I said, breezily handing my totes over, “Could you use these four bags, and when they’re filled, go with paper?”

The bagger grinned. “Sure!” Hippie, he seemed to be thinking.

Jason hung behind me, nervous. Time stretched on as the bagger fumbled with my totes. “Huh,” the checker said, examining my bag of cheddar veggie crisps. “I’m glad we got these back in stock.”

“Me too,” I said, lamely. Let’s get a move on, Chatty Chad. Thank god I wasn’t buying any tofu. Finally, FINALLY, the last of the items had been rung, my checking account lightened, and the transaction completed. All four totes were bursting at the seams (literally). The bagger did have to use one paper bag, but I was thrilled with the outcome. Copps, I salute your respect for the customer. This week, anyway.

So Happy Earth Day-Week from me, my filthy, green, bell-shaped jacket, and my compost tumbler. No picture because it's raining today. You'll just have to use your imagination.

PS: I have also been experimenting with unplugging many of my energy-vampire appliances when not in use. A fun thing that happened when I turned off the powerstrip below my computer was that I "accidentally" cut Jason off during an X-Box game. Ooops! Sorry honey!

In closing, please enjoy these completely unrelated but complimentary photographs of a squirrel wearing a plastic easter egg helmet.

(thanks for the pics, Jake!)


  1. OK, jess, with this post you have outdone yourself! The funny! I am still laughing! Chatty Chad! An echo in the fridge!

    Our local supermarket is selling totes for a dollar apiece to encourage the same thing you're doing. I think it's a terrific idea.

  2. "Even when a little ass gets on it"

    I laughed so hard at that. All of the men in my household seem to think that towels are strictly one use. I have provided pegs in every. flipping. bathroom. for towel hanging, and yet, on washday, I have 21 towels to wash. When I asked my older son about it, he said "Because I can't remember what part I wiped my butt with, and I don't want to use the butt part on my face."

    I'm making them wash towels from now on. By hand. That's my contribution to the planet.

    I admire your efforts, even if Jason doesn't.

  3. Anonymous7:20 AM

    I'm so glad I live in L.A. No one bats an eye over green living out here. I watched Oprah and did unplug my toaster, coffee maker, even my cell phone charger and sleep machine when not in use. Who knew?

    I just started with the reusable bag deal. I decided to keep a running tally of how many bags I've saved. Since the Oprah show, I've saved 5 plastic and 3 paper. When I realized I did that in less than a week, I knew it would be my new way of living. Having spent all my summers in France, you'd think I'd automatically do this, since the French have used reusables since forever.

    Now, how to get rid of the ridiculous amounts of bottled water bottles that - sigh - the French turned us on to.

  4. Jess, I've been reading your blog for a while (wiping tears from my eyes) and I don't think I have laughed harder than I just did.

    What I love about you is your ability to turn normal events in your life into a laugh fest! You are brutally honest and believe me, that is a good thing!

    My word verif is AXRAG

  5. You are so funny it hurts, hippie lady with the ass towels.

    Even that squirrel is recycling, eh?

  6. Hahahaha! You're funny. Ass towels. Heh. You KNOW that's working its way into my daily vocabulary now!

  7. Anonymous10:54 AM

    Oh you hippies aren't all bad, I suppose. Just kidding! I'm a wanna be hippie, I just don't have the strength of will it requires.

  8. If I didn't use the plastic bags to dispose of the kitty litter that seems to increase exponentially each day, I would totally go with the canvas totes I have.

  9. lots of people use canvas bags to do their shopping here...sometimes they use shopping bins too...and they're not even hippies. I have yet to follow suit although I do sometimes bring plastic bags to the one store that charges you for bags. Clever, they are.

  10. Anonymous1:24 PM

    Damn Oprah. She ruins it for everyone. Don't you love how she acts like she invented the concept of "green" as if people haven't been bringing tote bags to the grocery store since the 60s. Ah yes, she is educating the masses. Gah.

  11. Having been born on Earth Day, I am green for life.

    Even have green eyes.

    Along the lines of "ass towels"...I used cloth diapers with my oldest son (I don't recommend anyone else go that far, though).

    Keep on greenin', Jess!

  12. Chatty Chad! Squirrel helmets! LOVE.

  13. Anonymous11:24 AM

    Come to the West Coast- we're a huge bunch of hippy types out here- you and your ass towels would fit right in. You crack me. I wish you lived closer just because it would be fun.

  14. I guess I'm a damn hippie because I think the tote idea is a great one! I do my beat to conserve water and all of that hippie stuff but then I drive an SUV and don't recycle, so I'm a REALLY bad hippie. :(

  15. Anonymous12:50 PM

    Just stumbled across your blog (through Ms. Mundane Superhero). Love it. Putting you on my fave list =]

  16. You should try the hemp totes. That way if grocery shopping gets too stressful you can slice off a little piece and smoke it.

    Great post - you crack me up.

  17. You're funny, lady. I loved this.

    Oh, and I happen to have these sweatpantsmom canvas tote bags I'm selling...

  18. My future as a tree hugger was knocked way off-track by whatever environmental group sent me personalized address labels with their request for money - with a picture of a freaked-out looking DODO BIRD next to my name. Mmm hmmm. Just the way to make me pull out my checkbook and long to join their cause.

    And I'll admit, I need the plastic bags to scoop up after my dog - that counts as recycing, right??? Surely Oprah can't want me to use her tote bag for that...

  19. That's funny! I just started reading this book, "The Cheap Bastard Guide" to something something. It gives you all kinds of tips on how to save money. Which oddly enough is usually a good way to save the environment too. One of the things it suggested was going to a Freegan's festival where people hand out free stuff they don't want.

    Then I looked up what a Freegan was. *Shudder* They're dumpster divers who live off what they find and think living in someone's vacant house is OK (not illegal). They also believe in hitchhiking because the hiker is not wasting any more gas than what would have been spent if his/her body hadn't been taking up the "wasted space."

    Which I thought was kind of funny because none of these people could survive if it weren't for people who weren't Freegans. So what the hell are they complaining about? Anywho. That had nothing to do with your post. But I thought you might find it interesting. /rambling.

  20. (Note to self: bring own towels when visiting Jess, lest we get the ass-contaminated ones mixed up with fresh.)
    Hilarious- esp. because that's how I feel when I bring bags to the store. Most of the time,I am really too unorganized to be green. It takes some planning to haul the necessary bags to the store.

  21. Anonymous6:47 PM

    Nothing to be ashamed of, as far as this Californian is concerned. But, then, we're smart like that :)

    Do everything you can and let the world know. That way, they won't feel guilty to try it, too.

  22. Anonymous10:59 PM

    It is one thing to trick you husband into shopping with you (My wife likes to do the same so I'll carry everything in and load the car), but to turn off a man's Xbox 360 is just wrong.

  23. I agree with Eileen - just move to the west coast and you're set!

  24. You know what? I do reuse my Target bags in the bathroom wastebaskets, but today I shoved all of my grocery store bags into the pantry. Perhaps I'll bring them along on my next trip. Thanks for inspiring me.

  25. Anonymous9:31 AM

    I was totally sucked in by that Oprah show. In fact, I just ordered some of that Shaklee cleaning stuff. (Hey, if it's non-toxic, the kid can help me clean!) Also, Simran Sethi is my new girl-crush. I've since seen her in Domino mag and Vanity Fair.

    When our church did its Easter Egg hunt, all of the plastic eggs had big holes in them from the squirrels. I hope this little guy got a Hershey Kiss or something decent.

  26. Anonymous10:54 AM

    but tell me, do you use just one little square of TP?

    i'm happy to comply with recycling, etc., but not when it comes to my use of paper goods in the bathroom.

  27. Anonymous9:02 PM

    That's funny! Actually, years ago Copps had a program with canvas totes (I have one). Every time you brought it in, they'd credit you a nickel. (supposedly for the bag you just saved). I can't say I use it at Copps since the good old year when I lived behind them, but now you've got me wondering where that canvas bag went ;-) Maybe I'll give it to you - they shouldn't look at you funny if it's got the "Copps" logo on it!


  28. Anonymous9:13 PM

    I found it!


    gina :-)

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  30. "Why, it’s Betty White and Jane Goodall, and they’re both openly weeping!"

    OMG, that is hilarious! I'm so glad you commented on my blog today so I could 'discover' your writing. Very funny & witty. I've saved your site to my favorites.

    BTW, I'd just succeeded in changing all the lightbulbs in my last house in Florida to "cute lil’ piggytails" as you call them, when we ended up moving. Now I'm starting all over again in Austin, but at least they don't make fun of hippies much here. ;-)

    Oh and I'd love to know the story behind the squirrel helmet. Did he ever get it off, or is he still running around looking like Rocky the Flying Squirrel?