What once was old is now new
While viewing an old western on television, I watched the owner of the general store fill an order for a pioneer woman. The basic supplies of flour, lard, salt and shotgun shells were loaded into her gunny sack and taken to the buckboard for the long ride home.
The sack, or poke as they call it in the South, was usually made from jute or hemp. It had originally held grains or potatoes and when emptied it was used for everything from hand towels, potholders or dresses. But primary use for a used poke was to refill it with other things for easy carrying.
In 1883, the U.S. Patent Office issued a patent for a paper bag machine which made paper bags common place. With the birth of the American supermarket in the early 1930s, the demand for paper bags skyrocketed. They replaced the gunny sack because of their availability, versatility, strength and low cost.
For 50 years, the paper bag was the way to carry groceries home to the pantry. In 1977, stores began to replace its paper shopping bags with plastic bags. By the mid 1980s, plastic bags became common in grocery stores.
Grocery store packers asked the age-old question, “Paper or plastic?” Plastic bags began littering our world as they blew in the wind accounting for the fifth most collected item during coastal clean-ups. The demand for the oil and gas needed to make the polyethylene bags has also become an issue.
Today more than 100 billion plastic bags are used annually in the U.S.; nearly 1 trillion are taken home by consumers world wide each year. In the past 10 years, environmentalists sparked a movement to eliminate the plastic grocery bag.
Currently the trend is to B.Y.O.B., bring your own bag. Reusable grocery bags during the course of its lifetime can replace more than 1,000 plastic and/or paper bags.
Unfortunately, fewer than one in six Americans frequently wash their reusable grocery totes. Researchers have discovered that lingering bacteria in the bag can easily contaminate food.
Cross contamination occurs when juices from raw meats or germs from unclean items are embedded into the fibers of the bag and then come in contact with ready-to-eat food. Each year nearly 50 million Americans are affected with a food-borne illness.
As a protective measure, keep those grocery tote bags clean by frequently washing by hand or by popping them in the machine. Keep all the areas where they may sit clean and free of possible bacteria.
Store them in a clean dry location. I keep mine in the backseat of my car for the next use. The trunk is a dark location which can enhance bacteria growth easily.
It seems that we have gone full circle with the grocery bag. From gunny to paper to plastic back to reusable tote.
I overheard two ladies discuss their bag collection. It seems that the more affluent the company that donated the bag, the classier the shopper; I recently stood in line to obtain a black one with Cadillac printed on the side. I wonder if any 5th Avenue clothing designer has styled a dress out of reusable cloth grocery bags; now that would be a full circle evolution of the poke.
Bobbie Randall is a certified diabetes educator, registered, licensed dietitian. She supervises a diabetes self-management training program at Aultman-Orrville Hospital, Orrville. Contact her at email@example.com or 330–684-4776.