Let me preface this by saying that I've seen the whole spectrum of American social class. I grew up in a neighborhood that used to be pretty gnarly (and still can be, if given the chance). There's a big homeless presence because the Denver Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army, and the Jesus Saves are all right down the street. The local cops have bigger fish to fry (like drug dealers and gun fighters) than people who sleep outside because they don't have anywhere else to go. Even now that a big portion of the local housing has been spiffed up and white-ified, most of the people roaming the streets aren't white, and if you walk around you'll probably hear some questionable domestic disturbances coming from inside the houses you pass (front doors open, because there's not much paycheck left over for air-conditioning).
I also went to school in Boulder, where the average mentality is "Organic or Bust" and the overwhelming presence of Subaru-toting Democrats sometimes makes you feel like you've entered an entirely different dimension. One where everyone can afford to purchase their very own share of the moral high-ground.
It's an interesting contrast, to put it lightly.
Class difference is a lot like sexism in the sense that it's everywhere if you know what to look for. It manifests itself in a million and one tiny ways every day, and usually the only people who notice are the ones being wronged. I don't know that bringing your own bag to the supermarket is a way of wronging those less fortunate, but it certainly does highlight the fact that people who come from different places in life put effort into worrying about very different things.
"Don't be a drag, bring your own bag!"
I hope you remembered to bring your thick skin at least, because you're about to be getting some seriously judgemental stink-eye.
You head on over to the produce section, and the woman next to you reaches into her purse to find her reusable produce bag. You're so embarrassed to be using plastic (like the heathen you are) that you can't bring yourself to pull the trigger (so to speak. No guns in the produce section, please). Those organic, on-the-vine tomatoes are going in your basket naked, damn it!
You head on over to the bulk section only to find that everyone there is reusing their bulk bags from last time. 'Why', you ask yourself, 'why did I throw that bag away when I polished my chocolate off during Teen Wolf last night!?'
By the time you get to the check-out, you've been slapped in the face with your own worthlessness so many times that you're numb to any further shaming. You shuffle back to your car, slump into the front seat, and eat a tomato. Whole. Unwashed. It's organic but it doesn't matter; you're so depressed that you wouldn't give a shit either way.
It's hilarious because this is legitimately what happens every single time I walk into Whole Foods.
Now imagine it the other way around: you walk into a Safeway, and you're the ONLY one with your own bags. You look around, and not only are you the only white person there, you're the only one that has that stupid little canvas bag poking out of your purse and it makes you feel like an entitled asshole. That's the way it is at the Safeway by my house (locally known as the "Not so Safe" Safeway) and there have been many times that I've walked out with plastic bags because I've been too embarrassed to use the collapsible bag I brought with me. No joke. There's not a single thing in this world that makes me more uncomfortable than being seen as "one of THOSE white people". You know the kind.
(If you don't, just take a day trip to Boulder.)
Here's the thing, though: I don't think that the movement to phase-out plastic bags is a bad thing. As a matter of fact, I think it's great--less plastic at the grocery means less overhead for the grocery store, less clutter for you, and less permanent nastiness shoved into our planet. But I also think that it's similar to veganism, similar to GMOs and organic and free-range, in the sense that the only people who really give a shit are people who can afford to. I'm very aware that my diet is one that I can maintain only because I have the money and the freedom to do so, and if I were worried about whether or not I was going to be able to make the rent this month, it probably wouldn't be nearly as important to me.
Now, in Boulder (because of course it would be in Boulder) they're charging for bags. $0.10 a pop. And it wouldn't matter to me if not for the fact that grocery stores were already charging us for the bags. I mean this in the economic sense that any company is going to have to factor overhead (rent on the building, rotten produce, mop heads, plastic bags, etc.) into the final cost of the product unless they want to get hit with bankruptcy in five years. It's just the way retail works. Express has to buy those stupid plastic hangers; my father works from home so he doesn't have to factor in the cost of a secretary. It's the same concept. It means that we were ALREADY paying for the bags, it was just invisible so we didn't care. Now the stores are twiddling their thumbs and pretending like they were giving their bags away for free before and have only now seen the error of their ways. It's ridiculous. It's capitalism in the form of pretending to be responsible, and it looks an AWFUL lot like taking advantage of people.
Of course, it's taking advantage of people who can afford it, but still. It's something to think about. What are you really saying when you bring your own bag to the grocery store? Are you really trying to better the planet? Or are you just one more obnoxious white person being manipulated by big business? It's definitely something to think about next time you hit up the produce aisle--but I think I'll keep bringing my Chico Bag. Hey, at least I'm such a klepto that I didn't actually have to pay for it.