The Power of Produce Bags

The best move I ever made was to transfer to a different university. The second best move I ever made was to stop eating dairy. And the third best move I ever made was to start using reusable produce bags.

Flip and tumble reusable bag
Folded in half in an almost-KonMari method. *joy*

Seven or eight years ago, I bought a set of reusable produce bags from the brand Flip and Tumble. I was doing a lot of grocery shopping for other people at the time and was daily assaulted by the wasteful packaging that my second-hand shopping was creating. When I shopped for myself, I could usually forgo using a produce bag. Two apples here, a bunch of celery there, a couple grapefruits—none of these things strictly needed a bag, even if the cashier sort of gave me the side eye when sliding my goods across the conveyer. But when I shopped for a crowd, I needed multiples of everything, and so I needed bags to corral all my discrete items.

And so, Flip and Tumble changed my life. The bags have a pleasantly soft texture, a clever drawstring to rein in produce, and a fine mesh weave that can wrangle even small grains like quinoa while still letting in air. Filling these bags in the produce section or the bulk bins gave me endless satisfaction. But the cashiers at the local Dominick’s (a now-defunct Illinois grocery chain) did not love my produce bags.

“I can’t see what’s in these bags,” complained one cashier (the bags are see-through).
“Organic loose carrots,” I might reply.
“I can’t see that.”
“The number on the produce sticker is 9—”
“I don’t know that these are carrots.”
“Have you ever seen a carrot? Because this is what they look like.”

Another cashier told me my bags were too heavy and, due to the unknown tare, he’d have to charge me more for the per-pound produce I was buying. I concede that the reusable bags are heavier than a disposable plastic produce bag, but no one has ever been crushed by the oppressive weight of a Flip and Tumble bag. I told the cashier I’d be willing to pay the feather’s weight difference, but he just had to make his point by unloading all of the potatoes from the bag, setting them directly on the scale, weighing them, loading them back into the bag, then gazing at me with the eyes of a martyr. I’ll spare you the details of the pineapple debacle that followed.

I was in that grocery store all the time and yet the cashiers never quite accepted the fact that these were my bags and I was going to use them. Fellow patrons, however, were mesmerized by the bags. “Where did you get them?” “Do you love them?” “Can you wash them?” “Do you put them in the fridge?” “Were they expensive?” I would field their questions. Online. Lots. Yes. Sometimes. Worth it.

flip and tumble produce bags in use
Straight from the cob to the glass jar.

Over the years, it seems, my produce bags have become a little more socially acceptable, although not very widely used. I still take them to the bulk bins and the produce section of grocery stores (at least when I know I’ll be buying multiples) but I prefer to take them to the farmers market. New York is blessed with a thriving Greenmarket program with markets all across the city, but the best location is Union Square, especially on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Most recently, I hit a Friday market to load up on the apples, potatoes, onion, and garlic I needed for dinner with friends. I usually take enough bags for the things I know I’ll be buying, plus extra in case anything else catches my eye. On this particular trip, it was a display of on-the-cob popping corn that snared my attention. I put a couple cobs into my reusable bag, paid the vendor, then off I went on my way.

t-shirt produce bag farmers market
Locally grown garlic in a t-shirt brought all the way from Kansas City.

I’ve given away a few of my Flip and Tumble bags over the years, and since I’ve never bothered to replace them, I’ve made a couple extra bags from an old t-shirt, or skipped bagging when I don’t strictly need them. Those who came before me have made their own DIY produce bags with drawstrings; I thought this shopping-bag-shaped design was cuter (if not wholly impractical).

reuse t-shirt as produce bag
Evocative of a very small tank top?
How to make reusable produce bag out of tshirt
Place your fabric with “right sides” together, stitch the bottom like so, and then turn the fabric right-side out again to hide the stitch.

At any rate, if anyone is thinking of transitioning to reusable produce bags, I wish you well. May you find a bag that works for you, may all your cashiers be amenable to your life choices, may your life be plastic-free.

(Edit: I also made a set of drawstring bread bags that you can see here.)

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