Bag the plastic and get used to the reusable

  • In her book for kitchen retailer Sur la Table, Marie Simmons features more than 100 pieces of cookware and tools and recipes for using them.

    In her book for kitchen retailer Sur la Table, Marie Simmons features more than 100 pieces of cookware and tools and recipes for using them.

  • Using cloth bags takes a bit of strategizing.

    Using cloth bags takes a bit of strategizing.

By Deb Pankey
Daily Herald Food Editor
Published4/23/2008 12:17 AM

Since last fall I've made a concerted effort to use cloth shopping bags during my weekly shopping trips. I've attended my share of trade shows and conferences in the past several years, so I have quite an odd collection of cotton, nylon and meshy bags.

I see reusable bags for sale at Jewel and Trader Joe's, but I rarely see another person using them. With the exception of my mother, I don't know another person who routinely totes these totes in and out of stores (I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree).


Speaking of trees, you might think paper bags are a more eco-friendly option than plastic, yet according to the American Forest and Paper Association, in 1999 the U.S. alone used 10 billion paper grocery bags -- that's a lot of trees.

Plastic bags have become a target of the environmental movement, and with good reason: Plastic bags aren't biodegradable. Instead, they break down into smaller and smaller toxic particles that contaminate both soil and water, and can enter the food chain when animals accidentally ingest them. And according to the EPA, we use more than 100 billion plastic shopping bags every year.

Using cloth bags takes a bit of strategizing. First off, you need to figure out where to put them. Put them in the cart, and you're likely to pile groceries on top. My advice: Shove them into the kid seat, on top of your purse. If you have a kid, bundle the bags up and stick them under the cart. The bags should go on the checkout belt before your foodstuffs so the bagger knows to use them.

Store baggers have to get used to these bags, too. You can stuff a lot more into a cloth bag than a flimsy plastic bag, which means less trips from the car to the kitchen, but too many times I've had potatoes placed on top of chips or pears bruised by a container of yogurt. Suggest one bag for breadlike items, one or two for produce, another for frozen goods, and so on.

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Don't bag items that really don't need to be bagged, such as boxes of Capri Sun Roaring Waters (a favorite at my house) or cartons of milk. The other day I used just five cloth bags for more than $200 worth of groceries when I skipped bagging juice and snack packs that are just going to preschool for snack time.

If you want to get your hands on some cloth or thermal bags, check out for stylish options.

I'm still trying to figure out what to do with the plastic bags for fruit and vegetables. I often skip bags for apples and onions, but don't like sticking broccoli, parsley and peaches on the belt without a bag. I'm open to suggestions.

Lovin' it: Think you could live without your Dutch oven or spice grinder? Page through "Things Cooks Love: Implements. Ingredients. Recipes" and you'll be stocking your kitchen with those items and them some.


In her book for kitchen retailer Sur la Table, Marie Simmons features more than 100 pieces of cookware and tools and recipes for using them. You can meet her and have her sign copies of the book from 5 to 6 p.m. today at Sur la Table's Naperville store, 55 S. Main St.

She's also sticking around to teach a cooking class at 6:30 p.m.; that costs $59. (630) 428-1110.

Square scoops and more: If you've ever wondered why Cock Robin served cubes of ice cream, Saturday is your chance to find out.

Walter "Ted" Fredenhagen Jr., son of Prince Castle/Cock Robin founder Walter Fredenhagen, will discuss the legendary eatery's ice cream, its contribution to the development of milkshakes and why it faded away at 10 a.m. at Kendall College, 900 North Branch St., Chicago.

The program begins with a showing of "One in a Million," the Prince Castles and Cock Robin story. Following the documentary, Fredenhagen Jr., of Naperville, and his father's lifelong friend Earl Prince will answer questions.

This program costs $3 and is hosted by the Chicago Foodways Roundtable. To reserve, please call (847) 432-8255 or e-mail Last-minute attendees welcome.

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