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Ziplock Bags and Deliberated Choices

The following was written by guest blogger, Mark Goetz.

I love ziplock freezer bags. They are handy and durable, seal well, and don’t take up much space in a drawer waiting to be used. In the freezer and refrigerator they don’t take up any more space than their contents do. I’ve used them to hold meat, chili and spaghetti sauce in the freezer. I’ve used them for the same things in the fridge, although the kids have objected (on aesthetic grounds) to a plastic bag full of gravy or mashed potatoes or chocolate pudding. With the “double zipper, fresh shield: tough on the outside, fresh on the inside” quality they are a delight and at only pennies a bag I can afford to throw them away after a single use.

When we lived in the village of Bohong, Central African Republic, there was no garbage. Everything was used – multiple times. Empty cement sacks were used for writing and wrapping paper. Tin cans became water glasses or storage bins, especially if they had a reusable lid. Bottles, plastic or glass, became canteens. We washed and saved almost every empty everything and periodically, nomadic Fulani herders would stop by and ask if we might happen to have any containers they might use.

Most things in the market, including bread, peanuts and meat, didn’t come wrapped and we (and everyone in the village) had our (their) own tote bags of one kind or another. When we did have a plastic bag, we’d wash it and dry it and reuse it in the kitchen or the market until it wasn’t possible to use anymore.

We had to re-adapt to American culture on our return. In many ways that was harder than adapting to village life. After some months back in the US, empty 2-liter pop bottles spilled out of the pantry when I opened the door. We couldn’t throw bottles away.  I imagine we were still expecting visits from wandering nomads that could use new canteens. Saving what for us was garbage, but for someone else was of value, was no longer a sustainable practice.

We’ve continued to use canvas tote bags for grocery shopping but, for some reason, not for other kinds of shopping. Up until a few years ago we were still washing plastic bags, out of habit, I suppose. But lately I noticed that we’ve been throwing away plastic bags, even our tough durable ziplock freezer bags, after a single use. In some way, it doesn’t seem right.

When our children were little, we used cloth diapers. It was a deliberate decision based on the personal financial situation of a graduate student with a family to support. We did not make a conscientious decision to use canvas market bags and to reuse plastic bags. It was just a lasting habit developed from normal life in another culture and it seemed right. I didn’t make a decision to start throwing away used ziplock bags either. It was just another habit I picked up from our own culture in the last few years. I’m not even sure when I started to do it.

Now, I’m not really thinking about ziplock bags, or the amounts of disposable plastics in American landfills, or the inadequacy of landfills in the developing world, or the great garbage patches found in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. I am really thinking about decision making, or more specifically, choices that I didn’t really make.

We’ve been around the global block so to speak, having lived in a number of countries other than the USA.  And that experience has affected the way I see my world and the way we live. (I suspect that friends think we march to the beat of the different drummer and that she plays in syncopated rhythm.) Some “life style” choices were deliberate decisions e.g., the neighborhood we live in, the vehicles we drive, maybe the clothes we wear. These types of decisions are mostly a balancing act of costs, convenience and some sense of social morality/accountability. But I wonder how many decisions I really don’t make; the decisions I don’t recognize, where I just go with the social/cultural flow.


Mark Goetz is a consultant and mediator in Montana. This post first appeared on The Table, a social network for volunteers working with ELCA World Hunger.

What are you thankful for?

Solidarity is a big piece of “accompaniment” – a way of engaging the world in mission which the ELCA defines as “Walking together in solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality.”

It seems to me that we have at least two ways to walk together in solidarity with others we accompany. First, we can respect what they value. Second, we can try to understand the roots of their challenges, and then refuse to participate in behaviors that escalate those challenges.

Which brings us to a big uh-oh.

Theologian Cynthia Moe-Lobeda doubts that North Americans can actually accompany anyone authentically. At the recent ELCA Accompaniment Conference at Luther Seminary, she asked participants what it means for us Lutherans to accompany people “we are unwittingly or unknowingly killing” through our participation in an economic system she calls “life giving to us, but death dealing to others.”

She cited a woman strawberry picker in Central America who told her, “our children go hungry because this land grows strawberries for your tables,” and a community in India displaced from hereditary lands into urban poverty by bauxite mines that make aluminum for North American consumption.

Rather than examining our system to see how it harms others, she says, “We think our life is a good one, and we give thanks for it.” Professor Moe-Lobeda notes that while our hymns don’t typically thank God for material goods, our prayers do. “And a lot of those material goods are stolen goods.”

Welcome to the week we give thanks for our way of life, no matter what suffering it causes! Now what, as Christians and people concerned with hunger, shall we do?

Instead of reflexively thanking God for our lifestyle, can we reflect on how our prosperity harms the earth and others? Professor Moe-Lobeda believes that our faith calls us to recognize, name, and resist “social structural evils” that mean, for example, that a child born in North America will consume, waste and pollute in his or her lifetime as much as 50 children in developing countries.

Just being willing to question ways of life assumed to be good is a significant first step. Owning up to our complicity in the systems that support it—confessing that we participate and benefit—is a second step. Avoiding the temptation of shrugging our shoulders and declaring ourselves powerless to change anything is a third step. Seeking to create or nurture fairer alternatives is a fourth step.

That’s a lot of ground to cover over the mashed potatoes on Thursday. Since I’m not always tactful, I’ll probably focus on my fork and limit my efforts to leading a slightly less self-centered prayer.

Friday is another story! No early mall trips for me–I’ll be celebrating Buy Nothing Day, a holiday that helps me think about shopping and realize more deeply how tangled I am in our consumer economy. This year I’m hoping to be inspired to do less willful “not seeing” and creep a little closer to embracing what Professor Moe-Lobeda calls “the pan-human and inter-faith “great work” of our day: forging ways of living—at the household, institutional, and societal levels—that Earth can sustain and that build economically just inter-human relations.” [Read Cynthia Moe-Lobeda’s ideas in this paper and this paper, and look for her title in the Lutheran Voices series, Public Church: For the Life of the World. Find some really radical ways to celebrate Buy Nothing Day, at home or with others, by clicking here or on the poster below.]

This year, let’s reconsider and redefine our blessings instead of counting them—and take a day to appreciate the world God has given us without using our credit cards. It could be revolutionary!

Anne Basye

“Sustaining Simplicity: A Journal”