Paper or Plastic?

I have been meaning to post here about an amusing entry on November 12, 2003 at the Household Opera blog called “A Plastic-sack view of Higher Education”. With a title like that, it perhaps isn’t surprising that The Invisible Adjunct picked up on it in a post about part-time faculty. For me, the metaphor connecting plastic grocery store bags and the decline (apparently) of higher education doesn’t work on a lot of different levels, and even the writer at Household Opera admits it is a bit of a parody and it is perhaps a signal that she is adopting her mother’s pet peeve regarding bad bagging.

After all, who is who in this metaphor? Are part-timers the plastic bag? That doesn’t seem to make much sense. Are they the baggers? Well, considering that bagging groceries is an entry-level and non-skilled job, one step above the person who gathers the carts in the parking lot, I don’t think that’s true. I suppose you could argue that plastic bags represent the demise of the golden age of neighborhood grocery stores and that this somehow ties in with the demise of more “friendly and genteel” institutions of higher education, but I don’t get that one, either.

Anyway, I do share the writer of Household Opera’s irritation with bad grocery store bagging, and I think you could argue that plastic bags helped bring about the demise of “bagging skills.” One doesn’t really “bag” in plastic bags because it isn’t as important how you stack things up in them. I tend to ask for paper for a variety of reasons, but generally, the folks working at the store, who don’t have any real “bagging skills” as it were, put stuff in the paper bags as if they were plastic, and thus the lettuce is squished by the canned tomatoes.

I don’t think this makes plastic bags “evil” or a sign of the downfall of grocery stores, though. As I understand it, plastic bags are actually better for the environment, they are cheaper, and it can make it easier to carry your groceries. It’s certainly easier to walk a few blocks and up some stairs with plastic bags.

Regardless, bad bagging is the world we live in, and I think there are only three ways around this nowadays: you can either be vigilant and dictatorial about how your groceries are bagged (“no-no-no! put the cans on the bottom! and put that bottle of wine in a paper sleeve, please!”); you can shop at “finer grocery stores” where the employees do seem to know how to bag a bit; and/or you can do it yourself. Perhaps there’s a metaphor in there about how higher education works…

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