Flat White

Is the string bag really a tool of repression?

5 July 2018

3:25 PM

5 July 2018

3:25 PM

Proponents of Utopian progress have devoted endless time to pursuits intent on discarding tradition, reality and practicality.

Legacies of their myopic view of today abound along the narrow tracks they would have us travel, pitted with signposts of contradiction and ignorance, trend and emotion.

In the 1960s progress was to demolish edifices built to last during the Victorian era and those that survived, stripped of their ornate verandahs all because fang-dangled automobile contraptions had taken off in popularity and drivers skilled in bush paddocks and dirt roads struggled to avoid verandah posts of main street shops.

It was also a time when most backyards had a vegetable patch, a few fruit trees and a compost heap for food scraps.

There was a designated day for shopping that meant a trip to one of those still fairly-new self-serve supermarkets or the traditional grocer, greengrocer and butcher where the owner greeted the family as friends first, then customers.

Purchases were packed into brown paper bags or cardboard boxes to carry the weekly shop or, if really lucky, biscuit boxes. The bags, once contents had been put into the larder or refrigerator, were then re-used to pack lunches or cover school books while the boxes were great for storage

The explosion of retail power and influence by supermarkets into the twenty-first century has changed the way we shop and what we buy. The seasons and the celebrations are now a complete blur – ice-cream advertised on special in winter alongside tasteless fruit, hot cross buns on Boxing Day and soup appearing in January catalogues.


Such has been the pull of supermarkets that main street butchers and bakers almost disappeared for a time.

The modern ways were championed as good, progress inevitable and on a generational scale perhaps not seen before, the old ways were dismissed.

And that meant an end to backyard vegetable gardens, paper bags in supermarkets and eating seasonally. People wanted everything all the time and in plastic bags and containers … it was the trend, after all.

The fightback against crazy retail progress perhaps had its origins in the way bakers reinvented themselves beyond pies and vanilla slices to offering European pastries and barista coffee, butchers placing chicken and new imaginative sausages to their windows beside beef, pork and lamb.

When it became the in-thing over the past decade for city-based progressives to look for a bit more of the feel-good in life with fresh produce, up popped farmers markets around the nation and a resurgence in popularity for metropolitan markets that been around for more than a century.

The ways that had been part of life for grandparents were perhaps not that bad.

Trendsetters embrace causes they see as socially and environmentally responsible because they think earlier generations had things so wrong. Not admitting they equally helped create the very problems they campaign to address … like plastic bags in supermarkets.

Of course, there’re still not happy and probably never will be. How dare supermarkets remove a right of something they want for free and seek to profit by selling reusable bags, they lament, reflecting a disturbing attitude among a vocal element today that businesses in Australia must act as some type of Socialist charitable and benevolent institution.

But the same supermarkets could help those customers who go shopping without thought to bring a few of those shopping bags freely dispensed by shops, politicians and even government departments almost daily – discarded boxes being available for customer re-use.

And when the customer gets the box home, they may experience an epiphany and take some personal responsibility by engaging in their own recycle and re-use.

So trendsetting crusaders and opponents of change, sit down with her grandmother and she will tell you that’s what they did back in the day. A few history lessons will enrich your practical understanding of life.

Utopia is not always what you think it will be.

Chris Earl is a rural and regional consultant.

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