THE BLOG
08/15/2007 12:05 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

I'm Not A Plastic Bag -- But I'm Wrapped In One

Eco-entrepreneurs would have us believe we can buy our way out of this crisis we've caused with our excess consumption. My friend Tom calls it the "My third car is a Prius" phenomenon. Manufacturers of every conceivable consumer good have given their products a green patina to appeal to that affluent sub-species known by the advertising acronym LOHAS, as in Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability.

Your typical LOHAS is well-educated and well-heeled, and would be manna to Madison Avenue, if only the LOHAS mantra weren't "reduce, reuse, and recycle." But these devotees of doing with less are more likely to be disciples of the Church of Stop Shopping than Am-Ex-carrying members of the Put It On My Card club. We've got Reverend Billy's sermon to "step away from the merchandise" ringing in our ears; we can't hear the siren song of buy, buy, buy.

So vendors vying for those "lite" green greenbacks have latched on to another kind of LOHAS--the Lifestyles of the Hip and Shallow. Am I'm not the only one getting my 100% organic cotton made-in-the-USA panties in a twist over this. Trend spotter Lou Dobbs singled out this oxymoronic movement on CNN Tuesday night. Clutching the must-have eco-chic accessory of the moment, the "I Am Not a Plastic Bag" bag, he launched into one of his trademark tirades:

Right now, many fashionistas -- and there are lots of them around the world -- find it fashionable to be green. Now, for example, take this little number. It's a nifty cotton bag with a hemp-like handle, cleverly adorned with the words -- you can see them there -- "I'm not a plastic bag," apparently useful for blithering idiots who can't tell the difference between cotton and plastic.

And there are lots of those apparently around the world as well. They are brought to you by, as a matter of fact, eminent London designer Anya Hindmarch, a world-class greenie, by the way, who usually charges more than $1,000 for a little handbag.

In fairness, there's good news. These little handbags only cost $15. In London and New York, people stood in line for hours, making a barely discernible distinction between fashion and social statements, using the bags as handbags.

And in Taiwan riots actually broke out among those waiting for these bags. Dozens of people were sent to the hospital. A similar response in Hong Kong forcing police to close down a shopping mall.

And if you weren't able to bag your bag at a store, don't be concerned. They are now selling on eBay for hundreds of dollars each.

There are a couple of problems. This bag was, it turns out, delivered enshrouded in plastic. Oops. Sorry about the fashion statement or the social statement or whatever the statement was. And guess what? This little green treasure of style was made in -- you guessed it -- the world's number-one polluter and world-class labor abuser, communist China.

Golly, don't we all feel better about ourselves now?
When Whole Foods got a shipment of the I Am Not a Bag bags about a month ago, my husband Matt passed the Union Square Whole Foods on his way to the Greenmarket and called me to report that there was a line snaking around the block, consisting mainly of Asian women. We were baffled until we read Marion Burros' account of the phenomenon in the New York Times and realized that some of the women waiting outside our Whole Foods had come all the way from Taiwan or Hong Kong to snag a bag, after failing to do so in the frenzy the bags unleashed back home.

We spotted a woman toting one of these would-be bags of honor in the East Village last week, and were amused to see that the bag was already falling apart, its piping frayed. Meanwhile, the chaos surrounding the sale of Anya Hindmarch's trophy tote has forced the designer to cancel the launches she had planned for Beijing, Shanghai and Jakarta, but as Dobbs noted, you can still buy the bags on eBay, if you're willing to pay a premium for a shoddy, made-in-China piece of crap. As Neil Young sang thirteen years ago:


Tried to save the trees
Bought a plastic bag
The bottom fell out
It was a piece of crap

Saw it on the tube
Bought it on the phone
Now you're home alone
It's a piece of crap

I tried to plug in it
I tried to turn it on
When I got it home
It was a piece of crap

Got it from a friend
On him you can depend
I found out in the end
It was a piece of crap

I'm trying to save the trees
I saw it on TV
They cut the forest down
To build a piece of crap

I went back to the store
They gave me four more
The guy told me at the door
It's a piece of crap

Truly an anthem for our time. But trying to boycott those three little words "made in China" is a full time job, as Sara Bongiorni documents in A Year Without "Made in China": One Family's True Life Adventure in the Global Economy .

And now Wal-Mart, which has nearly succeeded in single-handedly destroying American manufacturing, is finding that people with low-paying jobs aren't such great customers. Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott notes in the New York Times that the average Wal-Mart shopper, who typically earns less than $40,000 a household, is "under difficult pressure economically."

Needless to say, this morning I am having a big side of schadenfreude along with my grass-fed yogurt and homemade granola topped with local berries and cherries.