May 14 2013
California: Food-Borne Illness, Yes; Plastic Bags, No
Every time I visit my sister in Pasadena, California, I make fun of her stupid reusable cloth shopping bags. Her chichi city banned plastic bags, so she is forced to either pay more for paper bags at the checkout, or bring an uber-hip reusable bag with her every time she goes to the store. We grew up in interior Northern California, where all the normal people live, so naturally we find this kind of thing ridiculous. My sister plays along with the joke, sashaying out the door of her overpriced, tiny little apartment with a look of hip superiority on her face.
Reusable bags really are a status symbol. Although any organic-looking bag will do, committed conservationists sport ones with some sort of social justice statement stamped on the side. You don’t want a reusable cloth bag with CHEVRON or National Cattleman’s Beef Association written on it. Something about Africa or “fair trade” is best, and the bag should be light-brown and look like it is made of woven grass.
These eco-friendly accessories actually help wealthy urbanites to experience a little slice of the third world, as they are excellent conveyers of food-borne illness. Jonathon Klick and Joshua Wright conclude in their 2012 study of the health effects of San Francisco’s plastic bag ban, “both deaths and ER visits spiked as soon as the ban went into effect. Relative to other counties, deaths in San Francisco increase by 50-100 percent, and ER visits increase by a comparable amount. Subsequent bans by other cities in California appear to be associated with similar effects.”
It turns out only about 3% of hip reusable bag owners remember wash their bags. So, leaked grass-fed beef juice and organic raw milk soaks into those permeable natural fibers, festers in the warm Prius between shopping trips, and leads to a huge jump in e.coli infections. Marvelous.
Health risks aside, reusable cloth bags aren’t even better for the environment. Plastic bags are made from natural gas, not oil. Both paper and reusable bags produce more greenhouse gases and are far more costly to ship. The American Progressive Bag Alliance finds that for every one truck needed to deliver plastic bags, seven trucks are needed to deliver the same amount of paper bags. And those cute little woven-grass bags? They only look natural. Most of them are made of non-woven poly-propylene, also known as “plastic.”
No matter. SB 405, a California bill that would ban plastic grocery bags statewide, just passed the Senate environmental quality committee last Wednesday. If it becomes law, how many people will get sick because of this nonsense? How much energy will we waste producing and shipping these petri dishes? Welcome to California, where the nonsensical habits of the coastal elite are forced upon everyone else. Overworked, immigrant mothers with four children to feed and lousy health benefits can’t afford to surrender sterile, safe plastic for a status symbol. California law should protect a citizen’s right to practice first-world food transport.