Special Guest Blogger: Norm Jenson
This Week in Elder News - 18 April 2009

Call Me Heloise Today

category_bug_journal2.gif Many elders, moreso women than men, live alone and although the difficulties of cooking for one are well documented, less noted is the issue of food shopping for one. It was not a problem for me in New York City because there are fruit and vegetable markets on nearly every block so it is not unreasonable to buy a couple of apples or one cucumber at a time; you are sure to pass a market tomorrow if you need more.

In Portland, Maine, however, walking to a market is not possible, so I tend to stock up to cut down on driving trips. Plus, sale items almost always come in five- and ten-pounds bags, and with only one person in my household, I have thrown out way too many limp carrots, soft onions, dried out lemons and other produce that rotted before I could use them.

Although I have never in my life watched a shopping channel or a paid commercial video on television, it has been hard to miss knowing about Debbie Meyer green bags. So when I saw them at the local Rite-Aid, I picked up a box.

According to the website, green bags are a “revolutionary technology to preserve freshness and prolong the useful life of fruits, vegetables and cut flowers without the use of chemicals.” They are made of reusable plastic (non-biodegradable) which is embedded with a form of Zeolite, a common commercial absorbent which is also used in clumping kitty litter. The idea is that Zeolite absorbs ethylene gas given off by fruits and vegetables after they are harvested thereby inhibiting the ripening/rotting process.

I have given the bags a whirl over the past two months or so and for me, they work – mostly. Lemons remain plump and fresh longer than before, as do lettuce, carrots, onions, potatoes, broccoli, beans, apples, oranges, peppers and mushrooms too. I found no difference with bananas, but I eat one almost every day so spoilage has never been much of an issue. I continue to keep them in the open in the fruit bowl on the counter.

There is a lot of argument over whether the bags work as advertised and the judgment of Consumer Reports is a definite negative:

“We saw green inside the Green Bags, but often it was mold. Blackberries became moldy after three weeks, strawberries and basil after a month, and peppers and tomatoes after five weeks. It was a tough test, but the same foods stored in other ways nearly always had less mold or none after the same time. Only bananas fared significantly better in Green Bags: After two weeks, they were firm and had not turned black.“

My past experience with berries of all kinds is that if they are not eaten within two or three days, they grow moldy. I haven't tried them yet in green bags, but three weeks or a month would be a gigantic improvement. How long does Consumer Reports want?

In addition to the Consumer Reports test results, there is a mixed bag of response – mostly negative - from 50 readers at this about.com blog story written by a chemist who is not convinced. But differences in results, which no one I read has mentioned, can also be attributed to the age of produce when it is purchased, which is unknowable.

My own test of the bags is not scientific. I didn't keep records of elapsed time, but my grocery list and bill have both been reduced because I don't need to buy fresh fruit and vegetables as frequently since I've been using green bags.

An important trick to success I learned the hard way is that anything stored in them must be dry, dry, dry. So I dry everything carefully, stick a paper towel in the bag with the produce and don't wash anything until I'm ready to use it. Sometimes a small amount of moisture sneaks in and then I just turn the bags inside out until they dry and store them in a drawer for next time.

I'm not pleased that the bags are non-biodegradable. To cut down on plastic, I have used cloth grocery shopping bags for years and I buy special, cornmeal-based bags for scooping out Ollie the cat's litter box. But Debbie Meyer green bags are sturdy and I expect to use mine for many months, maybe longer, before they need to be disposed of and replaced.

Since product reviews are not in my usual repertoire and are unlikely to reappear any time soon, today and only today, you may call me Heloise. And no, I'm not being paid by Debbie Meyer.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Chrissy McB tells a story that will be recognizable to most elders - Retribution.]


Relate to you on shopping for food for one. I also throw away as much as I keep. Do not like this and I really try to plan.
I love to cook and find that stir fry is something healthy that I can make small portions. Always keep frozen shrimp on hand to add to the veggies and a side of rice.
Fruit no problem - usually a banana or mango daily.
I usually eat lunch out once a week. Not because I like the food but because it gives this person who stays so busy at home and likes it - some social contact. This lunch usually provides something for evening in a carry out. I find portions are way to large for me. Also with returning to my country location and building a smaller home, I pack my lunch when I am on the road for that adventure. Enough said.

Last year I purchased strawberries at a farmer's market and the vendor told me to keep them in a paper bag, not plastic. I did that and they kept way longer than in plastic! I have since tried it with other fruits and vegetables, with varying success. Basically, paper breathes plastic does not, and moisture for mold to grow in does not accumulate. Probably not as good as the green bags, but for berries it's certainly better than plastic. These days paper bags are not so common, but usually free when available.


I believe the Rosemont Market on Congress is in walking distance of your home. I go to the Brighton Ave. location which has excellent local produce year round.

Hey good to know. I shop for 2 and its a struggle not to waste stuff. Thanks for the tip.

For what its worth, I have found that putting lettuce in a snap top plastic container with a folded paper towel underneath keeps it nice for a week or so.

Thanks again.


I use Rosemont for their excellent bread and a few other items now and then, but it's way too expensive for normal shopping and of course, because it is so small, choices are limited. For example, their supply of skim milk is almost always only in half-gallons; I don't use more than a pint a week.

It's nice to have for the few good items I like and in emergencies, but not for regular shopping.

The grocery store consensus that everyone is whopping up a big batch of biscuits for the 27 field hands is massively, incredibly annoying, as well as more than a little dated.

I have become a reluctant expert in pre-cooking, portion-controlling, freezing, and otherwise processing the usual gargantuan quantities since I am cooking for...two. I can easily see how it would be even harder for one.

Where do these grocery store moguls live, anyway? In households of eight?

Ronni, after I wash a big bunch of bananas, and allow them to dry on the counter, I place them in the refrigerator crisper. They will keep for a couple of weeks this way. They may be darkened on the outside, but inside they are white, firm, and tasty.

I will surely try Anne's suggestion of paper instead of plastic for berries. They are too pricey to waste.

Am getting better about trying new tricks, so that I am able to eat more than I toss into the compost pile.

I use the bags you mentioned. Bought them at CVS. They do seem to work and I appreciate your tip about having produce dry and putting a paper towel in the bag to absorb mosture.

I had to laugh at Paula's comment about
"The grocery store consensus that everyone is whopping up a big batch of biscuits for the 27 field hands"


The green bags DO help keep 'produce for one' fresh a LOT longer - especially celery...and potatoes/onions.

I picked up the green boxes and use them for berries of all kinds. They, too, work well for me.

My extra veggies all go into the worm box -- plus your plants would love the worm tea and compost!

I just KNOW there is a great opportunity out there for a store called "Shopping for 1".
I can see it in my mind's eye.

I have also found the green bags to be quite effective. We grow our own organic veggies and the green bags really help us get through the winter with 'fresh' veg.

I have a pretty high tolerance for eating the same thing for days on end...what am I going to do, complain to the cook? :)

When strawberries are in season (and cheaper) we buy extra and clean and cut them up and freeze them in 1-to-2-cup containers.

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