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.]