Shucking Oysters: Licking your fingers helps


With all the stroking and squeezing going on, shopping for fruits and vegetables should be a pleasurable experience. Kind of like a speed dating session, where you get to be “touchy” and pick and choose. Check out the Mexican avocado and get to know them. Meet up with a California peach. Next, perhaps a Chilean green pepper. Is there an instant attraction or chemistry between any of you? Then go home together. What could possibly go wrong?

When I walk into produce departments, I’m poised with trepidation for the inevitable. Does anyone else find it practically impossible to open those plastic produce bags? I’m constantly rubbing my thumb and fingers over and over the top of the bag, furtively, like I’m rolling a joint, only to discover that I’m trying to open the bottom of the bag. It’s awkward and it looks suspicious. I ask myself, do I really need broccolini? Sometimes I eventually open the bugger. My current record is 83 seconds to the grand opening.

Ever the sleuth I found that I was not alone. A Reddit conversation thread enlightened me. “One time I had a stranger walk up and open the bag for me cause they were watching me struggle for so long.” “Used to work in a produce dept. Helped people open the bags all day long.” Not once has a stranger or an employee offered to rub their thumb and index plus middle finger together in tiny circles to open a bag for me. Ever.

There is hope for us static electricity challenged folks. Some say it is all about moisture. If you’re buying green onions or lettuce that are damp, touch the wet ends and use the moisture to open as many bags as you’ll need all at once. If moisture is not your thing, just rub the bag vigorously between your palms. Not fingers, full palms. Another suggested stretching, “not to the point of ripping, a little segment of these filmy plastic bags. Like an inch or two along the top, which then relaxes into the two separated layers.” 

Further remedies … Breathe hot air on the bag and immediately rub the bag between two fingers or rub the bag back and forth a couple of times like you’re washing your hands. One humble individual shared: “I can’t speak for all bags, but try to look at the sides of it. You can see one layer is on top of another (kind of like that third tag on candy wrappers). Split that in half and run your fingers to the top and boom, you have just figured out how to open a plastic bag.” And for sheer ingenuity? Grab a sticker from a piece of fruit and open it that way. 

And finally in the conversation … “You still have plastic bags in the produce section? Yikes.” Realistic doughnut 71 wrote: “This is why I knitted a bunch of reusable produce bags. No more annoying plastic bags!!” Yes, it is odd, that we ban plastic bags at the tills and yet every grocery produce section still has polypropylene bag dispensers. 

A 2023 report Left Holding the Bag: A Survey of Plastic Packaging in Canada’s Grocery Stores, based on an audit of 54 high-traffic grocery stores across Canada, found 71% of items in the produce department were packed in plastic, and only 27% were available with no packaging (as in available to be put into the proverbial plastic bag). 

Plastic packaging makes up more than half of the 4 million tonnes of plastic discarded in Canada each year, and less than 15% of that is recycled. Flexible plastics like pouches, sachets and bags are even worse—only 1% of those are recycled. The rest as we all know, ends up in landfills, incinerators, or directly in the environment. 

According to one study, a standard plastic bag weighing an average of 32.5 grams (about two-and-a-half times as heavy as a paper clip) emits 200 grams of carbon, which is just a bit lower than the amount of carbon emitted from driving 1 kilometre in a gasoline-powered vehicle. This means that 1 kilogram of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere for every five standard plastic bags we use. While this may appear insignificant compared to driving or flying, the collective impact of billions of plastic bags used globally each day is huge.

In the US alone, each person uses on average one plastic bag a day; equivalent to more than 100 billion plastic bags used in just one year. This means that the US emits around 20 trillion kilograms or 20 billion metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year just from plastic bags. For perspective, this equals approximately 300 million one-way flights from New York to LA. 

So, next time I’m in the produce department, I’m going to keep an open mind. Try to relax and be myself. With luck, I may find the perfect melons. If not, hopefully I’ll at least meet a few interesting fruits and vegetables and have a good time. And must not forget the new cotton mesh bags … again …