NPR logo The Lost Art of Grocery Bagging

The Lost Art of Grocery Bagging

Bagging in a recyclable cloth sack just isn't the same. Elaine Thompson/Associated Press hide caption

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Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

Bagging in a recyclable cloth sack just isn't the same.

Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

Oh, the adventure of the checkout line — a mesh of different personalities, schedules and styles herded together in wait. In these situations where tensions can so easily soar, I always value when the person behind the cash register (or iPad) is friendly, patient and efficient. I've particularly valued times when the cashier or the bagger nearby treated the task like an art — keeping frozen items together, evenly distributing cans so that bags aren't too heavy, putting the fruits and veggies on top to prevent bruising, or stacking boxes together like building blocks.

I recently moved from Maryland to D.C., and in crossing that line have entered into a world where the good ol' plastic costs money. So, I'm asked, "Do you need a bag?" My answer is always no, so one of two things happen. I either jam the two or three items into my purse and walk out feeling like I've shoplifted, or — having come equipped with my reusable tote — I'm tasked with shoving things in there haphazardly, hurried on by the gaze of the anxious person behind me.

Now I'm all for reducing, reusing, saving the river and such, and I'm really not trying to whine about a first world issue, but this is just one of those skills that you don't fully value until you're forced to become your own bagger.

This is where my post was going to end, but in my search for a photo I discovered that there is more appreciation out there than I thought. There are lots of local competitions for bagging and the National Grocers Association had it's 25th Best Bagger Championship this year.

Ryan Hebert who won the state title in Massachusetts in 2009 explains what it takes to be a pro.

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He placed second in the nationals.

(There are stores that will fill your tote for you, but then there's usually limited space and it's just not the same platform where the talent can really shine. It has been incorporated into the competitions).