String bags for stingy customers

String bags for stingy customers

String bags were a thing of past in Turkey, perhaps remembered from childhood for most of Turkish citizens. Now, the nostalgic string bag becomes the new best-seller item in Turkey. Called simply “file” in Turkish, meaning “net,” from the French “filée,” the open netted bag used to be an indispensable feature of market places all around the country, often called “pazar filesi” meaning bazaar bag. Having one at pocket was almost as habitual as taking your purse when leaving home. It was practical; it fitted in one’s palm, but expanded enormously to carry kilos of goods.

Now they are making a swift comeback, not as a retro-fashion trend, but as an acute necessity, as it was announced that plastic bags were to be charged as of start of 2019. Many supermarkets and brands have already started giving away complimentary cloth bags as
promotion, but apparently the limited capacity of such bags cannot match the flexibility of the good old long-forgotten string bags.

In Turkey, which is rich in neighborhood green markets, shopping for fresh vegetables and fruits in sizable quantities is a weekly habit. Though budget constraints prevail, people still buy onions and potatoes, or apples and oranges by kilos, not by numbers. At certain months, when the fruits and vegetables are at their peak, it is quite usual to see a rounded up price tag for three or even five kilos of certain end-of-the-harvest produce. People often buy seasonal produce by bulk to freeze or conserve by other methods for later use. Tomatoes at their ripest stage are always the best buy, when it is exactly the right time to make tomato paste. Unripe ones go for the pickle jar, as does the odd bits of cucumbers, baby melons and any vegetable that has no hope for growing to full size with the fading sunshine in fall. Such end-of-season bargains definitely call for a “file” with its huge capacity to hold and carry loads. There is another aspect of the habit of buying in big amounts. A housewife practically makes the week’s menu planning depending on the best and most good value vegetables available in the bazaar or supermarket and gets all of the week’s supply in one single visit to the local market. All in all, string bag comes to the rescue to carry all the bulky purchase.

However, this was the case before the arrival of supermarket chains, when all the fresh produce used to be bought in neighborhood markets. Supermarkets initiated the plastic era. People responded affectionately. The plastic bag, pretty much like its predecessor “file”, adapted a French name, “poşet,” coming from “pochette,” a rather cute word meaning little “poche,” a small pocket. The plastic bag proved to be very versatile too. In Turkish daily life it was definitely not disposable at one single use, on the contrary it was reusable, very much indeed. One could wrap things in it and tuck into the fridge, or likewise put shoes or anything in a “poşet” to put away in wardrobes, soon our homes were full of genius uses plastic bags. The final destination was of course as rubbish, but taking on the last task of being the waste bin liner. That is why many people grabbed the free plastic bags by handfuls at the cashier, just to save money from paying for the rubbish bags. When you could get the market “poşet” so easily for free, who would stick to the string bag which could annoyingly get caught somewhere or get tangled up in a hopeless mass. 

The reactions to the new regulation were hilarious. There has been several videos popping up, one showing how to mend torn plastic bags, another particular one showing a lady stacking her favorite plastic bags neatly, saving the best ones for her daughter’s dowry The protests were creative, one customer going to shopping with a wheelbarrow, another dragging a donkey to a supermarket filling the saddlebags at the cashier.

Weaning from the plastic bag won’t be easy for sure, but at least we have faith in the stringiness of Turkish consumers, who will not be willing to pay a penny to their sweet old poşet but rather go back to good old file. String bag sales have recently soared despite the rising costs, it seems that paying inflated prices ranging from 5 to 30 liras for a reusable string bag is way more feasible than paying 0.25 for a disposable plastic bag. Joking aside, there were early birds that had foreseen the urgency of the plastic crisis. Ekrem Eşkinat, the visionary mayor of Süleymanpaşa, Tekirdağ, has initiated a campaign against the plastic bag back in 2015, to eliminate
them totally in town. He turned the burden of plastics to an opportunity, creating a community-driven environmentally sensitive project by distributing string bags to people made by housewives, also creating an income source for women in need. Though a mayor from
opposition, he fullysupports the government’s new take on charging “poşet”, and continues to support “file.”

Maybe that is we have been longing for so long, not the string bag in particular, but instead of polarizing, uniting on a single cause like environment, that has to be a prior concern for all.

Fork of the Week:

Not an edible suggestion but in the name of preventing waste, one brand/project worth mentioning is çöp(m)adam. Women who have never worked for salary before make beautifully hand crafted items from trash material. Even the name is meaningful, “çöp(m)adam” (Garbage Ladies) is symbolic, “çöp” means “garbage” in Turkish; “madam”, the same as the French word indicates means lady. They take garbage and turn it into something fashionable and fun, creating beautiful designs from recycled material. Go and visit the site

Cork of the Week:

In Turkey we have pretty much good circulation of knowledge on local wines and other drinks, but we know so little about the wines & spirits imported to the country. All the information we get pretty much depends on the market shelf we frequent. On Jan. 15 there is a good opportunity to find about international drinks available in Turkey; there will be walk-around tasting featuring about 300 wines from about 60 producers, plus 12 workshops at the Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus, on Jan 15th, between 13:00-20:00; tickets are available et Biletix