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I am a writer, a mom, and a friend. In this blog, I explore all of that. Please join me in this conversation by leaving a comment on anything you've read. Or follow me on Facebook @ Beth von Behren (author).

Friday, February 19, 2010

Opinion Shaper: The Cool New Thing

This is Opinion Shaper #2, published in September 2009:

Opinion Shaper: The cool new thing

Thursday, September 24, 2009 12:15 PM CDT

As I was leaving Trader Joe's, I noticed an elderly couple entering the store. They were carrying their own reusable grocery bags.

This surprised me somewhat because my experience with the senior members of my own family is that they tend to carry out mundane tasks, such as grocery shopping, in the easiest manner possible. I have always assumed that this reflected the common-sense attitude that they had paid their dues and worked hard and were entitled to be cut some slack.

But here was an older couple who had assumed the arduous task of purchasing, keeping up with and remembering to use their own grocery bags. "Aha," I thought. "This has caught on." Using your own grocery bags is clearly the cool new thing to do.

There have been lots of cool new things over the years, some of which have benefited us individually and globally. Certainly, using reusable grocery bags is one of those.

In the '80s, when the fitness craze was the cool new thing, and everybody was buying Jim Fixx's running books and Jane Fonda's work-out videos, the cool new thing served a great purpose. We got in shape. Or at least, we knew we should get in shape.

Of course, there have been many cool new things that turned out to be not so good for us. It turns out that anti-bacterial hand soap, the cool new thing just a few years ago, kills off good bacteria too. So the really cool thing is to simply wash your hands for 30 seconds or more and any soap will do.

Designer flip-flops with sequins and animal-prints have been the rage for several years now. Then just last month somebody reported they weren't really good for your feet. Now there's a big "Well, duh."

It also turns out that while organically grown produce remains less toxic to our bodies than produce grown using pesticides, it's not so good for the planet. If you factor in transportation and the carbon footprint of bringing organic peaches to your table from California, locally-grown may be better for you than organically grown.

My personal list of cool new things that are not good for us would include reality TV and the iPod. I find it painful to watch people making fools of themselves while they eat spiders or to watch extremely talented people performing mediocre music.

And I guess I'm entrenched enough in my generational values that I still enjoy hearing an artist's work in its entirety and in the order and context in which he or she intended for me to hear it. I don't like it shuffled. I know, you don't have to shuffle it, but most people do, and that - along with buying a song at a time rather than an album full of songs - has been the cool, new thing to do with music for a couple of years now.

While we're making lists, let's not forget all those cool old things that we thought were bad for us until we realized they weren't. Eggs, red wine, chocolate, avocado, salmon, and even coffee, apparently, contain nutrients that, if consumed in moderation, are good for our hearts. Go figure.

So when a cool new thing spreads like wildfire, does that tell us that we are a culture of wannabes, or that we know a good thing when we see it? I don't know, but maybe someday I'll figure it out. I'm actually too busy to think about it right now because I have to finish uploading photos to my Facebook page.

Beth von Behren of Olivette is one of 17 West County area Opinion Shapers. Opinion Shapers are guest writers who submit a column three times a year on areas of interest to them. von Behren is a public information officer for the city of Kirkwood.

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