So, let’s start with irony: Just as every single magazine arriving in my mailbox is proclaiming April the official month of being green, things here in the desert are on their way to a discouraging shade of brown. Still, I can get into this whole save-the-earth thing. I can, I can.
A few years ago we pulled the light bulb switcheroo, then last year I discovered reusable bags, SIGG bottles and Wrap-N-Mats (the red-checked ones are like a picnic in a lunchbox!).
This year, I’m going boldly where I haven’t gone before: I’m swapping paper for cloth napkins, and not just because it might be better for the environment. I know it sounds recklessly inconvenient, this pairing of fabric napkins and sticky children. It’s true that paper napkins are handy, but they’re a little discordant with my whole food philosophy, anyway, that of my own personal backlash against convenience eating.
Truth is, I’ve had it scrutinizing the offerings in the disposable paper product aisles of Target, waiting for the paper napkin fairy to descend with the perfect paper napkin. I’m done spending money on packages upon packages of napkins and finding that, not only do we wipe and toss our way through them as though they grow on trees (ha! they kind of do, poor trees), but there is not a reasonably priced brand that lives up to its promise. There’s not a one that diligently does its duty, that stands up to fish taco drippings and jam overflow and soup-dribbled chins. Our post-dinnertime table whispers of too much napkin carnage, a scene of soiled, crumpled napkins left behind or dropped to the floor, hastily and carelessly abandoned without thanks.
Cloth, on the other hand, obliges the user to fold it, even if not in perfect neatness. Fabric brings a little civility to the dinner situation that otherwise consists of the five-year-old’s constant interruptions and the ten-year-old’s incessant, if inadvertent, feet swinging into my shins.
But fabric doesn’t mean formality. Oh, no (I will not ever wear pantyhose and you can’t make me!). My napkins, I willingly admit, are not the pressed kind. I’m strictly a dryer-to-table kind of girl. I don’t even care about the here-and-there stain. I believe that a stained napkin doesn’t have to be a compromised napkin.
Getting back to the whole environmental aspect, there’s actually some controversy riddling the whole paper/cloth thing, but I’ve done the reading, and I think, for our little family of four, cloth is actually a green choice, and an economic one. There are all sorts of calculations that can go into these decisions, and I know it’s worthwhile not to oversimplify. But in this case, I figure I’m not buying paper-napkin packaging that will contribute to a trash pile somewhere, and I know my modest stash of napkins will have a far longer lifecycle than those in a restaurant. We’ll use them repeatedly throughout the day and then they can be tossed in with any of the several loads of laundry I’m already doing during the week. And, like I said before, I will not be expending any extra energy making them look pretty. Those napkins are hardly for show, existing expressly for face-blotting and finger-wiping purposes.
So, summing up with irony, then: My cloth napkins, cost-conscious, utilitarian, earth-kind as they are, are nevertheless poshing things up a bit around here. (But will the heightened levels of poshness encourage posh-loving Quinn to eat her dinner? Another post for another time…)