Photo courtesy Flickr

I visited my father in Las Vegas, NV over the past week. I realized early on how much of a bubble I had been living in here in the cozy hills of Sonoma, CA.

My biggest realization hit the day we went grocery shopping. I decided to cook for my siblings, father, and of course Jon while there– mostly to take advantage of the gorgeous kitchen my dad has. We worked as a team in the local grocery store harvesting items off the shopping list from various shelves and bins.

I was stunned to find no local produce. The organics section was small and didn’t offer much. I hoped to find some organic meat and my dad simply replied “You’re in Vegas” with a laugh.

Its true. As I looked around my eyes were filled with the glittering lights from slot machines just past the cash registers and the swirling fumes of cigarettes. Some of my family members joked about nothing being able to grow in a place like that. My heart sank. Honestly the experience left me depressed. Not only did I feel alien in such a place, I also felt disattached from reality. Is this how people live? I wondered as I watched a lady in a bright colored baseball cap and leggings take a long drag of her cigarette. Has nothing changed?

A cashier rung up my purchase. A bagger asked if I would like paper or plastic, I said neither and handed him my own bags. Their expressions were a mixture of confusion and disgust. The bagger delicately filled my hemp bags stained with juice from farmers’ market berries like he would catch some disease.

My hope and pride in the “Green Movement” felt punctured. The bubble I called home in Sonoma felt fake. What have I been trying to convince myself of?

I visited The Strip and walked through casinos, at night I looked out over the ocean of multi colored light, I read and wrote and pondered how people were living in Sin City. How anyone could allow themselves to be so wasteful and so oblivious to the damage they are responsible for.

At one point I had had enough. Jon and I went in search of Las Vegas’ Whole Foods Market. Back in Sonoma I knew a man who called it “The Evil Empire” since it was taking patrons away from the local grocery stores and health food stores… here in the desert it felt like a safe haven. I stepped out of the blistering heat to suddenly find myself sampling fair trade chocolate and looking at jars of local honey.

I made some purchases and when asked if I wanted paper or plastic I smiled and said neither as I handed the bagger my own bags. The cashier beamed. The bagger turned to her and said “That’s four in a row!” The cashier let out a booming laugh as she remarked “MY customers are Good people, they bring their Own bags.”

A spark ignited in my head. All was not lost. Even in Sin City there are those who care and take responsibility for their actions. Just in front of me had been 3 customers who took the time to BYOB (Bring your own bag) in this city of all places!

I practically skipped with joy as I walked out of the store. On the way out I passed ladies talking about the benefits of fair trade, hybrid cars, and dozens of like minded people walking, biking, and driving back into the bowels of Las Vegas continuing to try and walk the walk despite the obstacles the city throws in their way.

Many of my family members and friends have given up on environmental awareness concluding it is too difficult because it is not accessible to them because of their location, living situation, etc. Visiting Las Vegas showed me that even in the most unlikely of places a Green lifestyle is attainable. If you can look beyond the canned corn and flashing marquees you can find sanity in small, sustainable everyday actions.

If you, a family member, a friend, a neighbor, or anyone you know have doubted the sustainable lifestyle rethink it. Maybe last time you tried it the changes you attempted were too drastic, too unrealistic. Maybe you didn’t have the support you needed to make living lightly on the Earth permanent. Maybe its time to give it another go. Start small and work your way up.

You never know whose live you’ll impact by bringing your own grocery bag.