Hummus, lentil soup, coffee, wine and water — life’s essentials — had all been transported inside the smooth glass walls of my Mason jar. The 16-ounce size was perfect, big enough to fit more than a pigeon’s portion of foods and drinks, and small enough to fit into my satchel. There were no labels on my jar — its exterior was only transparent glass, clean and unbranded. My favorite part about it was the handy bright yellow lid that would seal in my precious cargo. The lid even came equipped with a carrying handle, for when the glass got too hot to touch.
The first time I saw her was just after graduation. My sorority house was abandoned as women fled home for the summer. In their wake was the little yellow Mason jar, left abandoned in the drying rack of the kitchen. I was excited to adopt her, knowing she would help me eliminate my use of single-use plastics — yeah those make a lot of sense.
While heading home this summer I filled my jar with creamy coffee — fuel for my journey. In Orange County my Mason jar, which I thought was so casual and normal, actually sparked a lot of intrigue among the locals. Sitting in a training session, my jar proudly resting at my desk, I caught the woman next to me staring at her. Seeing me see her see my jar, she simply asked, “Why do you drink out of a Mason jar?”
Finding this question random and intriguing, I attempted to describe why I drank out of that Mason jar, but I quickly realized that I had never really thought about my choice.
As we were in a sustainability training, the woman easily grasped the concept of a reusable cup and its environmental benefits, but she could not fathom why I chose a jar.
Searching for a deeper answer to her question, I was quickly brought back to my student cooperative in Berkeley. I described the co-op to her: images of people running out to class with their precious jars while some jars sat forgotten, scattered around. I illustrated this setting to the woman, trying to paint the picture of the Mason-jar mayhem that I come from.
With her question answered to her satisfaction, I was happy to move on to another topic of conversation. Talking about my material choices tainted the hip rebel minimalist vibe I was going for with the jar in the first place.
But, I was not able to stay off of the topic for long, because a few days later, while making coffee with my grandpa, he asked me the same question: “Why do you drink out of a Mason jar?” Again, really, what were the odds that two people asked me the exact same question? Was it really that abnormal to see someone drinking out of a Mason jar?
Having my answer ready to go from the first time I had to explain myself, I told my grandpa about my sustainability and status motivations for drinking out of a Mason jar – he enjoyed learning about what the hippie youth were up to in Berkeley.
After being asked about my jar for the second time, it became apparent how much my choice of cup was defining me. Choosing to drink out of that Mason jar was a public statement, and I would be lying if I did not admit how good it felt to tell the world that I was a Berkeley co-op, green living hippie.
Upon my return to Berkeley, I knew that the questions about my Mason jar habits would cease, since everyone in Berkeley was using them. She had lost her special uniqueness. Walking up the steps of my co-op, arms overflowing with stuff, the bag that was holding my Mason jar broke, sending the delicate glass jar zooming to the hard brick steps of my house.
Smash! In one second my beautiful Mason jar was destroyed, broken into a million little pieces. All that remained from her glorious state was her bright yellow lid. The shattering of that jar felt like the shattering of the identity I had built around it. Even while trying to be a conscious consumer, I still managed to place so much of my care and identity into this material possession.
Picking up the pieces of my broken ego — and Mason jar — I entered the house mildly defeated. Seeing other people’s Mason jars strewn around the house made me sad that mine would forever rest in pieces. But, at least no one would ever ask me why I drink out of a Mason jar again.
Jessica Redden writes the Monday column on finding freedom from overconsumption.