Why is America obsessed with toilet paper? Readers react.

Baking bread and watching TV have emerged as popular quarantine pastimes. But why is everyone hoarding toilet paper? The audience weighs in.

Toilet paper alternatives

Eva Botkin-Kowacki’s article “How toilet paper became an icon of stability” in the April 20 Monitor Weekly definitely gave insight into priorities in America. However, you might have provided an alternative to toilet paper by mentioning the healthy and clean mechanism of bidets. Many homes and public restrooms in Japan, for example, use bidets. 

While it’s probable that many Americans do not currently have bidets for various reasons, manufacturers might come up with a less expensive model. That might change the health habits of Americans, especially during this pandemic and beyond. And it would lessen the need for hoarding paper products made from trees.

Anne Taylor
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Old-growth forests

I was sorry to see your generally aware publication devote a page to toilet paper without referring to its role in environmental destruction. Many toilet paper brands use old-growth boreal forests to create their products; those forests are a major natural defense against climate change, but much of it it is being clear-cut for marginal gains in comfort in the bathroom. Don't flush the plush.

David Weber
Exeter, New Hampshire

Unusual topics

I loved “How toilet paper became an icon of stability.” It had me surprised and laughing. Great article – and it was well timed. I also love the Viewfinder pictures on pages 4 and 5, especially the one in the April 20 issue titled “Bath time endures.”

Diana Virgil
Brownsburg, Indiana

Luxury goods

Your article about toilet paper reminded me of something from 1964. My girlfriend had just left to spend an academic year at the Sorbonne working on her licence in French language and literature. She had told me that the one thing she was not looking forward to was the lower-quality toilet paper in France.

In those days, American toilet paper came with a variety of patterns printed on it in pastel colors, and some brands were also perfumed. I went to the supermarket and filled a very large box (much like the one shown in “How toilet paper became an icon of stability”) with different brands, colors, and scents. Then I shipped it and waited. It took a month or more to get there. 

One day I received the most wonderful and hilarious thank-you letter. She had been out with some other students from her dorm when the box arrived, and she was presented with it when she returned. They all gathered around to see what Nancy’s boyfriend could have sent in such a large box. When they saw what was in it, many could not contain their surprise and laughter. But Nancy was thrilled and said so.

L. Ben Freudenreich
Columbus, Ohio

Multipurpose Monitor

I loved “How toilet paper became an icon of stability.” Leave it to the Monitor to surprise us with a full range of topics! The history of this ubiquitous product reminded me of being a Peace Corps volunteer fifty years ago in Korea. My parents sent me the Monitor (then a daily newspaper), which I eagerly read – and then ripped into squares and used in the outhouse, a shack over a hole in the ground. Today I am hunkered down at home with only two rolls of toilet paper left. Hmmm ...

Ann Hymes
Laguna Hills, California 

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

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