All the signs point in the same direction. "Dark times," my brother called it. "The end of civilization as we know it," JK said.
The rising gas prices, the salmonella-flavored tomatoes, the roller coaster of a stock market, the global rice shortage, the global banana shortage, the torrential floods, the crazy-eyed look of desperation on the faces of people who'd rather numb themselves on Survivor re-runs so they can pretend they don't hear that whistling sound as the wind rustles the fraying edges of the tattered fabric that has become our country.
And now this.
I spent an hour at the grocery store this afternoon. Let's leave aside the fact that today was maybe the third or fourth day since last September that one could actually call "hot," what with the strange weather we've been having here, with record amounts of snow, rain and cold. And let's leave aside the fact that the vast majority of my fellow shoppers dejectedly shuffled behind carts filled more than usual with foodstuffs like canned meat and cellophane-wrapped hydrogenated sugar (i.e. cheap stuff that isn't rice or bananas or tomatoes).
Let me dwell on this. Today was the third grocery trip in a row when I couldn't find a basic staple on my list because the store was out of stock. I mean truly basic things, like fruits and vegetables. The time has come when Americans (gasp, shock) can go to our grocery stores and actually not find waiting neatly packaged on clearly labeled, evenly spaced shelves all the food a person could want, because, well, it seems we're on the cusp of joining the majority of the world which happens to be dealing with a food shortage, and has been in fits and starts for quite a long time (i.e. always).
I'm not complaining, necessarily (although I really really wanted that squash today). The U.S. food system sucks, for us as eaters and workers, for people in other countries, for small- and mid-scale farmers, and for the planet. So we go to the store for peaches and the store is out of peaches because the trucks couldn't come in last night because fuel is too expensive and the truckers are on strike, and by the way, so are the farmers in some other country whose name you can't pronounce correctly, so how about an apple instead? Oh wait. We're out of those, too.
So we come face to face with our privilege, which is fine by me. Even if it means I suddenly need to start learning 101 ways to cook chard and nettles, because we have a lot of those growing around here and a girl can probably stay pretty full as long as she uses enough olive oil.
We were at a dinner party the other day. Another guest, it turned out, routinely dines at restaurants that serve caviar. She didn't understand all the silly protest over foie gras. She lives near one of the Great Lakes yet didn't quite get the "big fuss" about water conservation. She appeared to believe that if a resource of any kind was in her sight, it was hers for the using. Which means she was American.
Which is, I realize, what really made me a little angry at the grocery store today. It wasn't the fact that they suddenly didn't have squash. It was that, instead of rushing to the streets or at least to the farmers' market, almost everyone I saw was elbowing each other out of the way to cram as much cheap, high-calorie "food" into their carts as they could. These weren't caviar people. But they had options beyond, "if it's in front of me, I'm taking it, consequences (to myself, to my children, to the economy, to the planet, to people who are even poorer than me) be damned."
In honor of George Carlin, r.i.p. My favorite part: "How come when it's us, it's an abortion, and when it's a chicken, it's an omelet? Are we so much better than chickens all of a sudden? ... When's the last chicken you heard about who came home and beat the shit out of his hen? Doesn't happen, because chickens are decent people."
(p.s. Lovely people who get this via email, you may need to scoot over to the Rage is Good blog to see the embedded video.)