Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Eating Our Way into a Depression

by Gary T. Czerwinski

I feel like it’s “back to the future” and 1976 all over again. That’s when I got my first teaching job in a small rural school in Indiana. The pay? $8,000.00. Even then, it wasn’t much and I learned how to scrimp to get by. State law mandated one had to get a Master's Degree within five years, so there was the added burden of paying tuition, night classes, and lots of travel in old cars. I learned to ration hot dogs and made lots of pancakes. But things got better.

 According to a recent New York Times article, the makers of SPAM, “the canned wonder meat” by Hormel, can’t make it fast enough. They are working around the clock, literally, to keep up with growing consumer demand. Ground meat sales are up because people can’t afford the continually-rising price of more expensive cuts of beef. And that includes chicken. 

Other foods suddenly in demand: pancake mixes along with Jell-O, dried beans and rices, boxed mashed potatoes (all belly fillers). Many name brands, especially cookies, can’t compete with cheaper, generic brands. Sales of paper towels are down along with socks. What’s a hole or two if no one sees? But McDonalds’ sales are up. A burger, fries and Coke beat a twenty-dollar dinner in this economy. 

So when I saw a sale on hot dogs at the supermarket, I grabbed several packages and it was déjà vu. I was 24-years-old again. You can do a lot with hot dogs (recipe follows). I’m pinching pennies like I did 32 years ago. 

Still, I don’t have it as bad as families who are actually doling out their children to relatives like during the Great Depression because the family house has been foreclosed and there’s no work. I keep thinking of “The Waltons.” It was sappy but popular and could make a great comeback. Everyone pitching in, moving in together, to make ends meet. FDR’s optimism and strength during the Great Depression. In case you haven’t heard, FDR is the new Reagan.

It’s difficult to imagine that the American Dream of owning a home was responsible for this current nightmare of ruining economies across the globe. But it’s true.

We can point and wag fingers of blame at banks, lending institutions, Washington, Wall Street, fat cats. We can cite greed and ignorance, even stupidity, but it was always that promise of ownership, property, that drove it all.

It’s a peculiar, American phenomenon rooted in our whole history of Manifest Destiny, poor immigrants, peasants and serfs from Europe who worked other people’s property. They yearned for their own future that began with a farm. Displacing Native Americans was rationalized with audacious Biblical claim.

Even after the Civil War, freed slaves were promised their forty acres and a mule.

After World War II, the dream of home ownership took off like never before. Returning GI’s, with government-backed programs, staked their bungalow of freedom. Suburbia was born. My dad bought our first house for $5,000.00.

But some dreams can outlive themselves. And this may be one. Suburbia drained cities and small towns of precious resources and monies. Many still struggle and are boarded up. Interstate highways were built to move farther away. Precious lands were bulldozed. More cars built. Strip mall after strip mall. Carbon dioxide and ozone depletion. Ironically, they are still building.

We will get through this, but it will be tough. The ultimate irony, of course, is that the great “ownership society” has made us less free and lessened our options and opportunities. And 401k’s. Some hot dogs are just hard to swallow.

Hot Dogs and Pasta

If you can add a splash of dry white wine and chicken stock to the onion mixture, it's even better.

Serves two.

2-3 hot dogs
8 oz. dried linguine or spaghetti
1 small onion
1 clove garlic

Bring a pot of water to the boil and add the pasta to cook.

Slice the hot dogs lengthwise down the center and then into fourths. Melt a bit of butter in a small pan and sauté the hot dogs until they begin to brown. Remove from pan and keep warm.

Slice and dice the onion and garlic. Melt a bit of butter and olive oil to the pan you cooked the hot dogs in and sauté over medium heat until soft and just turning brown. Add a splash of dry white wine and stock. Allow to steam and cook down a bit.

Drain pasta well. Add the hot dogs and the onion mixture. Mix through.

Hint: Fill an ice cube tray with leftover chicken stock and freeze. When frozen remove and seal in a plastic bag. When needed, just remove a few to add to recipes for added flavor.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

My poor husband - the saver - the planner - the careful one. He is so disillusioned.
We have always been so careful and thrifty. Our lifestyle allowed us to retire early. It wasn't supposed to be this way. Watching everything we worked so hard for going down the drain.