Spread the Word, Shake the Interweb

Today started as one of those days that was bound to be memorable.  The sun was shining, the leaves were turning, and the air was not quite to cold.  The world smells of briskness and new life, even if it is just a last flash in the pan before winter.  The world is waiting for all of us to scamper about, flinging limbs, in some final furious effort to enjoy ourselves before winter hibernation.  And I myself am ready to fling.

But there are other vibrations about as well.  Thanksgiving is coming up, the first marker of the holiday season, which is supposed to be all about gratitude, love, and sharing.  And what better way to begin the early edge of that season than with Blog Action Day, a day to really educate others on a single topic and hopefully do something about it. This year, the focus is on poverty.

And what can we say about it?  We are, after all, going through a financial crisis.  Many of those who were not feeling the bite of poverty now are.  And how are we, on the whole, responding?  Many of us are looking to the government for support.  Some of us are looking to each other, which is a start.  But I personally haven’t felt the bite too much.  And what have I been doing about it?  Very little.

I can remember first moving to Boston and being completely strapped for cash.  And yet, every week, I would put a little something aside to give away to people who might need it.  It might have been a small donation to a food pantry or a shelter.  It might have been just paying for a friend’s lunch.  But I remember those small expenses as something I couldn’t really afford, that I gave anyway.

Now that I’ve been steadily employed for several years, the savings all go somewhere else.  Sure, I make a much more sizable charitable donation every month, and I do still set aside some time to volunteer.  But by percentage, it’s nowhere near the same amount.  When you’re making ends meet, you don’t worry about setting aside money for health care or as savings.  Now that I actually have money and can afford nice things, I feel I’ve become much more materialistic and scroogy.

So where is the line drawn?  At what point do I stop spending for myself and start spending for others, or vice versa?  And how much do I try to save, even if in trust for those who will need it later?

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Cook Yer Tomatoes.

As Americans, most of us live distant from our foods.  I’m not talking about prepackaged, processed foods or even raw meat, but even fresh produce.  We don’t live close to it, or see the steps it goes through to get to our stores, and yet we expect it to be fresh and ripe when we buy it.  We expect our Sunkist oranges to look fresh, our Dole lettuces to be bug- and wilt-free.  I was aware of this most clearly in China, where veggies come fresh with both creepy-crawlies and nightsoil fertilizer.  In China, you really wash your foods good, and you don’t often eat anything raw.

Don’t get me wrong, I love fresh  veggies, but there are certain unavoidable health risks with very fresh, unprocessed produce.  Take the recent spread of salmonella from tomatoes.  People are becoming sick not because they weren’t taking precautions and washing their food, but simply because they were eating something raw that they thought was safe.  Ultimately there is going to be a ‘culprit’, some poor individual who didn’t wash his hands or is otherwise responsible for not taking safety precautions.  But sometimes I wonder if we’re not asking for too much.  Should we be guaranteed the safety of fresh, raw produce?  Or is the cost too high?  Should we all go back to keeping our own gardens?  Or should we be more careful about eating raw products that we cannot guarantee the safety of?  Should we all be buying from local small farmers anyway?

All I know is that every tomato I’ve got is going into tomato and egg soup (think egg drop, except better and with actual flavor), rather than for fresh eating.

Consumption

Last nigh as a part of a little double date action, I took part in Boston’s 2008 ‘Restaurant Week’. I’ll get back to why I’m using quotes here shortly. Despite a really good time and way too much food, there were some issues. Two of the people in our little foursome tried out the prix fixe menu that is the whole point of restaurant week – three courses of showcase dishes for one low price. This allows those of us who are cheap to fancy up and go someplace nice, and gives the restaurants an influx of potential new customers. That’s great, and usually I’m a fan of it – I like food, especially trying new things. The problem comes when two of us didn’t like our dinners. I’m not naming names or pointing fingers when it comes to the restaurant – it could just be a matter of personal taste. And I suppose it’s good that we were an even split, with only one prix fixe main course dislike, and one from the regular full menu. So it wasn’t restaurant week that was the problem.

But it did get me going a bit, and got the ol’ brain juices flowing. Mike characterized his own decision to order from the main menu explains my shared feeling in part – if you’re going to spend that much money, better make sure it has full value. So he got a more expensive menu item with tons of pricey foods in it, and I got a prix fixe option which included the expensive appetizer my heart was set on. Still, was it really worth its value? Could we have gotten something equivalent for less someplace else? And is it morally questionable to eat someplace so snobbish, taking into account the economic, energy, and environmental costs of rarer foods?  IS there a more dastardly purpose behind the extension of “restaurant Week’ into two full weeks?

I didn’t really want to end with a question yet again, so I’ll leave you with this happy thought. Most times, I eat a little of my restaurant fare and take the rest home, always conserving. And though I did take my oyster crackers home, the rest of the three-course meal ended up in me or one of my dinner partners. I went home happy, if poorer, and nicely rotund. Yum.