'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Food Crisis Hits Home 

From an excellent article by Nicole Colson posted over at Counterpunch:

ANITA RHODES, a single mother of three living in Oakland, Md., who makes $374 every two weeks, recently told National Public Radio that she has been forced to begin shopping at a local grocery store selling expired food and damaged goods at discount prices. "The things there are all way, way past their due date, but I tried it," Rhodes said. "The first box [of cereal] I opened had bugs in it." She returned the box to the store to get her money--$1--back, because she couldn't afford not to.

The family has been forced to cut out paper towels, bottled water, chips, cookies, candy and toiletries. "I don't even look at roast right now, just because it's so expensive. I looked at a chuck roast, and it was $15."

According to Rhodes, if prices continue to rise, she may be forced to take more drastic action. "I can shoot a deer," she says. "I can do that. I can shoot a turkey. So I will feed my kids one way or another."

And it's not just people in rural areas who are being forced to make such choices. High school senior Brighton Early, who lives in Los Angeles, told NPR that she has gotten used to "finding flexibility" in her weekly shopping trips with her mother.

When shopping at the regular grocery store became too expensive, Early and her mother started getting their food at the local Chevron gas station--where the cashier gives them a 40 percent discount on leftover apples and bananas. As she wrote in an essay:

To ensure the best selection possible, my mother and I pile into our 20-year-old car and pull up to the food mart at 5 p.m. on the dot, ready to get our share of slightly overripe fruits.

Chevron shopping started like this: One day my mother suddenly realized that she had maxed out almost every credit card, and we needed groceries for the week. The only credit card she hadn't maxed out was the Chevron card, and the station on Eagle Rock Boulevard has a pretty big mart attached to it...

Grocery shopping at Chevron has its drawbacks. The worst is when we have so many items that it takes the checker what seems like hours to ring up everything. A line of anxious customers forms behind us. It's that line that hurts the most--the way they look at us. My mother never notices--or maybe she pretends not to.

I never need to be asked to help the checker bag all the items. No one wants to get out of there faster than I do. I'm embarrassed to shop there, and I'm deathly afraid of running into someone I know. I once expressed my fear of being seen shopping at Chevron to my mother, and her eyes shone with disappointment. I know that I hurt her feelings when I try to evade our weekly shopping trips.

This is what happens when the financial system unravels because of rampant, corrupt speculation. A lot of people who had nothing to do with it go hungry. And we shouldn't consider Anita Rhodes' remarks about shooting deer and turkey to feed her children bravado.

In the early 1990s, Lake Merritt in Oakland experienced a troubling decline in the population of geese. People were catching them to take home and eat. Just the other day, I read about an apparent decline in the number of geese and ducks in William Land Park near where I live Sacramento. For some reason, no one wanted to talk about what is really happening to them.

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