Tag Archives: food

In America, This is Nothing to Worry About.

2 Jun

By Lanny Morgnanesi

The produce store was between a customer rush and a delivery.

It was highly unusual, but the shelves were mostly bare. I walked in disappointed. Then, a slightly eerie feeling descended and there was a momentary panic on my part; a millisecond of fear; an adrenalin rush that ended before it was even noticed.

Quickly sober again, a cranial recess asked: Suppose something happened and the supply lines to food were cut. What would you do? Where would you go?

Then the delivery truck arrived.

Americans are used to seeing food on store shelves. We have a remarkable way of bringing things to market in steady, dependable, bountiful streams; on highways, by rail, air, sea and through pipelines. It just gets there; always; no matter where.

Not so in many countries.

Ipod components aside, are we immune from supply disruption or shortages? Will we always be? A few eccentrics don’t think so and stockpile. Good Mormons do, following biblical warnings about famine. I know I always feel better when the bottled water guy delivers an extra jug by accident.

Overall, however, I have great faith in supply chains because of the profit motive that drives them. Profit is like an all-powerful, invisible force that pushes things along and knocks down barriers with ease. It’s something we should appreciate but don’t. It’s something we should be conscious of but aren’t. It’s the fish’s water we don’t see or feel.

I’ve been in places where food supplies ebb and flow; been in spots where one has to adjust with less. In a jungle stopover in Asia, guests were expected to take care of morning hygiene with only a large pitcher of water and a basin. I did fine.

So I try to see the benefits we have in the states and enjoy them for the delight they bring.

During the Cold War, someone suggested we could defeat Communism simply by dropping thousands of Sears catalogs over Moscow. At home we all loved Sears catalogs but considered it a right rather than a privilege to freely purchase all those things, unlike the Russians back then who were lucky to get a cheap pair of ugly shoes that were either two sizes too big or too small.

I guess that playful panic in the produce store was just my way of remembering how good a fresh salad really is. I’m not sure who deserves credit for that salad, but it must be a cast of thousands. Prosperity, civilization and stocked shelves, after all, are joint efforts, with everyone playing a part. Therefore, everyone should reap the reward.

When we forget that, then we truly will have a problem.

Sicily – Where A Single Onion was Lunch

26 May

Towns like these were left nearly empty by starving peasants who left for America.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

I’ve been paging through a 1992 book by Jerre Mongione and Ben Morreale called, “La Storia: Five Centuries of the Italian American Experience.” In it, I learned something about blacks in the American South – mainly that Sicilians in Southern Italy may have had it worse.

By the year 1930, more than 4.5 million Italians had immigrated to the United States. When that many people leave a small country, the clear indication is that life there must be unbearable.

Still, there always are mixed feelings about leaving home.

During this era of the Great Departure, when there weren’t many people left in Sicily, village children would sing this in the streets:

Give me a hundred lire

And I’m off to America

Goddamn America

And the man who thought it up.

While America hasn’t always been the best place for some, there was never any measurable movement out. A huge migration occurred when industrialization in the North attracted blacks from the South, but the victims of segregation, discrimination and lynchings didn’t flee the country in vast numbers. Back to Africa movements never caught on.

In their prologue, Mangione and Morreale quote Booker T. Washington, an influential African-American leader from 1890 to 1915, who said this after visiting Italy:

The Negro is not the man farthest down. The condition of the coloured farmer in the most backward parts of the Southern States in America, even where he has the least education and the least encouragement, is incomparably better than the condition and opportunities of the agricultural population in Sicily.

It would seem that America, by comparison, is such a land of bounty that there is something even for those at the bottom. In Italy, the trickle down may have stopped way short of the bottom.

“La Storia” said that peasants who farmed other people’s land constantly battled starvation; that there just wasn’t enough food for them. After working hard in the fields, lunch, if there was lunch, often was a piece of bread and an onion. The book says that the new Italian immigrants in America took so well to cooking because food was something new and exciting for them.

I wish readers would share their thoughts on this one. Upon reading it, it was all new to me.

How hungry do you have to be?

8 Feb


“The Gleaners,” by Jean-Francois Millet

I heard a little – not much – about a gleaner movement where volunteers seek permission from farmers to glean fruit and vegetables from fields, then use what they harvest to feed the hungry.

When I learned about the movement, my grandfather came to mind.

He was an immigrant, and his own gleaner. If he passed a fruit tree where apples were left on the ground, he would walk up to the door of the house and ask if he could have them. The gleaned food was in addition to what he grew in his own garden.

His son, my father, with disgust for modern life, once told me his father “fed his family on less than you spend today for paper towels.”

My grandfather was a proud, ingenious man who felt no shame in gleaning what would otherwise be wasted. If I were hungry – and I doubt he ever was – I’m not sure which I would find less tasteful: gleaning for myself or having others glean for me.

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