Rat's Nest
Bloggage, rants, and occasional notes of despair

Dying off the land

Liz wrote (no permalinks; look for the entry for 06/06/2002, 0905):

I just went down to get a cup of tea and it dawned on me how horrible that is. That fresh fruits and veggies are a luxury item when you are "poor." And people wonder why poor people (a great deal of them) are overweight, because cheap foods tend to be loaded with very unhealthy carbs.

which I thought provided an interesting contrast with Alana writing (permalinks aren't working; look for the entry for 06/06/2002 1027)

In Howland [Maine], apparently people don't know very much about nutrition.  It has been suggested to me that this is because people there are poor, but this bothers me. In the city, there's no room to have your own vegetable garden... but a lot of people up North have one. So it seems like access to fresh veggies should actually be less expensive, since produce is pretty expensive to buy at the grocery store.

Except, of course, that gardening isn't a matter of throwing some seeds on the ground and then spending all one's time in self-criticism groups whilst a bountiful harvest grows itself.  With modern pesticides, fertilizers, and power equipment, it is a laborious and expensive task.  Without them, it is far more laborious, albeit somewhat less expensive.  After doing the direct and indirect tasks necessary (weeding, pest control, harvesting, canning, tilling, loaming, and repairing one's tools -- and there's probably a category or two that I've forgotten), there's enough time to choke down the withered (no longer fresh!) vegetables from last year and fall exhausted into bed.

Those who have one tomato plant, and will therefore spend August reveling in fresh tomatoes every other day, may think that this picture is unduly pessimistic.  I would point out that a tomato salad every other day, with no additional source of food (such as Cheez Doodles and TV dinners) is a sure way to starve to death within a couple of months; fresh vegetables and fruits are excellent sources of vitamins and fibers, but have no caloric content to speak of (vegetable stored over the winter don't even have many vitamins; the reason that Southerners thought that pellagra was caused by fresh vegetables was that niacin deficiency usually took until harvest time to manifest itself.

Actually growing one's own food is back-breaking labor (I've tried).  This, of course, is one of the reasons why inexpensive foods are filled with carbohydrates; starches (cereals and potatoes) are relatively easy to grow (if you've got modern machinery and a few hundred acres), and our diets haven't caught up yet with the realities of fin du siecle life.  Great-Grandpa could eat three eggs and a pound of bacon every day for breakfast because he then went out and did fifteen hours' of hard labor (he also died at fifty, before his diet really caught with him, but that's another story).  There's a couple of megacalories difference between doing that and sitting at a desk all day, watching a computer monitor (a "dietary calorie" is one thousand times the size of a scientific calories, in case you were wondering where the "mega" came from).

The English peasantry of the 18th century didn't flood into the factories because they wanted to be oppressed by godless capitalism; they did so because it was easier work and paid better than trying to scratch out a living in the fields.

(UPDATE:  I forgot to put in a link to Alana's blog before.  Note to self:  don't bother trying to write before finishing first cup of coffee.)

John "Akatsukami" Braue Friday, June 07, 2002