Sunday, April 15, 2007

Fries by the truckload

Of all times in history, this is not the time to fear big ideas. Indeed, it is only innovation of all kinds that will save us.

Katrina opened up another question for me, this time about supply chaining. I was desperate to know why anyone would take so long to get supplies to the immediate crisis and the thought did occur to me that perhaps no-one knew how. The resource that mostly seemed to be missing was brain and will power rather than tangible aid. I couldn't understand why steve jobs and bill gates and the ceo of general electric weren't at ground zero with generators and laptops and teams of people with digital cameras funding a website called for people who had been separated from their families or who's families lived elsewhere and might want to check up on them. I couldn't understand why wal-mart who changed supply-chain management worldwide didn't divert trucks of clothing and hygiene necessities. I boggled at how food wholesalers didn't immediately partner with the Red-Cross to avert starvation in the desperation of a deadly hot summer. I can't picture these things. I can only see the PR strategy inherent in actively doing good things. These are all companies who have public relations problems due mostly to monopolistic sales practices. I can't imagine people with a handle on a resource who don't stop and help.

The people in charge of these long lines of supplies are also in charge of the end of the line, the basic consumer. There is a discussion happening now about American company practices in Canada due to our historical retail philosophy of "pulling" whereby we put something (hopefully) of beauty or quality or (again, hopefully) both in the window and people are attracted to come in and buy it vs. the American philosophy of "pushing" the product out the door and into the hands of largely unsuspecting customers. Companies who benefit from such practices have more tendencies to flood their own markets and cannibalize their own businesses as less focus is needed on proper product quality and necessity and more focus is placed on sales drivers and marketing.

What happens when such a philosophy is applied to food? I'm told constantly about the obesity crisis, I hear health reports, I see lawyers describe fast food companies the same was they describe tobacco companies. The counter-argument again is that if things were so bad, people would vote with their feet and leave off the purchase of the product. They would move along and buy something else to eat.

When regular people need two incomes just to stay in massive debt and barely above poverty, less time can be spent on basic necessities. Basic necessities can include such things as playing outside, quiet thought, conversation. When the office is in the middle of an industrial park, often the only option is to purchase what is available. This is a company partnered snack machine or franchise available in the building usually. Our laws are stringent enough here to require nutritional information not only be posted but constantly updated, I find generally as well, our food is slightly better. In one office where I had the misfortune to spend two years, there was nothing around. On days when I had fought with my partner the night before or was out with my friends too afraid to go home to him, there certainly was no question of being able to make lunches ahead of time. I ate a lot of fast food. Was it the food that made me depressed? The office? The relationship? How do they all fit together?

In the next office after that, there was a chef and an assistant. He knew us all, he purchased all the food with his own budget and worried if he thought we weren't eating well. We had salads and a main course daily. Generally the people there were nicer and at that time I had gotten rid of the jerk and enjoyed my homelife. Was it the food? The care? The relief of anxiety about what I would do to take care of myself?

It is one thing to say all of us should make our choices and be better educated. Fine, and who can afford fast-food all the time anyway? But when the nearest grocery store is Wal-Mart, (a brief aside, of all the culture shock I got when I went to Arkansas, definitely the creepiest feeling I got was getting groceries at Wal-mart. I was more emotionally comfortable with the glocks being sold at the price-chopper than greens from wally.) how can a proper decision be made? Perhaps the foods are available, but they are right next to the golden arches. The stickers all say Peru and Chile and I can't help but notice that local farmers are closer and should therefore be cheaper. Shall I wax furious about the environmental catastrophe happening in these places because of giant agribusiness? I will mention a caveat to anyone who has read this far: the food you get at wal-mart is from companies who partner with them. Quality it ain't.

If you need to drive 15 minutes to get there, then drive back and there is nothing in between except fast-food, how is it reasonable to ask a regular person who has just worked a full day to stop at the end of it, pick up the kids, get to the store, choose something healthy (if possible) wait forever in a line-up and then go home exhausted and cook?

There are families and communities who can start teaching by having the kids help, start learning to cook and preparing their own lunches, breakfast etc. When the child lives in the middle of a city with perhaps a minimal family, when the child is pregnant, when the child is desperate, how can she be expected to learn even with a teacher? You must be able to calm your anxiety and fear enough to take in and retain information at all.

Again, school can be the silver bullet. Many school boards are taking it upon themselves to insist on healthy food and healthy education, but currently they are few and far between. Coke and Pepsi are actually funding curricula for poor school systems. Is it only a coincidence, or something more insidious that convinces mostly republican right-wing christians that the school system is failing and incites them to homeschool their kids? Money is being deflected from schools, and so along with that goes the proper basis of education in the country. Not just on nutrition, phys ed, health class etc, but more major topics such as mathematics and engineering. No child full of sugar and not much else can retain information on that level and the exhaustion inherent in the diet is likely to make even going to class irrelevant.

We are breeding nihilists. Who would look at the foreign service in it's current condition and decide it's a noble and good idea? More and more medical students plan to be dermatologists and hygienists. why? who wants to get up at 2 in the morning on an emergency call? But more importantly, they saw dad and mum get laid off twice, maybe three times, they've been moved around the country to suburb after suburb that all look the same so that one of the parents can keep their job. When someone like that asks me why they should give a shit about their immediate diet when they know they aren't getting in to college and if they do they can't afford it. I don't have an answer, but I know that it's wrong.

We don't have laws at the moment to govern the supply chain available to us. The unionized worker in a wal-mart warehouse has no connection to the worker in bangladesh who made the product being sold. But for the union to have any teeth with a company huge enough to shut down one plant and open another across the street, we need such connections. Local farmers have no voice against conglomerate assembly-lines who crudely and violently process livestock, living animals into cheeseburgers and lipstick. There is no sense of connection to the work we are doing, no personal ....personality really. You can get hired as a farmhand and hosedown cows for the summer in the same way that you can get hired in an office call-centre to do customer service.

We all get processed this way.

We won't do without fries for one day. Any mention of such a thing and the first thing we hear is economics. The employment rate of the fast food companies. But despair sets in when it is realized that those poorest among us can expect no education at even the most basic level. The only option in many places is to work for such a company for a tiny minimum wage, just enough to keep consuming at a constant level of indentured servitude. Start your life at wal-mart, end it at mcdonalds. What in between of the mind? The ambition? The hope.

We can't imagine a world without coke. We include wrigley's gum in soldiers rations to "keep up morale". We are able to deploy, we've see it, we've done it. The everyday work is dumping. We dump fries, beef, coke, sugar into the market everyday. And the invisible hand takes it in all it's wasteful glory and finds a place in our digestive tract for it to live.

It seems insurmountable because it is for one person. We need to do everything at once, walk more (but to what? It all looks the same) we need to eat less (but food is mostly our only pleasure left) we need to care more (but we do, we have been outnumbered and assimilated) we need to act more (but how?, what actions should we take?)

Huge ones. We need credit unions, artist to artist representation, farming co-ops, and massive corporate taxes. It is indeed this very spirit that founded a country who fought against a monarch that abandoned them. We need to know that leaving a city to die in the heat is less profitable, less desirable, less useful than a people of wealth and ingenuity who can and do extend their hand. We need movement, not issues to discuss.

We must learn at last to preserve and support and not to consume each other.


Anonymous said...

"I couldn't understand why wal-mart who changed supply-chain management worldwide didn't divert trucks of clothing and hygiene necessities."

It is my understanding that they did have many nearby warehouses stocked and ready, and were prevented from delivering much of the stuff by the local dumb ass authorities.

Freshwater Mermaid said...

again saddening, but certainly not a surprise in light of all the rest of the nonsense surrounding the event.

Freshwater Mermaid said...

I saw another documentary, earlier on, before spike lee's brilliant When the Levees Broke. In it I saw some local emergency teams talking about how FEMA not only failed to react, but tried to commandeer gasoline from fire fighters who needed their emergency supply. Also their communication towers actually knocked down existing phone towers that worked.

again, no words. WTF?

I am certain that the problem lies in thinking tiny, narrow thoughts. We definitely need to get rid of the administration, but also the underlying thinking that the poor south is worthless and ignorable. We need to stop accepting disgusting conditions on a day to day basis so that when an emergency happens it can't be said, "well, they were poor anyway".

We need to leave this moment of Fuck you jack and I've got mine, and reinvent ourselves as the people who put fiber optic cables underground, who cured polio, who fed and restored most of europe (yes, the white countries) after WWII.

We must become unwilling to ruin each other on the basis of self-preservation. This world is our only home and we need to live together on it.