We’re not in Eden Anymore

America is a great place and the our modern world amenities are a gift from God. I know I’m thankful every time I do not have to resort to an outhouse for my leisure time. Or mornings when it’s Ohio cold and I can turn a knob and get some heat. Now if I didn’t have these things, I’d get used to it. I do every time I go camping, but they’re nice to have.

But over the last couple weeks, I’ve had an old lesson come back. For my non-personal-FB readers (I flatter myself), every year Alisa and I talk seriously about closing our little restaurant, the Happy Turtle. Things keep getting better, so we haven’t, but its tough. What most people don’t realize is how tight margins are in the food industry, especially when you make your own food. It becomes very tempting when you look at the place across the street and think about how all they have to do is heat their food and its ready, almost no labor. Almost no waste because of the shelf-life of packaged mass produced food. And they probably get an average margin somewhere around 70% over cost of goods sold (ours is mid 40’s). Sure they have to pay for labor, but when that labor just has to assemble and serve it goes a lot farther than when you have to mix, knead, chop, simmer, season, cut, roll, etc . . .  I know they get there after I do and leave before.

That’s not meant to be a complaint. The point is its very tempting to just say “Maybe a little more canned/frozen/prepared food, wouldn’t be so bad.” But then you have to face that choice. Do I just want to sell anything as long as it sells, or do I want to sell a good product? Some days I don’t know. We keep going, but we do compromise. We have to. Our chicken isn’t organic, neither is most of our produce. I use more yeast than I would like to make the bread go farther because its so labor intensive. I switch back to store bought mayo for a sauce base instead of my own because I cannot afford the labor anymore.

What do I say if someone accuses me of being a sell-out? Knowing how to make better food and choosing not to? I say, if you want to eat healthy, be prepared to pay $20 a plate or eat at home.

That’s why, I don’t begrudge my food vending competitor across the way. They serve what people are willing to pay for. And I wish people would figure that out. We’re adjusting our hours and menu, essentially to get customers to feel justified in spending more on a proportionally reduced amount of food. Is that dishonest? You judge, but I am serving the value of the dollar, it’s just not what people expect. And that’s my point. Where did we get the idea that a burger should cost .99? Who told you that chocolate from brazil and sugar from Kenya should be able to cross the world, combine in Mexico, ship through here, observing all customs and government jurisdictions, be asthetically wrapped in bright colored paper, sit on the shelf without going bad for at least a year, and sell as a “candy bar” on a shelf at Walmart for $1?

Does that seem rational to you?

I could go on to make a scientific case for the superiority of organic produce and non-hormone laced meat and dairy, but do I need to? We know instinctively that something occuring in a natural way is better than an affect produced by chemicals which would in other circumstances be marked “toxic”. We know God knows how to grow a chicken better than a guy in a lab. He’s been doing it for thousands of years, and never once had to issue a recall.

But why don’t we care? Because it means we can have an easy, instant, cheap, breakfast for out kids complete with entertaining colors that decrease sperm count and zany caricatures on the package which costs more than the food it contains, which we’ll later have to pay to trash or recycle. It means you can drive through McDonalds and theyalwayshave what you want in seconds. Have you ever thought of how much product must go to waste to ensure that you always have a uniform patty waiting for you? Have you ever thought about how much electricity is consumed for all those beeping, automated, appliances telling some minimum wage worker how to “cook”?

I’m not trashing any of those things (though it’s hard not too. Who holds McD’s up as a shining example of cuisine?). My point is that we have built a world around us that cannot exist on superior quality. If the Golden Arches had grass fed, non-hormone beef, dairy, bread made with varied strains of yeast, whole wheat flour, etc, your big mac would cost probably $8. Well, it would cost probably $2-3, but when you factor in labor and overhead . . .  And that’s not counting the “love’n it” adds.

We’ve traded what we know is good for convenience and cash. Hey if you just rip off your health about a hundred meals, you can save up for that flat screen to double your electrical bill with.

Who am I kidding? Save for a flat screen? That is so 1950’s.

And that’s where places like the Happy Turtle run into problems. Oh sure, people in a “food desert” are thrilled to have something better to eat, but why are my prices so high? Why does my food take longer to prepare than Frisch’s? Sigh. We’ve built an impossible world and now we can’t understand why better options don’t spring up more? Someone should start XYZ. Why not you? Have you ever tried it? It’s freaking hard, and customers today can’t figure out why!

Impossible world. Why do I call it that? Has it ever occured to us that we can’t have everything we want? There will be disequity, there will be “no you can’t, suck it up.” I mean, I’m not environmental wacko. I really don’t think the BP oil spill was as big a deal as they made it out to be. I don’t think drilling is as big a deal as they make it out to be. Or logging. Or burning the occasional plastic fork. But when people talk about energy solutions, I can’t help thinking that the most obvious one is not being addressed. Cut your consumption!

Do you need more than one TV in a house of ONE FAMILY? Does every underage child have to be so autonomous that they need their own cell phone, instead of sharing? Do you need to have so many activities every week that two cars are a must and everyone in the ONE FAMILY has to go at the same time to separate locations? How many computers to you need? And for Pete’s sake turn off the lights! The sun has gone down, do you think maybe God didn’t plan for you to spend that valuable darkness running amok?

Now, I’m not saying anything about government intervention and external coercion. Raising the price of things by taxation to discourage their use is just giving that consumption to someone else. That just means the government is choosing what to spend that same energy on (all dollars represent resource consumption). And we all know how efficient the gov is at using resources.

I think that’s the bottom line. We’ve come to think that we should be able to have everything. I’m not against accruing comfort. God bless you when you can. Enjoy life, absolutely. What I’m saying is that we’re not getting the trade we were promised. We have all these conveniences, do we actually use them to reduce our stress? If we’re really making our resources go so much farther by buying cheap food, efficient transport, and in-home entertainment, then why do we spend so much time out of our homes at work? Shouldn’t we reach a place of stability and satisfaction where we don’t care if there’s another Iphone? Why do we have that 40 inch upstairs and downstairs if none of us spend time together?

Is it worth all we’re saving and all we’re working to get it? Might it be better to have at least one parent with the kids most of the day? Heck, you already have to maintain your house, how about you educate your kid there instead of sending them to a multi-million dollar complex that must be maintained year round even when no one is there? Or send the kids off with homemade meals? Bring the family back together to share one at the end of the day? Do things in the neighborhood, with the neighbors? Tear out most of the lawn and teach the kids how to grow a garden? Keep some chickens for eggs? Use a goat to mow your lawn and put milk in the fridge? Put in a neighborhood watch and a close relationship with your neighborhood instead of another alarm system? Turn off the outside lights, and tell people just to be careful? Or better yet, go indoors when its dark? Stop buying things wrapped in cellophane. Use a basket when you go to the grocer.

The list is endless. You don’t have to be radical, just realize, you can’t always have what you want. You do have to choose between the quality of a few priority items and having everything.

This entry was posted in Everyday Trenchs and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.