Letter from California
09/17/06 0423.11 pst
San Jose, California
All along the great swath of coastal valleys and of course in the great Central valley California’s annual fall harvest has begun: almonds, walnuts, squash, apples, rice, specialty fruits like pomegranate and persimmon, with the mighty cotton crop in late October finally bringing the seasonal haul to a close, millions of acres under frantic blades and wheels of steel bringing in the food and the money.
If the past is any guide and future demographic trends continue all of this is supposed to vanish by 2060, the central valley becoming nothing but a vast suburban plain resembling what Los Angeles looks like now, while greater metropolitan areas like LA or San Francisco go seriously vertical. Not necessarily earth-shaking in new heights, just that at least half the area will be at or above ten stories, the state’s population cruising at a cool 65 million.
Leaving aside what life will be like with 65 million souls stuffed into California like Monterey canned sardines, my mind prosaically wonders, well, how the hell are we going to eat?
Oh we’ll handle that, suburbanite, we handled food a long time in this country, don’t you know? is always the official American policy answer of bloated bonhomie, shut up and gorge on this subsidized fat, starch and sugar. There’s a little pesticide, some estrogen, sometimes that killer e coli, bummer, but we have the best, cheapest food in the world.
That’s certainly true, we do. Unfortunately we’ve fucked up our economics so badly fully a quarter of our people can’t afford to buy food adequately, and horrendous quality compromises have been made at the altar of market distribution. There also is no plan at all how we’re supposed to get fruit in 2060 when the entire state is paved over.
I was surprised to learn that the most gory and often memorable food experience of Americans, the school lunch, has its federal mechanism up for complete renewal in 2009. The next President and the Congress after next will handle it.
When encountering flag-waving American nationalists proclaiming God has blessed this land I’ve desperately wished one could instantly be transported to a public school cafeteria line in San Jose or Simi Valley. Oh yeah? How the fuck could God ever bless what we pass off as food to our kids? Heya?
Currently we spend approximately $10 billion on the federal school lunch program, while per capita those fruit cake French and Italian Euro wussies spend twice as much on their kids, who then get a life enjoying meals in schools, what a concept. It’s possible Americans will abscond with enough of their appalling arrogance, ignorance, foolishness and rank cruel stupidity and actually decide to feed their children this century, but I don’t hold out much hope.
Of course part of the American answer to the dilemma of a country so mean, cheap, and cruel in not feeding their kids is for the state of California to do it, since the Feds can’t. Unfortunately California is in a permanent state of civic stasis, the legislature crippled with term limits and the available pool of political talent not nearly deep enough to produce a Governor good enough to force real change.
We lurch along from one problem to the next, in other words, squandering a chance at a planned future and screwing up the present for a quarter of our people. It’s easy to write this all off as the tough lumps of human life, and yeah it’s true life was much, much tougher in the past. So just because life was hard and short in the past we’re supposed to screw our kids and grandchildren now with lousy food?
So far the answer is always yes. Such is life in the land of milk and honey, the golden state of California, the harvest rolling in this very moment under a late quarter moon.