Friday, June 02, 2017

Two little observations

They may be related, they may be not:

1. There was a lot said on the local-to-my-parents news about Memorial Day, and the point being made that "Happy Memorial Day" is the wrong sentiment to express: Memorial Day, by its very definition, is a solemn and even somber day. It is the day when we remember, to quote a much-used phrase, that "freedom isn't free" and we remember those who died fighting for it.

A little history: apparently Memorial Day started "up north" as a way to honor the Union dead after the Civil War. It was originally called Decoration Day (a few of my mom's older Michigan relatives still called it that) and the idea was you went to the cemetery and placed flowers on the graves of those who had died in war. (By the time I was old enough to remember it, the tradition - at least, among my mom's small-town relatives - was that you went out and cleaned up and placed flowers on all the family graves, not just those of those who died in battle).

Gradually, in the 20th century, it spread to cover ALL who died in war, not just the Civil War dead. (I am guessing the original purpose had less appeal in the South, because the civilians there also suffered - see Sherman's March to the Sea). When I was a kid, WWII veterans were still fairly young (the end of WWII would have been 30-odd years in the past, then) and there were still some WWI veterans around. And they were very serious about honoring their brothers who didn't make it back. And they were also serious about flag etiquette, and remembering the day, and all that. And I don't know, maybe my experience was unusual* but I learned the meaning of the day.

(*Again, demographically "weird" family - my parents were small children during WWII, I had older relatives who had actually GONE to war, we knew people who had fought in the military)

I also learned the difference between it and Veteran's Day (which is in November, and which was originally Armistice Day).

I find a lot of people not-that-much younger than I am don't know or aren't familiar - I remember about 10 years back, explaining to a class of students (who were arguing about it as I walked in) that the November holiday was Veteran's Day, to honor all veterans, and was the commemoration of the end of hostilities in WWI, and that the May holiday was specifically to honor and remember war dead.

Anyway. On the local news the newscasters were speculating that "maybe we need to have an awareness campaign for this" - meaning, that Memorial Day is not *just* a day for mattress sales and picnics. And I confess, I kind of bristled at that: why, maybe instead of forcing all the newscasters to do stories on "why this day is different from all others," maybe, just maybe, people need to step up themselves and LEARN some stuff. I mean, there's the whole freaking Internet out there, which didn't exist when I was a kid, and while a lot of the stuff on there is inaccurate** If we didn't know something, we went to the library to find out, which is a higher inertia bar to cross...

(** and again, it's probably the individual's responsibility, I think, to learn to tell "fact" from "crud")

But anyway. I can see why people don't know what Memorial Day is, for a couple reasons:

1. I don't think our culture does "solemn" well. We want to be happy. We are not, I think, a particularly reflective people. We'd rather cook hot dogs with our families and play Frisbee than go to a cemetery. That's probably not *necessarily* a bad thing, but there are times when solemnity is called for - I think for those of us who are practicing Christians, Lent and especially Good Friday need to be solemn, and I think there's a certain low-key solemnity to Advent. (Advent is really, supposed to be like Lent-lite: a time of examining one's conscience and making ready for what is to come).

And remembering those who died fighting to protect either our freedom as a nation, or that of our allies, or to remove evil, is something that maybe raises uncomfortable feelings for some. Either sad memories of that uncle who never came home, or knowing the veterans who came back, but were forever changed in body or in spirit, because of what they experienced.

I don't think too many of us these days have relatives (that we knew personally) that "never came home" - yes, there are too many young men and women who died in the various actions in the Middle East in the past 20-odd years (1991 was the First Gulf War....which seems a lifetime ago now), but with a smaller, volunteer army....

and that brings me to 2. We've been very fortunate for a very long time, so we tend to forget. I think this is actually a general strain in our culture - maybe all of Western culture? - and is a reason we see things like the rise of anti-vaccinationism or the insistence that raw milk is "really much healthier" than pasteurized milk.

I grew up with older female relatives who remembered the summers when polio was a concern, and their relief when a vaccine became available. And both my parents had measles themselves (my mom seems to remember it better; she talks about the boredom of having to stay in bed in a darkened room - there was some fear that light or reading while sick with measles could damage the eyes - and waiting to get better). So even though I hated needles, I didn't mind so much getting the vaccines that protected me from those diseases.

I also knew some people when I was growing up - one was a nurse at a doctor we went to - who had had polio and still used braces and canes to help them get around.

And also with the pasteurization of milk: I know enough microbiology to know I'd not want to drink the raw stuff, not unless I could SEE the cow it came from and the stable where it was collected. So I definitely wouldn't buy it from an anonymous farmer at the store. (And anyway: there are enough microbial scares in food that's *supposed* to be safe. I sort of suspect my stomach issues of last year were the aftereffects of Listeria contracted from a bad batch of frozen "organic" fruit)

But we get people today who have never known someone who had had polio, or even maybe someone who had had measles. And I don't know anyone sickened from raw milk, though that is probably because the only person I knew who ever drank any of it was my mom talking about it when she was a kid visiting her grandparents' farm. (She didn't like raw milk, and she said it was particularly bad when the cows got into the wild onions: apparently it comes through in the milk).

And similarly: we've never had a large-scale military effort. WWII was enormous; I don't think people have a true appreciation now of how large the military was - I've read that nearly every family in the nation had someone who was either a volunteer, a draftee, or a munitions-worker. (My mom's brother Stanley, whom I never really knew as he died when I was quite small, was in the Navy and saw action in the South Pacific. My mom has a pendant from him he made her in the shop on the destroyer (?) he was on in his downtime - somehow, he machined a fragment from a plane windshield into a heart, and embedded a cross cut from a silver dime in it. She's told me the story many times, and even though I never knew Stanley, I kind of hope someday that pendant comes down to me).

And yeah, I guess Vietnam was a pretty big effort; I had two cousins (both now gone, though I knew them when they were alive) who enlisted. And the draft was still active for that; one of my high school teachers talked about the draft numbers coming out and people walking across his college campus singing "One is the Loneliest Number" in response - presumably, because a number of "1" meant you were guaranteed to be called up. (I think they drew them by birthdate? If I remember correctly).

But Vietnam ended forty-odd years ago, and really I think it's still kind of a "forgotten" war, given how much public sentiment turned against it as it was happening (I know men who talked about being spit upon when they returned in their uniforms).

And, of course, now, it's an all-volunteer army. I don't think, personally, that reinstating the draft (which has been called for on various sides, either as a way of being more "fair" or of "forcing the young ones to learn some discipline") would be necessarily a good thing. But I think it does change how people in general view the military: there are military families, by and large, and there is everyone else, and like everything else in our culture today, that leads to some degree of polarization. 

So I think we've forgotten, in much of the country, the whole idea of sacrifice.

And Memorial Day falls at a "convenient" time - it is, after all, referred to as "the unofficial start of summer."

But yes, I do think people need to "step up" a bit more and learn about stuff like this. (In general, I think people need to take more responsibility for stuff - I see this a lot out in public, people who seem to expect to have things handed them)

The second thought is not as well developed and probably is not as related as I first thought it was:

It seems the next big bugbear we're going to berated about is "food wastage." And yes, that's a problem. But, it's a problem that sometimes individual citizens have a harder time dealing with than grocery stores or restaurants would.

Apparently this comes out in the wake of a study saying that "if we stopped wasting food, we'd have enough to feed all of America" - referencing the fact that something like 1 in 6 kids experiences "food insecurity."

It's not as simple as that, I think. Just as in some cases "famine relief" is needed because a bad government in some nations causes problems, or bad farming practices lead to low yields, berating people to "waste less food" isn't necessarily going to mean that Appalachian kid or that inner-city kid doesn't go to bed hungry.

(Shades of the old gag when parents used to tell their kid: "Eat up. There are children starving in China" and the kid offers to go get an envelope and send the unwanted food to them).

My big beef with this is that I am a single person who lives alone. So sometimes it is a challenge to consume all the food as packaged from the grocery store: I have seen three-pound bags of spinach, and unless you are cooking for a crew, eating nothing BUT spinach, or sharing with someone, one person can't eat that up before it goes bad. (And raw spinach, at least, doesn't freeze). Same with meat - I often don't buy certain meats because I can't use a dozen or so pork chops ("family packs") and I don't have the freezer space (that's given over to vegetables at the moment) to store them.

Honestly, what I want? A store with an honest-to-goodness old-fashioned meat counter, where I can ask for ONE chicken breast or ONE cutlet, but of course butchers and "help" are expensive, so stores have mostly cut them out, and just pre-package everything. And similarly, I would LOVE for there to be bulk greens at the grocery where I can bag up what I want, slap a sticker on the bag with the PLU, and then have the person at the checkout weight them and key in the PLU to figure up what I owe. But again, apparently that takes more effort or something - so I paw through the bags of spinach to try to find the least-damaged one with the furthest-out expiration date, and often wind up eating it once it's gone a little manky (At least if you cook it, you're unlikely to get sick).

Similarly with restaurants. A lot was made about how "they need to cut portion sizes" though no mention was made of the other solution (which is maybe too infra dig for a fancy restaurant): get a to-go box. I've done that numerous times, though when I'm far from home and it's the hot summer, I can't always do that and trust my leftovers to still be wholesome. (I will say my favorite barbecue place does "small servings" - a sandwich-sized serving of meat is just enough for me. I think the idea of offering half-servings, even perhaps at a *slight* premium, might be a solution to food wastage).

I know some restaurants and stores also will donate unsold food at the end of the day, and I know unsold food is a big part of the "waste" problem. I'm pretty sure Panera bread still does it, and the Fresh Market in my parents' town does. I'm sure the store can take some kind of write-off for it, and it is good PR.

But yeah. Once again the consumer gets berated. Even those of us trying to do our best. (And the idea of "buy in bulk and share with a friend" - that becomes a whole other hobby, figuring out the logistics of that, and I do not have the time or the energy or enough friends who eat as I do). The solutions I see seem to require more action on the part of the businesses.

The other thing about food waste, as opposed to, say, plastic waste: food is organic and it composts, and so in towns with composting facilities (or if you live somewhere where you CAN compost***), at least it's not filling landfill space, even if it is - as they imply - somehow taking food out of the mouths of hungry children.

(*** I don't, because my yard is small, I live very nearly downtown, and I have had rodent problems in the past. I remember the House Full of Buffoons (renters who lived next door to me some years back) who "inadvertently composted" by dumping remnants of fast-food meals on their lawn caused a rat problem for the entire neighborhood, and while maybe rats wouldn't be attracted by beet tops and slimy spinach the way they would be by fries and burger-ends, I'm unwilling to chance it. Someday I might get a composting drum, I just never have.... But I try to avoid wasting food. I don't always manage, because I live alone and am busy and some packages are just big. But I try)

1 comment:

purlewe said...

completely unrelated, but kinda related. As I live in a city I don't do outdoor composting. I do indoor vermiculture. I took an old rubbermade bin, drilled holes in it, and use newspaper and veggie kitchen scraps and keep it in the basement. We have (knock wood) not had any rodent issues (altho cats are great for that so perhaps that is why) but we do have mice in the backyard and rats in the neighborhood and they haven't come in. So it is possible to have a vermi-compost inside your house. Altho frankly if given the chance I would love the drum for outside b'c hauling the compost up the basement steps is a pita.