By Irena Chalmers
When the New Orleans streetcar drivers went on strike in 1929, the unemployed workers showed up at a restaurant’s back door. Greeted with the cry, they were given a hunk of crusty bread stuffed with “debris.” This consisted of trimmings of roast beef and gravy, Creole sausage or any other scraps of meat or fried oysters and shrimp from the Gulf. The times are not changing — much. As we plunge into another real or feared depression we are fast becoming a mighty global heap of po’ folks.
Pendulums swing, but never go back entirely to the way we were. There’ll always be luxury in the midst of plenty. French Laundry workers are dishing up dinners for dapper dudes at a staggering $300, per. This is a huge leap. When Joe Baum opened The Four Seasons in 1958, it was one of the most expensive palaces of gastronomy in Manhattan. On the menu were: Meadow Veal Cutlet with Morels, $5.75, Two Thrush en Brochette, $7.50, Beefsteak Tomato, Carved at the Table, $1.25 (and served with a steak knife,) Baby Pheasant in Golden Sauce, $6.25, Twin Tournedos with Woodland Mushrooms, $7.00, The Youngest Carrots in Butter, $1.25, Nasturtium Leaves .95 cents. At that time the average price of a car was $2,200, gasoline was thirty cents a gallon, and the average annual income was $5,565, with minimum wage set at one dollar an hour. Today the fingerling potatoes cost as much as the roasted chicken.
Recently Navy wives posted this recipe in its entirety on their web site:
You’d think we’d be drowning our sorrows in spirited drink. Not so. The restaurant consulting company Technomatic, reports, the awful news that some restaurant goers are skipping emphatic drinks entirely and sales of grown up beverages have plummeted. Yikes. Could it be that we are skidding towards temperance? Some have an even worse time than the rest of us. $2.52 a day is the total allowance to cover three meals a day in the Federal penitentiary. Today 2,258,983 prisoners are held in Federal or State prisons or in local jails.
So here’s a way to deal with our problems. To save gas, let’s ‘free” the offenders (fitted with GPS-monitored anklets.) so they can grow vegetables and plant fruit trees along our highways. All our food will thus be produced locally.
Estimates vary but some suggest there are close to 90,000 students currently enrolled in culinary schools — maybe even more. I’ve found jobs for all of them. In community kitchens, they can cook all the food farmed by felons.
As fewer people can afford to go to the gym, they can, instead, get on their bikes and pedal the food by foot — or pick up passengers and deliver them by rickshaw to local eateries where they will dine convivially at communal tables. All wine and beer will be produced locally. We will be encouraged to drink red wine because we all know it is good for us. The most athletic will jog from bar to bar.
Then we can convert aging buildings into vertical farms. “Vertical farms, many stories high, will be situated in the heart of the world’s urban centers. If successfully implemented, they offer the promise of urban renewal, sustainable production of a safe and varied food supply (year-round crop production), and the eventual repair of ecosystems that have been sacrificed for horizontal farming.” (You can read all about it at http://www.verticalfarm.com/) Hydrogen-producing algae will power these, buildings as well as clean fuel for all methods of transportation. (This technology also exists right now.)
We may have to make a few more dietary adjustments…d’you remember the craze for keeping pot-bellied pigs as pets? I’ll bet hardly any of the little darlings ended up on the dinner plate. It would make far more sense, particularly for those living in small apartments, to keep a couple of cute chickens as egg-producing pets. We could count on Martha Stewart to create a whole new empire, producing the kind of exotic breeds we’d be thrilled to show off to our friends.
The bad news, (all the foregoing has been quite good news,) is that we’re going to have to give up those monster steaks and downscale from red meat, to white. PETA is urging us to give up our truly terrible habit of eating animals. Instead we’ll produce protein from stem cells. Of course there’ll be an awful fuss about this idea so we’ll have to introduce the idea in animated cartoon form on Super Bowl Sunday. I suggest we name the new stuff Hypp—O (Have Your Pure Protein — Organically.) The logo will be a frolicking hippo fashioned in the likeness of the Metropolitan Museum of Art cutie.Corn is becoming a big issue in these hard times. We’ve made the eminently foolish decision to convert it into inefficient bio-fuel, thus creating a shortage. It looks as if we’re going to have to rethink this basic foodstuff. Scarcity will enhance its appeal, but if we used the methodology that gave us red, orange, yellow, purple and black peppers, we can surely color all the golden corn green. Green is what we’re into now. Big time.
Speaking of big, we are frowning on big people especially large people like Henry VIII. We’re disapproving even kings with multiple wives (and children) so we need to keep history in mind as we reorder our priorities. It is an indisputable fact that if most of the poor can no longer afford to shop or drive to the beach, or go to fancy restaurants. They’ll have to stay at home and stare at all those flat screen TV’s they bought in the good old days. But, and this is a big But, we know from past experience when blackouts and other catastrophic world events keep the public off the streets, this results in a heap of begetting. Here’s the silver lining though: this behavioral shift could point the way out of our current economic woes. Little babies are incredibly demanding. They need stuff: diapers, sun hats, crayons, piano lessons, little league uniforms, schools, toys, cell phones and tons of other things. There’s nothing like a new baby to get consumers dashing into the stores and spending without ceasing.
As you see, we just need to look at the future with a telescope instead of a microscope. Long term, we’ve got to change our policies. This, of course means changing our current form of government. I propose we establish a new jury system. Each new problem will be solved by picking twelve jurors, randomly, just as we do for each new court case. The judges will be chosen democratically too. We’ll qualify them first by requiring them to dance with a star and then have an American Idol-type democratic vote.(Just let me know if you have any more problems you’d like me to solve.)
Irena Chalmers is a professor at the Culinary Institute of America and is the author of Food Jobs:150 Great Jobs for Culinary Students, Career Changers and Food Lovers. Publication Date September 2008