Monday, June 29, 2009

The Long Wave of Globalization

       In Santorini, we stayed at a lovely discounted hotel with a view of the sea and the sunrise.  The hotel owner,  saying gregariously that he had fixed up three hotels and had bought two more,  one for each of his five daughters drove us careeningly down the long switchbacks to the harbor, almost smashing into another car while we talked.  There is some effort here. 

      But the food for a continental breakfast in 2009 was a tang/orange juice substitute, four kinds of “bread” chock full of chemicals, two  kinds of jam in little containers (also full of chemicals if one could decipher the Greek)  and a Nescafe substitute (they made my wife wonderful Greek coffee when she asked).  There was no Greek yogurt or honey, the marvelous staple of breakfasts elsewhere in Greece. There wasn’t even cheese or mystery meat.   They had adopted the American “breakfast” of 2000, modeled as Michel Pollan tells us in In Defense of Food, on “k-rations” for the soldiers from World War II – flavored chemicals which can be sold now at a high price – and the incipient science of nutritionism.  Pollan says amusingly that nutritionism is like 15th century surgery, getting it right about some things, but not knowing very much.

   As he also relates, George McGovern led a senate committee that told the truth: Americans eat too much beef.  The cattle industry campaigned against him.  Politicians now talk about the nutrition in products as if food were a matter of getting the right chemicals in one’s body. See here.   Dan Glickman, Clinton’s Secretary of Agriculture, used to rattle on  about Europeans having a “culture of food” – perhaps he could have said more simple: they like food; it was up to the US government,  Glickman said,  to keep  pushing the so-called “science of food.” In the United States,  fortunately, a movement for organic foods has taken hold.  Many ordinary people are deciding that one can pay now (for better food) or pay later (in feeling ill, being overweight, and in contracting new diseases like teenage diabetes).  But there is still a class divide.  Cheap hotels still serve chemical  “scrambled” eggs for breakfast (stuff that executives in the hotel chains, no matter how dumb, would not be caught dead, eating or feeding their families). 

      When we drove through Goodland, Kansas in August, 2000 on our return from Spain, the hotel clerk, a charming young woman told us she was corresponding via internet romantically with a young European man.  They had not exchanged pictures (she weighed about 250 pounds). She was a very lively person – hopefully, it worked out – but the story was tinged with sadness.  The waitress in the restaurant, weighed, oh, 275 pounds; one family was frantically eating, the man spread across two seats (lots of food, lots of weight,  no nourishment).  It was as if we had walked into a satirical play.  The woman, who cleaned our room weighed 300 pounds.    Goodland, Kansas – the ruin of American agriculture, the government subsidized production of cheap corn – was poisoning the land and the people.  

      In Santorini, they offered the drinks for free so we went out for breakfast.  Perhaps as my wife reflected , this is the long breaking of the American wave  of globalization, sent out in 2000, here on this beautiful island in 2009. (having been a colony, poor and dominated, Greece is and isn’t part of Europe; in Paris, where people feel better about themselves, the senses are more valued, the food magnificent, they say, Americans eat merde). The woman who ran the hotel bragged that the breakfast was inexpensive – 4 euros per person – compared to 5 elsewhere.  Hotel “management” – it  did cut costs at the expense of being poison (if one eats better food, it is easy to notice that one just does not feel good after eating such a “breakfast”).  But suddenly even McDonald’s in Europe, the International Herald Tribune tells us, is concerned with sustainable agriculture.  Even McDonald’s now is buying some meat from farmers who give chickens and cows a little space (not just relying on chemicals to make imitation flavor).  Even McDonald’s has hired Temple Grandin, the autistic speaker with animals from Colorado State University  (she thinks in images and understands what animals try to communicate through looking at you and sounds, since they, too,  project images), as an advisor.  Perhaps we need a slogan for businesses: better living through food, not “chemistry.”  The ground under this corrupt globalization  is shifting some, and in a few years perhaps, even in Santorini and for working class Americans..

      In a store on the mountain overlooking the sea and the sunset,  my wife found a beautiful and inexpensive cotton scarf.  She returned to get some to bring back as gifts. The man working there told her that several  others had done the same.  “Cotton,” he said, “not synthetics.”





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