From Seat 2-B

October 31, 2010

I’ve decided to go as Hamlet this Halloween.  That’s because I’m writing this blog from Seat 2-B on Delta 1123 from Salt Lake City to Detroit. (2-B or Not 2-B… Get it? Yuk, yuk…). Apologies to Thornapple CSA readers who tire of the travelogue nature that this blog takes at times, but it is a major component of the reality that I live from day to day. I was awakened this morning at 4:00am by a telephone call from a robot telling me that my flight scheduled for 7:00 am was delayed until 10:00, but that Delta had thoughtfully rebooked me on a flight leaving at 8:40. Then at 4:45 I got a call from another robot thanking me for staying at the Salt Lake City Marriott and advising me that this was the wake-up call I had booked the night before when I thought that I needed to be at the airport by a quarter to six. So by this time, I was pretty much awake and  when my traveling companion called at 5:00 we decided we might as well go on out to the airport and eat breakfast. And maybe even have a little interaction with real human beings.

After receiving my order from the delightful and assuredly non-robotic Coco, I sat at Dick Clark’s  eating my French toast surrounded by Dick Clark’s memorabilia, listening to Steppenwolf, Van Morrison and Brian Hyland. I was sitting next to a platinum record presented to American Bandstand for Bruce Springsteen’s Born In the USA album. (Don’t ask me why American Bandstand got a platinum record for Born in the USA.) I was thinking to myself that it can’t be very long before no one will know what any of this means. Diane and I went to hear Bob Dylan last week at MSU and a casual remark to one of my students revealed that she had never heard of Bob Dylan. And for those of you sitting there wondering who in the heck Brian Hyland was, I’ll clue you in. Brian Hyland was the one who sang these immortal words:

It was an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny yellow polka-dot bikini

That she wore for the first time to today

My god! What a terrible thing to hear before coffee! But it reminded me of a Joan Didion essay where she writes about being thrown out of a grocery store called Ralph’s Market in L.A. during the early sixties because she was wearing a bikini . It led me to try a Google search on my in-flight wireless connection to see if I could turn up a picture of Joan Didion in a bikini, but no luck.  Joan, if you read this blog, see if there is anything you can do about that.

So I’ll admit that the food thread here is pretty thin: French toast…coffee…grocery store.  Then there’s the bowl of Corn Chex, and the cup of “light” yogurt they gave me on the flight this morning.  Since it’s already noon in Detroit, I’m going to eat this and call it lunch. And I’m glad to get it.

In fact, I’ve been waist deep in the industrial food system all weekend. I was at a project meeting where Dan Sumner, an economist from the University of California at Davis reminded me that the most generous estimates for U.S. consumption of foods that would fit the various “local” or “alternative”  classifications suggest that they are something between 2% and 4% of the total. Although we might dream about the entire population of Detroit eating a hot breakfast of eggs from backyard chickens, we should remember that the stars may lie but the numbers never do.

I guess it’s too soon to question whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or abandon working with mainstream agriculture to try and edge the food system just a few degrees closer to sustainability. Terroirifying as it may be …

Trick or treat, Horatio!

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

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