There must be a special school where politicians go to learn how to run for office, a place that features such courses as Baby-Kissing and Hand-Shaking as entry level offerings; intermediate studies in Saying-Exactly-What-You-Think-the-Voter-Wants-to-Hear; and, advanced seminars in identifying Hot-Button Issues and Trend-Setting Developments as they appear on the political horizon.
I assume there are also lectures and demonstrations on how to speak, dress and style your hair in ways that do not remind constituents of Bella Abzug.
The reason I believe such a place exists is because the candidates all tend to sound about the same—give or take. They speak of the same issues using the same buzz words and offer the same solutions. The only differences are in the netherworld of financial impact and the projected date of accomplishment (“within the first 100 days” or, “before the end of my second term”).
One candidate can get us Universal Health Care for $800 a year in increased taxes; another acknowledges that while the actual cost will be close to $8,000 a month, it doesn’t matter because Bill Gates and three of his richest friends will pick up the tab for everything except vaccinations and acupuncture.
While missing the irony, they embrace the late Senator Everett Dirksen’s shoulder-shrugging commentary on a spendthrift Congress. “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money,” noted the Illinois Republican.
Besides its ardent desire to dump Trump at any cost, the Democrats are speaking at an alarmist volume about jobs, the economy, health care, college education, military spending and the environment. So, too, are the Republicans, just from the other side. However warranted that volume is, there are other key issues that get little attention from the candidates.
Although I do other things than sit around listening to political rhetoric, I’ve yet to hear any candidate weigh in very much on agriculture, housing, or the impending economic crisis that we, as a nation, will face as we grow older and leave a workforce without a corresponding number of replacements.
It’s been estimated that in the next ten years, 30 percent of the current workforce will be retiring. Fewer and fewer of those retirees will enjoy their so-called Golden Years as they once imagined them. More and more of them are working longer than they had hoped and many will be forced to look for part-time employment as Walmart greeters and school crossing guards to make ends meet. Their houses may have gained value, but not enough to parlay into a down-sizing move with anything much left over. Upkeep and taxes will continue to rise faster than Social Security benefits. Many pension plans have been devalued or have disappeared altogether due to mismanagement and malfeasance.
The impending housing crisis alone begs for concerted attention that will have to come from the government. And that attention will have to be accompanied by investment without regard to return. There is a reason, a friend once observed, why poverty-law attorneys drive 16-year-old Volvos.
For all his babble about revolution, Bernie Sanders has given short shrift to the one thing that will change the world most decidedly and effectively. Perhaps it’s because of his urban heritage, but I’ve yet to hear Bernie talk about agriculture, unless it’s in concord with the environment or in reference to the farmers and ranchers going bankrupt.
He’s missing the boat. And he’s sitting at the dock with the rest of the 300 or so who’d like to lead our nation. (If he’s ever given a chance to be heard, I suspect that Steve Bullock would address agricultural concerns.)
Unlike the rest of the slate of candidates who have toiled in law, academia and industry, Bernie is kind of well, an old hippie, a grass-roots politico who specialized in community organizing that would end a war, redistribute wealth and guarantee civil rights. As did I, he inhaled while listening to Joni Mitchell exhort our generation to return to the garden—a place of sunshine, peace and earthly promise.
If ever there is a rock ‘n’ roll theme park, Woodstock—that garden of song—will be a vast muddy acreage of tribalistic youth whose primary bond is LSD and a tolerance for 90 minutes of the Grateful Dead riffing on “St. Stephen.” It was not the garden Ms. Mitchell had in mind.
But the garden is, in fact, the place to which we would be wise to return—with or without a rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack. Although the back-to-the-earth movement that coincided with the birth of Woodstock Nation was off-putting in the way veganism might be today, growing our own food would have almost-unimaginable effects on our world.
A few rows of lettuces, beans, carrots and tomatoes brings great satisfaction to the grower. It feels good to root around in the dirt for an hour or so in the early morning, and the flavors of those home-grown foods render the mass-produced as barely edible. A few chickens provide eggs and meat whose quality cannot be found at the local Kroger’s.
Over time, of course, such exposure changes the way one thinks about food in the way that many think of subsistence hunting and fishing. It develops respect for what shows up on our plates by thinking about food’s origins and sources, and gratitude for those whose labors provide it, especially if those labors are one’s own.
In 2015 Americans spent $29.1 billion on lawn care, not including water. Imagine the environmental impact and dollar costs of fuel consumption just to power the lawnmowers, leaf blowers and weed-eaters that intrude on the weekend’s silence. I cannot think of a single expenditure of private or public funds that is more useless or wasteful.
Other than in public spaces like urban parks, athletic fields and, perhaps, golf courses, there is no reason for the vast lawns that stretch across suburbia. Even golf, in its ancestral home, is not played on manicured lawns but on wind-swept terrains with native grasses.
One study I read recently found that 75 percent of the respondents found their front yards to be a “reflection of [their] personality.” That’s about as pathetic as seeking an identity in the car one drives.
So ingrained in our psyche are lawns that it is common for some communities to restrict front yards to specific kinds of ornamental greenery. Lawsuits have had to have been brought to allow vegetables to be grown on private property. The decisions regarding property covenants have not been unanimous.
For many, Monsanto has become synonymous with an evil whose purity is without peer. The multi-national company has created and vigorously marketed products that at the very least threaten the health of people and the planet we call home. There is a recognition of that to the extent that Bayer, the German-based multi-billion-dollar company that bought Monsanto, is no longer using its acquired name and is sponsoring a rigorous campaign on social media to suggest that the company is hosting welcoming parties for honeybees.
Maybe it is trying to make amends and change its ways. I just tend to be a skeptic.
My wife is part of a clique of women with dirt under their fingernails. Their guru, who wisely advised that growing your own food was like printing your own money, died this past spring, just weeks before she’d have been turning the earth to plant her diet and stores. This group spends cold winter nights thumbing through the seed catalogs that arrive each year. There are dreams at work—visions of raised beds with produce begging nurture and harvest, flowers anchoring the fence lines and corners with bright displays of colors and hues that bring contented smiles.
The simple act of small-plot farming can change the world. Industrial farming will lose its stranglehold on the consumer and stop its merciless land grabs if its profits are threatened. We can provide for our families, friends and neighbors deliciously, cheaply. It will allow us to dictate how we grow what we choose to put in our bodies—even if only for a few weeks’ worth of tomatoes and peppers at the end of summer.
It will help to put us back in charge.
Photo montage by Courtney A. Liska
Squash Sauce with Saffron
This was one of our most popular pasta dishes at Adagio Trattoria during the fall and winter months. It is one of my own creations and it was always gratifying to hear how much our guests enjoyed it.
2 medium butternut squash
Fresh sage (8-10 leaves)
Butter & extra virgin olive oil
½ cup onions, chopped
½ cup celery, chopped
½ cup carrots, chopped
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
Penne or rigatoni #1 cooked to package directions
Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
Peel and cube the squash. Season with salt, pepper and a few leaves of sage. Toss with some olive oil. Roast at 400° until soft. Heat butter & oil, and sauté the vegetables until soft. Add wine and cook until it evaporates. Add squash (remove sage leaves) and stock seasoned with saffron (a few threads) to taste. Puree. Stir in gorgonzola cheese and add to pasta. Stir. At service, top the sauced pasta with crumbles of the cheese and a light sprinkling of poppy seeds. Serves 4-6.