Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Its that time again. Sissy has put off going to the grocery store until the food vouchers have nearly expired. Its not that they do not need things, its that the things they need are either prohibitively expensive or they are unavailable. Scott keeps asking her when she is going to go and she knows her nervousness isn’t completely logical. After all her noise about wanting to get out and away from the house, its proving amazingly difficult to make herself actually do it.

They really do need to get either some flour or some corn meal soon. The prices are really tripping her out though. Who ever heard of a dollar per pound for flour, at least this side of the US Civil War? Just prior to the pandemic starting, you could get five pounds of flour for under two dollars, and considerably cheaper than that if you bought your flour in bulk. There is roughly four cups per pound of flour … just enough for two small or one large loaf of bread. But to that cost you have to add all the other necessary ingredients. The cost of flour would be much higher than it already is if the US Federal Government had not instituted price ceilings. Most other staple goods, such as sugar and cornmeal, are the same way.

The issue is that when the government puts those types of price controls into effect, many producers will simply drop out of the market rather than lose money. To respond to this, the government has a couple of choices. They can either give incentives such as subsidies or they can take much more drastic steps like they did during World War II when they enacted the Smith-Connally Act, also known as the War Labor Disputes Act. This act authorizes the president to take over production facilities if companies refuses to continue manufacturing goods that are needed by the public.

This time around, the federal government is trying a combination of things – encouragement of door-yard gardens (aka Victory Gardens), price ceilings, strict rationing, federalization of food production facilities, etc. Sissy doesn’t see this as keeping food affordable so much as keeping inflation from keeping it from being totally unavailable. It feels like being between a rock and a hard place, but as difficult a situation as it is, it is far better than in other countries that are totally dependent on imports for their sources of food.

The USA has restructured its supply-demand and gross national product way of thinking and plans to keep most of its products at home for the citizens here. That means that items like computers, other electronics, telecommunication equipment, etc. – any manufacturing that used to be farmed out to countries like China and India - are very hard to come by; no more imports. On the other hand, you can’t eat a computer or telephone and right now food is on everybody’s list of priorities. A lot of people have been forced to learn to re-use, make do, or do without very quickly. Just like there were no civilian vehicles built between the years 1942 and 1945 here in the USA, luxury items manufacturing has been suspended during this pandemic year. This has created a black market for such items, but because of economic problems and resource shortages, it hasn’t flourished to any great degree yet.

Some manufacturing facilities have been repurposed for things like repair and recycling of items similar to what they had been making before. Most however sit closed and dark, leaving their former employees struggling to find replacement income with which to feed and house their family.

With all of this in mind, Sissy waits her turn yet again in the cue to get into the grocery store. It is hard to believe that they are in the twelfth month of the pandemic. It seems that just yesterday everything was normal, yet at the same time it feels like they’ve been struggling with drastic lifestyle changes forever. The one thing that she notices this time as she waits in line is that now that August’s brutal heat is on them, people are much more irritable than before. There is always this simmering anger that seems to lurk just below the surface. God help them if they have to deal with yet one more thing, because sometimes it feels like people can’t be wound any tighter and things are going to explode all over again like they did in the opening days of the pandemic.

As she gets into the store, brightly lit because the power is on, baskets of breads and rolls are on prominent display. While she is tempted to get a loaf, she knows that she can make it herself at home so long as she is willing to put the work in. There is a chalkboard listing the fresh food items available at which she just had to take a second glance.

Today’s Fresh Picks
Nutria (water
Alligator - Tail
Wild Hog – prime cuts
Wild Hog – economy cuts
Beef Chorizo (sausage)
Beef – prime cuts
Beef – economy cuts

Fresh Fruit

Shaking her head, she finally gets up the nerve to ask exactly what nutria is. The guy behind the counter grins and calls them "good eating." He continues by explaining, "They are actually a non-native, invasive species of animal here in Florida. Nutria are members of the rodent family. Adult nutria are about 14 inches long from the nose to the base of the tail. The tail itself is 12 to 17 inches long, round, and hairless. Nutria average 15 to 20 pounds in weight. Nutria are native to South America and prefer to live in salt water shoreline mudflats and tidewaters. They can disrupt catfish farming, destroy rice and sugar fields, and disrupt flood control. Nutria tear out aquatic plants by the roots to eat them. They are destroying many hectares of marsh vegetation, such as bulrush and cordgrass. When nutria eat all of the grasses in a marsh, the ecosystem is disrupted. This damage impacts wading birds, fish, mollusks, crustaceans, and many other organisms. The roundworms infesting nutria can cause health problems for humans. The roundworm larvae are present in the water where nutria are found, and these larvae can penetrate human skin. Known as "nutria itch", severe inflammation can result, which requires medical attention."

"Well, you’ve certainly got that down don’t you, but eat them? Come on, are things really that bad that we have to but rodent in the meat cooler?" Sissy laughingly asks with only a little credulity in her voice.

"Well Nutria occurring in the wild are clean animals. Contrary to their look-alike cousin the rat which is a omnivore, nutria exclusively consume plant life; they are strict herbivores. They are like cows in that respect. Also, in addition to Chef Philippe Parola, many premier Louisiana chefs created nutria dishes, including Chef Paul Prudhomme, Chef John Folse, Chef Enola Prudhomme, Chef Suzanne Spicer, Chef Daniel Bonnot, Chef John Besh, and many more! So you could actually say that Nutria is a delicacy."

"Maybe so, but I’m not that adventurous yet," she laughs. "I’ll stick with another three pounds of that Chorizo. And send complements to who ever delivers it. That is some of the best chorizo that my husband said he has ever eaten and he is of Hispanic decent."

"I’ll tell the store manager. Anything else for you today?"

"Hmmm. How many pounds of flour and cornmeal can I get?"

"Ten pounds of each or 15 pounds of one."

"Give me ten pounds of each. And I’ll take my limit on all of the fresh fruit on the board except I only want one avocado."

"Anything else?"

"How much is sugar going for and how much can I get?"

"Sugar prices are on the board over there. Your best bet is to get the sugar cones. They are made of 100% pure brown cane sugar just like the colonials used to receive from the Indies and Caribbean. There are about seven ounces in each cone and it has a molasses taste just like the originals would have. You use them by grating the sugar off in the amount you need. Due to sugar melting in a lot of the hot humid climates of the Caribbean and places like Central and South America, that is what you still find today instead of white granulated sugar. Some people claim it is even more nutritious than the refined sugars. They are called Piloncillo if they are shaped like a cone and Panela if they are shaped like blocks."

"Ok, " Sissy laughs "you’ve sold me. Give me my full ration on the sugar cones."

The store manager looks over and grins. It is a good day for him as the power is on and the bread is selling. Sissy, pointing to her checker, says, "He’s good."

"Yep. That boy could sell snowballs to the Abominable Snowman," as he smiles at the next customer who stepped up.

Sissy is tempted to ask about the fresh vegetables like corn and tomatoes, but she has canned tomato products at home and they pulled fresh ears of corn just yesterday. She doesn’t want to buy just because she can. As it is, she feels she has over spent this time. That boy really is a good salesman.

After Sissy checks out and is walking home with her extremely heavy pack, she thinks about how much she wanted to buy some fresh meat. The thought of grilling a steak or pressure cooking a roast is just about turning her stomach inside out. But, she has to be practical. There is still plenty of canned meat, commercially canned and home-canned in their pantry . . . or at least enough to last a good long while yet as they are not eating as much as she had planned for. She also hasn’t broken into much of the TVP (textured vegetable protein), and she has about a dozen #10 cans of that.

Sissy would love to get more pasta and rice, but doesn’t know if that is likely or not. Wonder if someone in the neighborhood can give her some pointers on making her own pasta? Every time she has ever tried, hers always turns out a little thick and tough, more like thin dumplings than what she intends.

As she turns onto her street, there is Scott again, waiting for her return. "Power is on! The kids are filling up all the containers and I washed out those two extra barrels of soda syrup that I brought home the other day."

"Hurray! The power was on at the store too. Hey, you didn’t throw that syrup away did you?!"

"Nope. The girls boiled some jars first thing and I emptied the syrup into those. I used those big gallon jars though instead of your other ones."

"Oh . . . you . . . are . . . good," Sissy teases. "Seriously though, thanks for thinking of that. I know it looks like I’ve got a ton of empty jars, but they’ll go fast once the new produce is planted and begins to produce. Plus, I never know what you are going to bring home from work. Better to be safe . . . "

"Than sorry. We know, we know," he grins.

"OK smarty pants, then help me get this stuff in the house. It weighs a ton. And you will not guess what they are selling in the meat market!" Sissy exclaims.

They walk into the house while Scott listens to how her trip went, shaking his idea at the thought of eating a rat’s cousin.

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