Oxfam International

How Did I Miss That? What Is Food? What Is a Small Loan?

Steve Russell

Oxfam International has produced an infographic showing the corporate producers of most of what is found in a typical shopping cart. There was only one store in Bristow, Oklahoma, with that kind of stuff. It was a Safeway and we didn’t shop there.

I live in a different world now, where Barack Obama was not talking past me with his remarks about “the price of arugula at Whole Foods.” But I still live in a city with only one supermarket.

Notice what happens to matters of taste as you get older? I’ve mentioned before the pleasure I get from some songs I could not stand when they were popular. So it is with food, but only sometimes.

My fellow vets will know what “S.O.S.” is, and I can see that it’s something GI cooks can easily prepare in great amounts. Military convenience food.

Like most GIs, I complained about S.O.S. but ate it anyway.

Out of the service for about three years, I found myself learning how to prepare the stuff. Institutional convenience food had become individual nostalgia food.

My grandparents had to master the art of eating with no money. They both got Social Security checks and my grandfather got some kind of veteran’s benefit for having followed Teddy Roosevelt up San Juan Hill.

They got into the Social Security program at the very beginning, when the checks were tiny but the principle was large. My grandfather’s work in the oil patch had ended with a serious accident, resulting in a settlement they used to buy a house outright and add indoor plumbing.

I do not see how we could have lived with rent or a house payment. As it was, there was the commodities program, a very large garden, canned fruits and vegetables put up from previous years, fish when we caught them, venison when somebody in the neighborhood got a deer or ducks and geese in season.

Meat was scarce enough that to this day—in spite of a serious weight problem—I just cannot leave meat on my plate. There seemed to be a lot of bacon, and my grandmother kept a metal canister on her stove with second hand bacon grease. Since I never saw it empty, I often wondered how old the grease was on the very bottom?

In addition to bacon grease, the general frying agent was lard that we got from the government commodities distribution. That brings me to one of the Indian basic food groups, fry bread.

She never called it “fry bread” but rather “fried dough,” and I hated it. It was the all-purpose rations extender when there was nothing else to eat—commodity flour fried in commodity lard.

In my old age, I love fry bread, but it’s a nostalgia attraction. Commodity cheese, on the other hand, I liked then and now. It took me a long time to be no longer tired of oatmeal, but now that I’m not tired of it I like it again.

When we had meat, it was hamburger, chicken, commodity Spam or whatever the neighborhood hunters brought home and shared.

This was how poor people ate in rural Oklahoma in the fifties. I was grown before I ever had a steak or learned the hard way I’m allergic to shrimp. Another basic food group, pizza, I first encountered as a teenager.

They told us at school the basic food groups were veggies, fruit, grain, meat, and dairy products. Looking back on it, I guess we had all five of those at some time or another. We just had no control over when or how much.

I also note that foods I consider traditional to Cherokees would cover all five basic food groups:

Veggies: lettuce, beans, squash

Fruit: blackberries, strawberries, persimmons, melons

Grain: corn

Meat: venison, pork, fish, turkey

Dairy: milk, butter

If we had access to all those things at once, we might have a pretty balanced diet unless you factor in our tendency to fry things in lard, including lettuce. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Our idea of “processed” foods would be hominy, kanuchi, and butter (because you have to churn it).

This brings me to Oxfam’s infographic. My cousin Ray Sixkiller pointed out that the five food groups are now ten transnational corporations. Six of them are in the U.S.: Mondelēz (Illinois), Kellogg’s (Michigan), PepsiCo (New York), General Mills (Minnesota), Coca-Cola (Georgia), Mars (Virginia).

Globalization locates four of the ten elsewhere: Danone (France), Nestlé (Switzerland), Associated British Foods (U.K.), Unilever (U.K. and The Netherlands)

I had to think about the idea of “processed food” in traditional terms and I came up with three. There are probably more. But look at the Oxfam infographic. Most of the food that travels under those brands is “made” in one way or another and many ingredients would not pass the health test: Would your great-grandmother recognize this as food?

Burgers have been recognized as food since the last decade of the 19th century. Now Change.org hosts a petition to In-N-Out Burger asking for a veggie burger on the menu of the chain that is doing well in the Burger Wars while remaining on the Forbes Best Employer List. The goal was originally 25,000 signatures, but it’s creeping up on 35,000.

Meanwhile, Business Insider published a burger smackdown between California (In-N-Out) and Texas (Whataburger) and the result claimed In-N-Out is a better place to eat as well as to work.

For those who like a beer with their burger, The Washington Post warned that the Indian state of Bihar is getting serious about alcohol prohibition. Since April, 14,000 people have gone to jail and 43,000 gallons of booze have been seized. All adults in a family can be prosecuted if one of them drinks. Homeowners can be arrested if a tenant drinks. An entire village can be fined if somebody in the village has a still.

The Danish firm that brews Carlsberg built a new bottling plant in Bihar in 2012. The 600 workers from that plant are now out of work. Conferences and upscale weddings have moved elsewhere and bootlegger prices are triple what legal prices were.

The Post quoted Manu Maharaj, a senor police officer, “We have to create spies and informers among the communities—only then will prohibition be successful.”

“Like it was in the U.S. or like it is on Indian reservations?” Cousin Ray was in rare snarky form.

The Post also commented on a review of the new Godzilla movie, quoting Mark Schilling of Japan Times as calling the tone “soft nationalism.” The U.S. does not come off particularly well and the military hardware is deployed by the Japanese Self-Defense Forces.

The original Godzilla was an unfortunate by-product of atomic testing that played on the Japanese anxieties from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The latest version mines anxieties from Fukushima Daiichi. In the review, we learn that Japanese has a way with neologisms like many American Indian languages, having one that literally translates “zone that is difficult to return to.”

In Japan, the new film is coining money as Shin (“New”) Godzilla. It will be released in the U.S. next month as Godzilla Resurgence.

I caught Cousin Ray pondering again the disappearance of an animal common in our childhood. He was wondering if the success of Godzilla would help him raise the money to shoot his script about the Southwestern U.S., Revenge of the Horny Toad.

CNN reported Eric Trump’s assertion that his father has “gone from just about nothing” to get as rich as he is. Donald Trump himself said in October “my father gave me a small loan of a million dollars.”

This is a reality check on the level of Mitt Romney suggesting that a student who was complaining about student loans borrow $50,000 from her parents and start a small business and come back to school after the business is rolling.

“The kid,” Cousin Ray laughed, “probably hopes his daddy will start him out with a similar small loan.”

After The Donald sniffled and snorted his way through the first debate, some of us were already wondering if nose candy was involved when Howard Dean tweeted: “Notice Trump sniffing all the time. Coke user?”

Stephen Colbert, who is playing himself on TV these days, claimed that Hillary Clinton was so prepared for the first presidential debate “her new nickname is Preparation H.” The evidence is how she “soothed the Bern” in the Democratic Primary.

CBS News picked up a comment by Bruce Springsteen when asked about Donald Trump’s candidacy. Quoth the Boss, “The republic is under siege by a moron.”

The Cherokee Phoenix reported that the Cherokee Nation is in negotiations with the Oklahoma Historical Society to buy Sequoyah’s home, a one room log cabin once occupied by the man who invented the Cherokee syllabary. Oklahoma has cut funding for the Historical Society by 40 percent in the last eight years.

Sequoyah’s invention caused literacy to spike among Cherokees and by the time of the Trail of Tears more of the Cherokees could read and write than of the settlers waiting to take Cherokee land.

Sequoyah went west in advance of the Trail of Tears and built the cabin that would be his home from 1829 until his death in 1843 while on a trip to Mexico to persuade Cherokee refugees to return to Indian Territory. The cabin was designated a National Historical Landmark of the U.S. in 1965.

Cousin Ray noted that the Oklahoma Historical Society was spending $100,000 a year to maintain Sequoyah’s home and he had to wonder how Sequoyah could afford to live there?

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alexjacobs's picture
Submitted by alexjacobs on
When I became editor of Akwesasne Notes (w Rokwaho/Dan Thompson and Aroniawenrate/Peter Blue Cloud) in the 80's, I finally got to do a Notes cover and did a map of North & South America w which corporations were invested in countries w Indigenous populations and concurrent military spending, as their were several rebel insurgencies and on-going protests over development (things dont change much). Also as an art student every so often I would come across other artists would come up w similar details w charts "Showing the Money Trail" of corporations, politicians, military and geographical hot-spots. This was pre-internet and often such details & charts would disappear from the media. Nowdays we can trace the Money Flows much more easy and PLEASE use this INFO to GUIDE YOUR CONSUMER SPENDING.