Monday, June 20, 2011

Some Interesting Food History Worth Sharing

In Harvey Levenstein's Paradox of Plenty, I'm now up to the Reagan years, and the really depressing thing is that so many seeds of the problems we're facing now were sewn by President Ronald Reagan and his era of greed.  Not that I'm not a capitalist, but Reagan--with his tax cuts for the wealthy and his insane unlimited spending on weapons--is an absolute turning point in our economic history, and not a good one.  Long-term planning and whatever ideas of corporate responsibility we might have ever had (and that never seems to have been much) was exploded by corporate raiders and the rise of the just-need-to-show-profits-for-the-next-quarter mentality.  As part of the "trickle-down" economic theory, the tax cuts were accompanied by drastic slashes to social programs, including welfare and food stamps, and even with his draconian cuts to who could qualify, by the time Reagan left office, 1 in 10 Americans could qualify for food stamps.   BUT, I have to admit, that with the welcoming of the racist southern Democrats who fled the Democratic party after President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights bills, Reagan probably had the votes of those he would send into poverty.  If it weren't so sad, that would be rather funny.

In the 1980s, the richest 1/5th of Americans experienced significant improvements in living standards, while the middle class held its own mainly by increasing the reliance on two incomes while the bottom 15% sank downward [from the New York Times, December 16, 1990]   Now, maybe it's just me, but if the middle class ONLY held its own by doubling the number of workers in the household, that is not progress.   Income levels drastically affect food (and social) history because social history really is about what we do with discretionary income, and when discretionary income dries up--as it does when income only rises for 5% of the population--that becomes a big factor in what people eat and do.  I have never been a fan of Reagan, and have read WAY too many economic theory and history books to find his "trickle down" economic theories as anything but sheer nonsense, so I wasn't surprised by much, but it is sad to see where we could have done things differently.  As before the Great Depression, once income stagnates or deteriorates for the majority of people there is no one left to be able to afford all the crap they normally buy, so companies aren't making the profits any longer (the ones that feed those $12 million salaries CEOs now get), and they lay off people and the problems compound, and then the people who aren't affected--those in the upper income levels--blame the poor for being poor.  These are all predictable circles that just keep happening over and over and over.  All you have to do is read the actual history--the factual stuff, not the Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin nonsense.    Food assistance programs have always been attacked by those who don't need them as encouraging "laziness," even when it was proven in 1979 that food programs had virtually eliminated the gross malnutrition problems that they had been created to address.

I guess our ability to look down on everyone not as well off as ourselves is overshadowed only by our inability to learn from our own history.

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