Days of Future Past

Sometime ago I was talking to a friend who is an older science fiction writer.  This was so long ago that the kids were then in their early teens.  I was telling her how difficult it was, writing and (back then) unpacking into the new house, and cleaning, and keeping the boys on track for homework, and she said that yes, being a working mom was very difficult, and that they’d thought back in her day that by the time we got to now, with most moms working, there would be public refectories that would serve meals.

I remember I looked at her for a moment, then said “there is.  It’s called PF Chang’s.”

This was before 2008 and the entire economic crisis, and we’d just had friends from out of town visiting.  We’d driven from restaurant to restaurant, on a week night, trying to find some place with less than an hour wait where we could have a meal uninterrupted by servers trying to hurry us up.  (Right now, our go to for this is a little Thai restaurant, where the service proceeds at glacial pace, and which is easier on the purse – unless we go to Denver where, of course, we go to Pete’s kitchen, where we’ve been going since the kids were little, back when the neighborhood was actually dangerous instead of just being iffy as it is now.)

We finally did find a place to eat with our friends, but it was more expensive than we’d meant to spend and in the mean time we’d gone through a whole range that is well above our “I’m fried/we spent the day working, let’s grab something to eat.”  (These days that’s mostly Applebys and we try to make it on Monday for the discounted burgers, but never mind.)

All these places were full on a weekday night, and it didn’t take much listening in to realize most of the people waiting were people who came here twice or three times a week.

Now, I’m not going to cast stones.  Back before the boys were a glimmer in Dan’s eye, both Dan and I were working in high pressure jobs, which didn’t pay overtime but expected it.  When you’re both working 12 to 16 hour days, the last thing you want to do is go home and cook, or even assemble a sandwich.  And we rarely managed the time to go out grocery shopping, for that matter.  (In that year and a half we were both at those jobs, sometimes I bought clothes because I hadn’t had time to do wash – and I shopped by my usual method of running in, grabbing something that fit and running out.)

What surprised me about that tour of city restaurants, years ago, was not that they were packed, but that they were packed at that price range.  (Then again, I guess some people have less… skinflinty ways.  Also, most of them aren’t writers, so they get more regular payments, I guess.)

To return to the main point, any society that requires its women to work outside the home (and the combination of social and tax pressures more or less requires that) must have some way of doing the house work.

For the science fiction writers of the early to mid century (probably up to the seventies) in the US, the thing that made the most sense was to have the government provide nutritious meals at your local refectory.

Could it have worked?  In real life?

I fail to see how, short of a Stalinist regime, where you end up having turnips five times a week and like it.

Would it be possible to have them be something like a school cafeteria, with discounted food?  Sure.  But I bet you that absent compulsion or restriction, they’d be competing with all the restaurants providing the same service in the free market.  And while I imagine some of these centers would survive, particularly in the poorer neighborhoods, the customers would mostly be the desperately poor and derelicts, using government vouchers, and receiving the quality of food no one else would want, at prices that would come out as a big chunk out of the taxpayer’s pockets.

I don’t think I think this because my beliefs trend that way, but because I simply can’t imagine the level of complexity of planning and compliance of the populace necessary for this to work.  I think it would/could only work if individual food preparation were outlawed, and even then I bet you there would be a grey food market/preparation market.

Take my kids, (please, I sell them to you cheeeeeep.  You’ll have to feed them!) They went to an urban high school.  What this meant is that they went to school surrounded by restaurants, snack bars, fast food joints, etc.

Technically, only seniors had passes to go out at lunch, and everyone else was supposed to go to the cafeteria.  In point of fact, you had to be careful driving around downtown at lunch time, for the flocks of high school students headed to McDonald’s, Wendys, Carl’s Junior or, my kids’ favorite, Subway.  In four years in that school, when not brown bagging it, older son frequented Subways.  He didn’t even know where the cafeteria was until he had to find out because he was on crutches.  And then he found the reason everyone went out was that the choice was so bad and relatively expensive.

If high school students can do this, so can adults.  The whole “government provided meals” would never have worked.

Why, then, did it make sense to science fiction writers at one time?  Why did even Heinlein include it in at least one of his juveniles?

First of all, you have to understand we writers are creatures of iniquity.  We don’t necessarily write what we think is true, we write what we think sounds cool.  For instance, I’m – sigh – ninety percent sure flying cars will never be the main form of transportation, but I have them in my stories, because they sound cool.

In the same way, in an age when most women stayed home and tended to the home fires (quite literally) imagining a cool and liberating future involved imagining a future in which women could just grab their food ready-cooked, courtesy of the government.  And the government, which had just won WWII and done all sorts of big building projects across the land, had the “can do” image to provide this.

People didn’t think of what would happen if they couldn’t choose what to eat when, they thought “oh, cool.  This will be taken out of our hands, and we won’t have to worry.”

The end result of this form of thinking has stratified in many people’s heads this idea of the future where a cool and efficient government does everything humans have trouble with on an individual level.

It is a nice dream and it would be very good – if government were composed of telepathic creatures, capable of looking into everyone’s hearts and seeing what they wanted, and benevolent enough to want to grant it.

No government known to man has ever been that way.  Even in that post WWII time when government was doing and building, it was hardly the beneficent society of providing lollipops for all children.

Government is really good at force and indifferent bureaucracy, and while it did much that needed done, it often did it in a high handed and crushing way (talk to the people displaced by reservoirs, for instance.)

There are things that the government can do (I would argue not as efficiently as the free market, but never mind me) like put a man on the moon, and things the government can’t do, like take people out of poverty.  The difference is that one problem is susceptible to the application of brute force, and the other is too complex or too dependent on individual variables to work.

Yes, it looked good enough for a time.  And yes, it seemed – would seem – to be more efficient.  It would save on resources!  All that food uncooked/uneaten in the restaurants!  All the restaurants that go out of  business! And what about the people who can’t find a place to eat?  And those who can’t afford the restaurant they REALLY want?

But in the end, the people running the Public Feeding Cafeterias would not be super humans with no pity or favor, no confusion, no human feelings.  They would be as human as the rest of us, and some of them would be empire building little sh*ts while others would be just finishing their time and pushing paperwork around till Friday and maybe a few would be really devoted public servants (who get screwed by the empire building little sh*ts, since, this being the government it’s a really big organization and he who passes the buck fastest wins!)  And the cafeterias would offer burn turnips five days a week and burnt radishes the other two.  And people would start driving out into the country to buy eggs off farmers, under the table, and black market ovens would get sold, or things sold for other purposes repurposed “It’s really a foot warmer, but Bob fixed it so it heats to 350 degrees and has a door that closes.  I sell cakes out the back door of the mini-van by the side of I-75 on Sundays.  It allows us to buy fresh food to cook for ourselves, so we stay out of the government cafeteria.  I was so tired of turnips. Then there was that batch contaminated with uranium and all of Mary’s teeth fell off.”

That would be where the public feeding system would have ended up.  I prefer the imperfect and ‘wasteful’ system of private restaurants.

And what about all those dreams of a perfect, organized, top-down future?

Shhh.  It was just a nightmare.  Wake up and work for the real future.  Imperfect, flawed, sometimes more interesting than I want to think about – but possible, in a way those dreams of future past never were.

 

245 responses to “Days of Future Past

  1. And, of course, because some people are allergic to shellfish, there can be no shrimp served anywhere in America. And since some people follow certain dietary laws, there can be no pork served anywhere, which doesn’t matter since some people are vegans, which means no meat, eggs, or milk products at all…

    I think we’re left with burnt turnips for everyone, yep.

  2. I love your image of black market eggs and jury rigged ovens.

    …but you forgot the part where the BATFE gets another letter and becomes the BATFEC.

    When cooking is outlawed, only outlaws will cook!

  3. I agree with your thoughts and now am saddened that I didn’t notice the disconnect in Niven and Pournelle’s “Oath of Fealty” where the residents of Todos Santos had to eat a certain number of meals in the commons, and the food was good. Probably wouldn’t work.

    • Susan Shepherd

      Hmm. As I recall, it was a lot of prepackaged stuff (you opened a container of, say, mac’n’cheese, and it had multiple servings in it) presumably paid for directly out of rent money. I always assumed the model they were using was something closer to the Silicon Valley thing — you work here, we’ll provide a decent variety of lunch and breakfast foods so you a) have no excuse for not eating and b) don’t have to worry about the time / effort spent on grocery shopping and food prep for the week.

      I agree it would be hard to arrange, but it might be possible, and it has the advantage of being privately arranged — Todos Santos could fire incompetent chefs and hire new ones fairly quickly, if the company wanted to do that.

    • I read that book ages ago so I don’t remember that part. But there would need to be multiple cafeterias and would likely be different types, like a food court, so competition could still function as it ought to. If one of the kitchens got no business, it could be replaced without reworking all of the others.

    • Where I’m temping right now, there’s an awesome cafeteria that’s open for breakfast and lunch (well into the afternoon lunch). There’s a salad bar/breakfast bar, different food every day and some same food every day, reasonable prices, fresh-made food to order, steam table food, healthy food and junk food, and free coffee. Penny fruit on Wednesdays. You can also order food ahead to pick it up, or even have it delivered to your desk if you can’t leave (you order over a webpage). They take suggestions for dishes and tell people which employee suggestions were taken (with the employee’s picture). This week, they were asking for people to pick their favorite donut supplier after testing various ones for a month.

      However, the company contracts with a different catering company to do this, and it’s not free for us (except the coffee, and really, the fruit for a penny). People vote with their credit cards. It’s convenient and close, but not the only option.

  4. A very satisfactory grilled cheese sandwich can be made with a clothes iron.

    • My wife laughs at this. I’ve done it. As well as heated up a pot of soup one time whilst single, sick, and waiting for apartment maintenance to replace the (non-working) heater elements on the stove.

      • During a power outage I heated up a can of clam chowder over an oil lamp.

      • (another attempt by email, sorry)

        I was kind of surprised to find out that not everyone had heated canned soup in a coffee maker—it’s kind of obvious, isn’t it? Ready to eat soup, clean glass “bowl,” you dump it in, turn on the heat and then pour in a nice big cup.

        RabidAlien commented: “My wife laughs at this. I’ve done it. As well as heated up a pot of soup one time whilst single, sick, and waiting for apartment maintenance to replace the (non-working) heater elements on the stove.”

      • test RabidAlien commented: “My wife laughs at this. I’ve done it. As well as heated up a pot of soup one time whilst single, sick, and waiting for apartment maintenance to replace the (non-working) heater elements on the stove.”

  5. This makes me think of the third Hunger Games book (for those who have read it), where they are staying in the lost Sector. There, they take your weight, body type, what activity level you are having today, and give you exactly the amount of calories you need for that day. Doesn’t matter if you’re not hungry, very hungry, can’t stand that day’s food, that’s what you’re going to eat.

    I don’t think that would work for anything larger than a small city though. Or perhaps a space ship.

  6. Regarding black-market eggs, if you haven’t read _Lipidleggin’_ by F. Paul Wilson, it’s worth a read. Available online too.

    While I agree that having the government as the sole dispensary of foodstuffs would be a disaster, I’ve often toyed with the idea of the government providing, gratis, Nutriloaf (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nutriloaf), and abolishing all individual food subsidies like food stamps and WIC and such. People who truly couldn’t afford to purchase their own food could get the Nutriloaf and eat it plain, or spice it up with whatever condiments they could afford. Everyone else would eat whatever they wanted, though many would probably use the Nutriloaf as a base for other dishes (it being “free” at the point of acquisition).

    I doubt such a plan would ever get accepted though.

    • You’d have riots in certain urban areas if you swapped out the food stamp debit cards for actual food. Personally I think it makes a good deal of sense but I’m sure you have just about every rae-baiter and community organizer out there on your doorstep (literally) protesting.

      • As an added bonus, Nutriloaf is so distasteful you can’t trade it for other goods, because no one would eat it except to ward off starvation — and therefore anyone with anything to trade for would eat something else.

        • You’re basically describing the food bar mentioned (with distaste) in Ringo’s Last Centurion.

          • Yeah, but Kula bars (sp?) were specifically designed to taste horrible. Personally, I see that as a plus but others would say it was intentionally inhumane. Whereas, if you make them just horribly bland and tasteless, well institutional food is always bland.

            Oh, the bleeding hearts will still moan about it, but it’s a (little) tougher sell.

            • Intentionally inhumane? Sure, I’ll go with that, if the alternative is eating the seed corn.

              Base survival is unimaginably brutal. We’ve got enough surplus that this is not the issue- heck, look at all the stuff we give away free. We can shoulder the load of -some- people not pulling their weight. Oh, we grumble a bit about it, but we pay our taxes and food stamps get sent out, regular as rain.

              Food controls would be incredibly tough to implement in the country. Sure, in the cities you could conceivably keep an eye on things most of the time, but out here? It would get ignored like speed limits and traffic signs out where the blacktop ends.

              • I’m all for a safety net. And not in favor of humiliation. But, as with everything, it the few taking advantage and making a life long career of living off my taxes that burns. I think after three years, ration bars might be a good idea.

      • I often think that those on our side need to riot more. While I don’t apprve of riots, it seems that the rioters get what they want, while the rest of us get ignored.

        Imagine the news coverage of a riot AGAINST EBT cards.

    • “Regarding black-market eggs, if you haven’t read _Lipidleggin’_ by F. Paul Wilson, it’s worth a read. Available online too.”

      That’s the story I was trying to remember! It was prescient in many ways. I recall the Lipidlegger was planning to branch out into black market Bugs Bunny cartoons by the end of the story. They were being banned for promoting disregard for authority. I notice quite a few old WB cartoons are increasingly hard to find, and I suspect the unofficial reason wouldn’t be far from what Wilson suggested.

    • Link to the story in question is here: http://billstclair.com/DoingFreedom/000623/df.0600.fa.lipidleggin.html

      Ironically, I’m studying lipids in chemistry class today…

    • I’ve thought of the same idea. In fact, I think it would be a great idea for a private charity to do! The only problem is that in 100 years Nutriloaf would be the basis for an untold number of delicacies. Think of how many foods we enjoy actually were developed because of privation, rather than to taste good. Salted meats and jams to allow food to be stored. Spicy food to conceal spoiled meats (though not in cold climates). BBQing to make junk meat cuts palatable (not pulled pork, but stuff like brisket). Congee to stretch too little rice to feed enough dinner guests. Cajun anything. Yet we think they are delicious now even if their need has past.

      Still it’s a great idea until you have to invent a new, less palatable loaf.
      This is similarly interesting:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_military_chocolate

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      Not to mention, if the gov went totalitarian, they could restruct food to their supporters and starve everyone else.

      • That’s true if they were they only provider of foodstuffs generally. The Nutriloaf idea was that the market would provide most foods that people would actually *want* to eat, and the Nutriloaf (boring but nutritious) would be there for people who couldn’t afford anything better (though anyone could get it if they wanted).

        The main risk, as I see it, is that there would be enough political pressure to make it taste *good* as to result in it replacing most other foods, and thereby resulting in a de facto government food monopoly. Hence the need to make sure that it was very boring and only available in a single flavor. Unfortunately I don’t see such a restriction holding for long:-(.

        Now I’m wondering if there’s any private providers of such a thing. Seems like it would be a good market niche to exploit. Aim it at college students and fitness fanatics. Tastier than Ramen and perfectly nutritionally balanced!:-)

        • There’s more to food than flavor. You can make a darn tasty meatloaf, but it’s still meatloaf and you’ll eventually get sick of it. As long as nutriloaf is restricted to being an actual loaf you won’t end up with a government food monopoly.

        • You’re pretty much talking about a combination of the recipes for Protein Bars and Granola that my older son has been using for snacks.

    • I think there are some models close to the Nutriloaf idea, though perhaps not as vitamin-fortified. I know that in Mexico you can get a stack of 50 ready-to-cook tortillas for dirt cheap because the government subsidizes them. While they’re not actually free, they’re so cheap as to be nearly so. They’re not half bad, either, though they go stale pretty quick.

    • Got to say, it’s an excellent plan. Take something unappetizing, but which nevertheless provides perfectly adequate nutrition, and give it away free, in whatever quantity desired, to any and all takers. Why, sure…go ahead and do so entirely at public expense. No problem.

      Fraud? Why would there be fraud? It’s free. Take as much as you want. (Which also means that there won’t be any black market in it…who’d give cash, drugs, sex, etc for something that they can just as easily get merely by showing up and taking some…not to mention something they probably don’t actually _want_?)

      Discerning the difference between the truly needy and the merely lazy and sponge-ish? Why bother? It costs many many millions of dollars right now to pay all the bureaucrats whose nominal job is to do that, and collectively they’re completely unable to make even a passable stab at it. Lay them all off, and just give unlimited free Nutraloaf to anyone who feels like coming to take some. I’d rather give free food to an indeterminate (but undoubtedly small) number of people who hypothetically could earn money and buy food but are just really determined not to, than continue spending massive cash on salaries for bureaucrats whose whole job is to decide who “deserves” it and who doesn’t. Forget it…if you’re willing to eat Nutraloaf, you’re by definition either poor enough to need it or eccentric enough to deserve a subsidy that small.

      On the other hand, if you’re _not_ willing to eat Nutraloaf, you’re not hungry enough that we have to pretend you’re at risk of starvation. Sorry. Buy your own food, rather than expecting the taxpayer to buy it for you.

      • Sigh. This is why we spend sooo much on entitlements. *I* can’t imagine anyone would cheat the system. I bet I could build a gassifier to power a car with it. Hog farmers would take it by the truckload. At least make a limit and require the recipient to dip their finger in ink.

      • True story. My grandfather would plant a section of his farm as a garden and let anyone pick the food from it for free. Mostly the local elderly negroes would and then their church would send him a little present and card at Christmas. But word spread about the food free for the picking. One day he walked out and there was a man loading a bag of ’em into this Cadillac with New York plates. ‘Long way from New York.’ Grandad said. ‘Missah,’ he claims the Yankee replied, ‘Yo —— patch is known woold wide.’ This predated the internet. All we could figure was he was in the county visiting relations. Eventually he had to stop planting the patch because… Get this… Vans of ‘urban youths’ started coming up from Memphis and stripping most of the free harvest before the locals. Here’s the amazing thing, that fits oddly here. He always only planted turnips. Turnips. How could it be worth the time and gas to drive 3 hrs for a free van full of turnips?! But it is a mistake to think everyone shares your culture. Same is true BTW when analyzing any PRC Quality certification; assume they consider trying to cheat part of the game.

        • Well, the point isn’t to create a system in which no one who doesn’t “deserve” it gets anything…the point is to create a system costing less, and employing fewer bureaucrats and fewer regulations, than the present one, in which mind-numbing quantities of money are spent every year to “ensure” that only “the poor” get anything, and that each of them only gets their “fair share”, but which in actuality suffers from massive and systemic fraud. Not to mention that, because of the influence of that bureaucracy, “poor person” is essentially defined as “person who devotes at least as much life-structure to engaging with the poverty bureaucracy as a productive person does to working”, which is a big part of the reason that welfare has become a multigenerational lifestyle.

          Of course, in a comparison between a hypothetical system in which taxpayer money continues to be spent on giving away free food — but with reduced overhead and fewer perverse incentives, and an equally hypothetical one in which all of that money remains in the hands of the people who earned it, the latter will certainly be better. The trouble is that there really isn’t a plausible route to the latter scenario.

          Your grandfather’s frustration at the turnip thieves pales before what he’d have felt if he’d tried sitting back and passively allowing things like currency, TV sets, and drugs to be taken away. Then he’d not only have had to cope with the cost and effort of restocking such things, but the effort of cleaning up the bodies of the folks who killed each other over places in line, and the collapse of the local economy as chunks of the workforce stopped bothering to work. I’d argue that the fact that it was just turnips contributed substantially to the fact that the major consequence was a collection of odd stories about the strange people who’d go so far out of their way for free turnips.

          How, BTW, did he protect his non-turnip, non-free-for-the-taking crops from being stolen? If there were van-loads of “urban youth” showing up with the intention of stealing produce straight from the dirt, I kinda doubt he had the means to effectively resist them all by force…at least not without attracting the unwelcome attention of the law. I suspect that the turnips may have also participated in a kind of misdirection campaign, wherein competition over who got to steal the turnips deflected attention from the totally-viable possibility of stealing the stuff he actually _cared about_. Which would also have been to his overall benefit.

          • To be fair, there’s every chance that one of the urban youths had a mother, aunt, sister, cousin, or girlfriend who had a killer recipe for turnips. And that being so, and knowing a free turnip place, it would indeed become logical to go get vanloads of turnips.

            OTOH, it would be bone-stupid not to bring the farmer some turnip awesomeness to encourage him to plant more free turnips; and alas, the young and violent are sometimes just that stupid.

          • “How, BTW, did he protect his non-turnip, non-free-for-the-taking crops from being stolen?… I suspect that the turnips may have also participated in a kind of misdirection campaign, wherein competition over who got to steal the turnips deflected attention from the totally-viable possibility of stealing the stuff he actually _cared about_.”

            We obviously grew up in different worlds. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me; I can’t even think of any documentaries that depict what the rural South is actually like. It’s always just a symbol for something.

            The way that crops were protected from theft (and still are) is to spray them with pesticide. The only culprits capable of stealing a significant percentage of a seasons crop have six legs. Even the four leg and winged thieves are generally ignored, although in some areas like Texas wild hogs have proliferated enough that they are able to cause noticeable damage. They are usually dealt with with rifles, though some younger boys and girls prefer to corral wild boar with dogs and then dispatch them up close with a knife to make it more sporting. (Anything you’ve read about Himmler being the last person to hunt wild boar with a spear should be mentally edited to include ‘in a civilized country’. 🙂 ) To give a sense of scale let’s assume that only 10,000 acres around town were planted in corn (a small estimate, but I’m trying to make the math easier and its just for one town not a county). At 200 bushels / acre and 50 lbs / bushel (both also deliberately conservative but round) that gives 100 million pounds of corn that is harvested, threshed, separated, transported to the silos, weighed and assayed, and then stored for rail shipment all within a very narrow window of time when the corn is ready, the soil is dry enough, and the weather permits. This isn’t something done by ignorant hicks with mules or poppin’ Johnies. It was a logistical feat that required orchestrating and loaning around combines that each cost more than the house I grew up in, drivers and trained hands, small fleets of grain trucks, spare parts, and the consumption of tankers worth of fuel and coffee with operations running almost around the clock. (The modern harvest increasingly uses huge GPS guided robotic vehicles with sub-inch accurate self-steering… you can find rural robot repairmen even backwards places like Kentucky but you won’t see that on Smallville). So, how many people would an organized gang require to stealthily remove even 1% of the annual local harvest of even 1 crop working with cars and vans by hand? Keep in mind that is 100 million pounds of the corns themselves (the kernels), and someone stealing them by the ear would be getting more than a pound of cob, husk, and silk per pound of corn. But the corn mostly isn’t “sweet corn” that you’d eat. It is field corn, destined for ethanol, animal feed, milling or some industrial use (it would, admittedly, be edible after grinding into meal or flour).

            But the real reason people didn’t steal crops from my Grandfather’s field is that it’s wrong. Not even that it’s illegal, that it’s wrong. If he was afraid of theft, rather than concoct some elaborate scheme with a diversionary turnip field for the local poorer old ladies to have free greens, there would have been many simpler measures that could have been taken… like locking things up. I didn’t have a key to the house I grew up in, because the doors were never locked in daytime. I don’t even think my parents had a key. We left the house open when we left town in case the neighbors needed something. The tractors and combines sat in open barns with hundreds of dollars worth of tools sitting in unlocked tool boxes strapped to their sides and the keys sitting in the ignition (remember many of these vehicles cost more than a house). For that matter, people generally left their keys in their cars too (I forgot that and locked my father’s keys in his car upon returning home from college by hitting the passenger power-lock button when I got out). You can see why there was such a quick response to shut down the turnip patch! While the young men from Memphis were not stealing the turnips (it was no secret in town they were free to anyone who picked them), if the criminal element from Memphis did realize what all else wasn’t nailed down in town then everyone would have suddenly had problems. If, however, my grandfather had discovered that any of the local black ladies were reduced to stealing his corn he (or any of the local farmers for that matter) would have taken them more sweet corn from the garden then they could eat, and likely a pie as well. (Finding out who was sick and baking pies for them was a never-ending obsession with the older ladies on both sides of the track). But it was all horribly racist because people didn’t know that the N-word was taboo, would tell off-color jokes, and we went to different churches.

            The closest thing to ‘theft’ of crops by humans at the time would have been for someone like the Hunley brothers to get drunk and do donuts in someone’s field with their truck after a rain. The solution to that was to shoot them. No, this didn’t attract ‘unwelcome attention’ from the local sheriff. He would have been quite happy for someone to have solved that problem for him, though all the farmers I knew of actually shot to scare, not at the person (at least not with lead). If the perpetrator was really unlucky, his father would find out what happened. Now days, the farmers would risk getting a lawsuit or criminal charges if they were caught shooting at someone like that (though not for sure), but similarly with security cameras and expanded Law Enforcement mentalities there are much fewer high-spirited youth willing to risk felony jail time for some impromptu mudding.

            • I had a friend in NC 25 years ago, who had a culling license for wild boars.

              • TX is going to go to an open, full-year boar season, I swear, unless someone comes up with a way to magically transport the things someplace more suited to them, like DC. I’ve got friends who are deer hunting this weekend, and the land owner has said any wild pigs they see are theirs, no questions asked.

                • Ted Nugent got hunting the blighters from Helicopters legalized. and the state is getting to the “See a pig? Well, shoot it! Shoot it now!” stage.
                  Somewhere down near Houston they were shooting 300-500 a day from a helo … and barely making a dent in the population.

                  • When pigs go feral it is a terrible thing– intelligent or at least cunning, with sharp tusks. Plus you can’t always eat the meat either.

                    • Would using .50 cals or missiles help? Would using tanks help? If you use large enough ordnance the pig burns up/explodes (I assume).

                    • I see people (some hunting show) use some heavy guns and pit bulls to hunt them. From what I see feral pigs are a problem throughout the US, Hawaii, and Europe.

                    • Most of those here are quite tasty, as they are getting much in the way of farmer’s crops as diet Those in the city (Ft Worth has had issues with them) less so, but as they can not usually be shot, trapped live, then fed good feed for a week or two they are just good lean pork, but best slow roasted or bbqed. (this is the method preferred by many folks in Florida where they eat some harsh stuff)

                    • Yea– One of our neighbors in Panama used to BBQ a pig a couple times a year. It took a long time to cook, but oh so good.

                    • “intelligent or at least cunning, with sharp tusks.”

                      Bacon on the hoof is a more problem in flatter areas than my little mountains, so far. But they’re probably more dangerous than anything else that size and destructive, too. They aren’t easily fooled by traps. They’re omnivorous, so anything we use to poison their feed would get a big chunk of a lot of other things, too.

                      I don’t agree with shoot it and let it rot, but I’d happily gut and dress a few for the meat in exchange for the labor. Hunters for the hungry might be in on this too (haven’t checked). If somebody would feed ammo in exchange for eliminating the problem, I foresee wild pig becoming quite the target this holiday season… *chuckle*

                    • The biggest problem with the pigs that I see is that they foul the water– Yes, I agree with killing and eating (some folks do it), but in some places the meat has to be tested before it is cooked– some people don’t have the money to get it tested or don’t want to be bothered…

                    • Tested? For what? I’ve never heard about this before.

                    • There are parasites and other diseases that can go from pigs to humans more easily than other animals. I was trying to find a few — one I seem to remember off the top of my head seems to be anthrax. But there are more–

                    • The big boars are foul tasting granted.

                    • From my experience most male animals are fouler than the females… in particular– goats. 😉

                    • That’s what soaking in buttermilk is for. Although it’s also a good use for cheap beer.

                    • As far as I can recall, and this may be wrong, the FD&C act from the FDA covers game animals that enter the commercial food supply, and they have to follow the same guidelines (like labeling, etc) and safety standards that all the other domestically produced foods do.

                      They test for things like salmonella or worse stuff (you probably don’t want to know). Having the FDA test our food supply is a good thing, but it can take some weird turns. The hoops you have to go through to donate a game animal to, say, the local homeless shelter can be as crazy a bureaucratic mess as you can imagine, but there are resources out there to help.

                      Hunters for the Hungry does a food drive up where my folks live in Virginia. About three years ago, a deer was found infected with Chronic Wasting Disease, which could have been rather scary. CWD’s a prion, and those can affect both humans and animals (it’s a “zoonosis”). The CDC checked, and apparently there’s a species barrier, so no humans have got sick. That’s not always the case, so they have to keep an eye on things.

                      That’s *only* if they enter the commercial food supply (“donations” can sometimes count- check your local regs). You can still shoot for the pot, no worries, within the legal limits and such. A good many hunters do pass along the bounty of the hunt though, and when they do, having the carcass tested can be part of the process.

                      Other folks here probably know more about this than I do, as I’m getting rather citified these days. *grin*

                    • umm… what he said.. and the barrier between pig and human is not as wide as between deer and human.

                    • Trichinosis is the disease most commonly related to pig-human crossover, and it can be killed by thorough cooking. Which is the reason you can never order rare pork anywhere. (Note bear can also carry trichinosis, so it should also always be cooked well-done)

                      Many states have feral hogs listed as varmints or nuisance animals, year round season, no limit, and in some areas no requirement to save the meat. Even so they are a tremendous problem, so think how bad they would be without such liberal regs. In many areas the preferred method is to use dogs, and then either a knife to dispatch them, or to hogtie them and take them alive. Others that I have talked to commonly castrate and release boars they catch. So that in few months they will be much better eating when caught again. Obviously those are not concerned about the damage they cause, and are not particularly popular with farmers who want the pigs destroying their crops gone.

                    • Yea– I knew it started with a “t” … but it isn’t the only thing that pigs carry. 😉 and yes, they do a lot of damage–

                    • http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/wild/nuisance/feral_hogs/

                      “Various diseases of wild hogs include pseudorabies, swine brucellosis, tuberculosis, bubonic plague, tularemia, hog cholera, foot and mouth disease, and anthrax. Internal parasites include kidney worms, stomach worms, round worms and whipworms. Liver flukes and trichinosis are also found in hogs. External parasites include dog ticks, fleas and hog lice…
                      Swine Brucellosis is an infectious, bacterial, reproductive disease that can cause miscarriage, low conception rates, and other problems. It is transmittable to humans, known as undulant fever, and causes flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, aches and pains. It is treatable with specific antibiotics.”

                      I’ve always heard not to try eating the animals until after the 1st frost has had a chance to kill off some of the swarms of parasites that would otherwise make trying to dress the animal difficult and unpleasant. Not that that should stop you from shooting them purely on population control grounds.

                      Recommended weapon of choice before the 1st frost: flamethrower.

            • Well, I still think it’s a relevant point that, even when van-loads of “urban youth” showed up to haul away as much as they could carry, they still only took the stuff he’d already decided to give away to all comers _anyway_.

              One or two groups of such, if they decided to grab crops he was planning to eat or sell, probably wouldn’t be able to take more than a tiny portion. But if such behavior were _common_ enough, farmers simply wouldn’t be able to stay in business without providing better security of their crops than will ever be practical. “How much can they take” is a much different question, when “they” is a van-load of teenagers playing a prank, than when that prank becomes the latest fad in a nearby city where hundreds of thousands of people live.

              But it generally doesn’t come to that, because unless you drive away the functional people as thoroughly as has happened in some place like Detroit, you’ll find that in any given population, _most_ people don’t steal. And they especially don’t steal when the object they might have stolen isn’t particularly appealing to them (as in the case of your grandfather’s turnips). Or when the work of stealing it is likely to be at least as hard as the work of earning it or buying it would be (as in the case of the crops your grandfather grew to sell).

              Still not sure what any of this has to do with the question of whether giving away Nutraloaf would be cheaper for the taxpayers than giving away money and things that can easily be sold for money, though.

              • Well, I still think it’s a relevant point that, even when van-loads of “urban youth” showed up to haul away as much as they could carry, they still only took the stuff he’d already decided to give away to all comers _anyway_.

                I think your view of human nature is far, far too sunny… I’ve never had ANYTHING I set up as free not result in not-nailed-down, clearly-not-offered things being taken.

                To the point of the coffee mess donations being stolen. -.-

                Some folks just can’t resist shitting in the nest.

            • It’s not just how much is taken, it’s how much is fouled in the process. A neighbor raised corn for silage and would plant a corner of his field with sweet corn to sell at ludicrously low prices– but it was cash, and it made his wife feel good about picking the stuff fresh those mornings she wished to, and making Mama-san happy is a BIG deal.

              I think the final straw was cutting the fence so they could drive down the five foot drop from the road, over the ditch and into the field to steal some corn. from the middle of the patch….

              • I’m guessing you may have tasted feed corn, for those unfamiliar feed corn (the type used for silage and other animal food) is edible, but that is about all that can be said about it.

        • I think I know who drove that van.

          “I have a clever plan!”

      • Why, therefore, do people steal things they have no use for?

        There are writers who claim that you have to humanize your villains because no one really does evil. They are wrong. There are certainly evil people.

        • Obviously they do have a use for them. Even if it’s just “the pleasure of getting away with stealing stuff”.

          Such people exist. I’m simply arguing that people who steal with the expectation of some gain (either by using what they steal, or fencing it) will substantially outnumber them, to the extent that simply letting them take as much Nutraloaf as they felt like would be cheaper than continuing to maintain an enforcement bureaucracy.

          • You should be an Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureaucrat.

            What happens to a communities social capital when honest hog farmers cannot compete with those abusing the nutriloaf system. What perverse incentives do you create for the marginal hog farmer who must choose between losing the family farm or abusing the system. What happens to the safety of food supply when the only successful farmers are ones willing to cheat.

            This isn’t hypothetical. I’ve seen what happens to social capital (honesty, trust, and voluntary compliance with laws and standards) after the gov’t attitude towards lawbreaking meant that those who are too honest to hire illegal and pay them under the table just can’t stay in business competing with those who can. And if you’ve got a business built by someone with no compunction about lying about their workers what makes you think they’ll be honest about bring insured or warranting their work or not throwing their waste in some rural ditch. I liked living in a society where you could trust handshake deals and general civic mindedness.

            • I’m sure there’s a conversation about immigration around here somewhere. But it’s not the one I joined.

              • The example was immigration. The point was the danger of grand social experiments to cure some one social ill that undermine our society in general.

                As I’ve gotten older I’ve began to wonder if the supposed difficulty of a rich man going to heaven was because in almost all of societies in almost all times it was practically impossible for a man to get rich without being corrupt, or at least playing along enough with the corruption to not be a threat and insure that the right people get their cuts. Western civilization produced, for a time, a place that seems to be an exception to history and the natural state of man. And the inheritors of that have been busily digging out the foundation of it with great intentions and obliviousness as to what they are really doing. The whole discussion of various schemes to feed everyone is just a great example of that. I would be happy to donate to a charity (either local, or something like the Salvation Army) that provided soylent to everyone with sensible limitations (for example, but not necessarily limited to a personal limit, must-be-consumed on premises rule, and/or ink dipped fingers to prevent abuse). I’d love for the poor to be fed (and everyone to magically become successful Americans for that matter). But it is harder for a private charity to ignore the laws of unintended consequences than for the state to do so and just bulldoze over all the people who turn out to be in the way of their end goal. Then start casting about for villains to create and punish when it fails.

                • “And the inheritors of that have been busily digging out the foundation of it with great intentions and obliviousness as to what they are really doing.”

                  Perhaps you assume great intentions. Or perhaps this is sarcasm. It’s hard to tell.

                  I, on the other hand, do not assume great intentions. I simply know that this process has been going on longer than my lifetime, my mother’s lifetime, and my grandmother’s lifetime…probably longer than _her_ parents’ lifetimes too, but the evidence gets a bit less persuasive once you go back more than about 100 years. It will most likely not be _completely eliminated_ any time soon.

                  So what I’m talking about is not the creation of a utopia of self-reliance in which no one steals, no one cheats, and everyone earns their own keep (never observed in perfect form in all recorded history, and not even properly approximated in America during the lifetime of anyone likely to be present in this comment thread), but merely an improvement on the status quo. A status quo, I might add, which could credibly be argued to have been _designed_ to trap multiple generations in poverty and utterly eviscerate the traditional American culture of self-reliance and self-respect — all for the benefit of the bureaucrats and their elected patrons, except of course that if it _had_ been designed specifically to do that, it wouldn’t have done it nearly as effectively as it has.

                  For that, I’m now the moral equivalent of an ICE bureaucrat, I guess.

              • BTW, sorry about the bureaucrat slight. That was undeserved

            • I wonder how hogs would like Nutriloaf? This would be the single biggest problem I would see with such programs, people would find industrial uses for such products.

            • (trying the reply by email option, sorry if it looks strange)

              This isn’t hypothetical. I’ve seen what happens to social capital (honesty, trust, and voluntary compliance with laws and standards) after the gov’t attitude towards lawbreaking meant that those who are too honest to hire illegal and pay them under the table just can’t stay in business competing with those who can.

              It’s a dark sort of humor, but driving through the Wenatchee Valley recently it was kind of interesting to notice that the places that had really obviously illegal employees when I was a kid now have big signs—in spanish—offering work, while the ones that had always been poor-but-legal folks still had all their people, and even some driving much nicer cars. (Guessing folks fell on hard times, and the legal wages were suddenly acceptable.)

              c taylor commented: “You should be an Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureaucrat. What happens to a communities social capital when honest hog farmers cannot compete with those abusing the nutriloaf system. What perverse incentives do you create for the marginal hog f”

          • Our hostess here recounts how in Portugal people would steal the grocery carts, having no use for them, so they make them put in a quarter to get the cart and must put it back to get back the quarter. No use at all.

            • Oh, once you get them you come up with uses. Wheelbarrow. cover it in plastic and use as mobile planter, etc. But yes, I see what you mean.

            • Hm. I can think of quite a number of uses for a grocery cart, actually. Especially if I lived within walking distance of the supermarket.

              Actually, I _do_ live within walking distance of a supermarket, and on the rare occasion that I actually go there on foot, it would be mighty handy to be able to take the cart home with me. Of course, being a conscientious sort of person, I’d feel compelled to return it afterward, and the extra hassle of doing so would pretty much wipe out the benefit from having a way to comfortably carry a bunch of stuff, so I just leave it behind like I’m supposed to…but if I weren’t that conscientious and thus wouldn’t feel the need to give the cart back, I’d have to say that there would be a whole lot of benefit to taking it with me. So much benefit, in fact, that I’m kind of surprised that a 25-cent deposit has any measurable effect at all. (Of course, most of the time it’s pretty irrelevant, since I have a car to bring the groceries home in, so there’s no convenience gain to having a cart…and the cart wouldn’t fit in the car, so even if I _wanted_ to steal it, I’d have a tough time doing so…but presumably different conditions obtain in Portugal.)

              More to the point that grocery carts (capital goods, after all) would be disposable plastic shopping bags.

              Why don’t people steal those?

              Well…some people do steal them, I’m sure…just for the fun of stealing, if nothing else. But that’s rare enough, and bulk plastic shopping bags are cheap enough, that the supermarkets have decided that it’s not worth worrying about. They’re not rationed, and customers aren’t charged for them (except in places where the government requires that customers be charged for them). If you picked up a bundle of them from the end of a checkout line and walked out the door, the supermarket would have no legal right to stop you. But even in depressed slum zones, where shopping-cart-theft is actually a big enough problem for stores to put special cart-blocking fences around their parking lots, nobody (or at least, close enough to “nobody” that even people who spend a huge percentage of their time and energy working on theft-avoidance — such as the managers of urban supermarkets — don’t bother to think about avoiding bag-theft) steals the bags.

              Supermarkets, of course, have to justify their expenditures in terms of ROI. So, given that giving away unlimited quantities of disposable shopping bags costs them less money than either charging or enforcing a daily limit would, that’s what they do. Governments, on the other hand, are perfectly free, and indeed are typically incentivized, to do the equivalent of establishing an elaborate disposable-bag-rationing system and hiring dozens of extra employees per store (at upper-middle-class salaries with platinum benefits, police powers, and a mandate from on high to spend their days bossing the shoppers around) in order to prevent bag-ration fraud.

              • Except, of course, in places like LA County, where the various local governments (both city and county) have banned plastic supermarket bags…

                Stupid busybodies…

                • That recently happened here in Austin. I had to go to Amazon and order my own plastic bags so I had something to line wastepaper baskets with in the house.
                  Ordering them, incidentally, turned out to be relatively inexpensive, and everyone in the house agrees that it was a good idea.

              • You could of course just leave the cart at your house until the next time you are walking to the grocery store and you could push it back then.

      • I’ll argue that the purpose of the welfare programs is NOT to feed the hungry. The problem admits of far simpler and less-costly solutions. No, the purpose is to provide opportunities for corruption and graft. Patronage and vote-buying.

        M

    • *chuckle* Federation Emergency Rations, Extra-Terrestrial Type 3 (Ex-Tee-Three). Fuzzy-approved, human-barely tolerated.

    • This would actually be my favored approach to all welfare. Basics that everyone can access if they want, regardless of income or assets. If you want to cook with Nutriloaf, go for it, I’ll bet I could make something edible out of it. If you want basic government issue coveralls, take them, they work for cleaning the garage. No income verification, no subsidies, nothing.

  7. I suspect the one reason that many writers are leftists is that they spend too much time with imaginary people who do what they’re told to do. It makes it hard to remember the collective action problem.

  8. I think you’ve gotten it backwards. Yes, school lunches are often substandard (though the ones at the schools I went to didn’t seem that way to me), but with a public service available to everyone, and likely heavily subsidized, they would probably serve high-quality food at a lower price than restaurants, thereby putting them out of business. The ones that would survive would be the ones who promised a private meal, undisturbed by the crowds that would be at the refectory, and would probably be much more expensive.

    The Government might even find ways to encourage this, because then, only wealthy people would be able to afford the restaurants, and that would make an easy way to identify the rich when a scapegoat was needed.

    • Once they were out of business, they would have no incentive to keep going with the good stuff.

    • Wayne, you’re forgetting Gammons Law: “In bureaucratic organization, the more money you put into a function, the less is produced.”

      You’re also apparently forgetting that it’s been tried, and failed, many times, with governments supplying some necessity.

    • Nope. Even with all the money, they’d offer substandard food. First, there’s the lobby groups: ranchers, farmers, quack “doctors” (like quack climatologists) allergy sufferers, vegans. When you’re done fitting everyone you’re taking half of people’s pay for burn turnips.
      The reasoning you followed is what people thought about the ACA “well, it’s forced, and there will be so many people, it will be cheap and put everything else out of service” etc.

      • I guess that it’s another symptom of where I live, since so many of the other complaints I hear from people out there sound like they come from another planet entirely, rather than just a few hundred miles away.

        What I described is what would happen here, at least until the system had been up for a while.

    • “with a public service available to everyone, and likely heavily subsidized, they would probably serve high-quality food at a lower price than restaurants, thereby putting them out of business”

      ???

      In my hometown there was one restaurant, a grocery store that sold fried chicken, and two “convenience” stores (more or less; they sold whatever they could, but were too small to stock a full selection of groceries). The next nearest restaurants were at least 20 minutes drive — one way — away.

      The school cafeteria in such a small town is staffed with people you know.

      But the food was still… bleh. Bulk purchased, easy to fix, fast to fix, with minimal muss and mess.

      And it wasn’t that the facilities were poor — every year parents would take over the kitchen and fix turkey dinners with all the trimmings to sell as a fund-raiser. Those were pretty good, as I recall.

      Oh, and in college… I went to a small private school — and the cafeteria food was still “bleh”. Again, bulk purchased, easy to fix, fast to fix…

      The basic goals of industrial food preparation are NOT “tasty, appealing, and filling”. They’re “move ’em through as quick as possible”. It’s the profit motive that brings taste and appeal back into the picture.

      • As I intimated in a previous response to Sarah, I grew up in an area where even the school lunches were good. At least better than what I hear from other people, in other parts of the country. I keep forgetting that my experiences don’t match up with people in other areas.

        Then i also considered the fact that when it’s voting age people receiving the food, they will expect better.

  9. I brown-bagged in elementary school until the school told the parents that we needed to eat better food. 😉 My parents refused then the school came up with a solution. We could wipe down tables during the lunch hour for the food. I was not impressed and by the end of the experiment, I wanted to bring my food. I also lost my running time.

  10. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    Off topic.

    Sarah, have you ever read the X-Men comics?

    When I saw the “Subject Line” of your post, I thought of this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Days_of_Future_Past [Wink]

  11. Larry Patterson

    I had the idea that a Jetson or Asimov robot would prepare any meal in its memory banks on request.

    • Maybe. Asimov had at least one story in which robots (functioning properly) took unwelcome corrective action while following the Three Laws of Robotics (specifically, workers were exposed to a type of radiation that was perfectly harmless at low levels – but the robots freaked out because the humans might *forget* and stay in the radiation too long). I can potentially see an Asimovian robot refusing to cook up a nice juicy steak because of some potential health problem still decades away.

      • Jack Williamson’s humanoids were programmed to react that way. Gentle walks in the evening after a vegan dinner sounds unpleasant.

        • torture to me. I’m a committed carnivore. Any society where you aren’t in jail, the military or a monastery, shouldn’t be controlling your life to that extent. Sounds like a permanent childhood to me. Freedom includes freedom to fail and freedom to get hurt. Freedom is an adult virtue.

  12. Oddly enough I was reading an article just yesterday about all the foods you could cook with just a drip coffeemaker. Seems some college allowed coffee pots in the dorms, but no microwaves or hot plates. Naturally some enterprising students (or their moms more than likely) developed ways to utilize the carafe warmer and the basket to do everything from steam veggies to grill fish.
    Never pays to underestimate either the stupidity or the enterprise of humans. Particularly when they’ve been told no.

  13. The scene in Firefly where Simon’s birthday cake LOOKS like a cake, but is really the same protein powder they always eat, comes to mind.

    Half my meals on any given day consist of a a quick protein shake made in the Magic Bullet with lots of ice. Any meal that is a milkshake is by definition good (to me), and takes far less than 5 min. to prepare, and provides a known number of calories. And tastes good. Low carb, too, the way I make them.

    I’m not necessarily recommending that to anyone else – but I’ve been doing this for years, and it sure makes those meals easy. So I can get back to whatever else (writing) I’m supposed to be doing.

    I used to love to cook. Julia Childs cookbook cooking. Then I became disabled, and taking that much time, plus standing, became unrealistic. I try to eat a meal somewhere in there during the day, with maybe a real vegetable. It’s amazing what things you can do without when you don’t have energy.

    • Well, I can also see feeling like it’s too much to cook EVERY day when it’s just Dan and I, supposing of course the guys move out 😛

      • Back in the mid to late 80s our food budget was $100 a week, $75 at the grocery store and $25 for eating out. Family of four with two teenage boys. Did not include lunches. Boys ate at school and we ate at work.
        When the boys moved out our food budget stayed the same, $100. But it was now $25 for groceries and $75 for eating out. Of course back then the four of us could eat at Micky D’s for ten bucks and come away full (or as full as a teenage boy ever gets.) Older son would come home from school, fix and eat an entire box of mac and cheese, then start growling about dinner a half hour later. I swear there was a black hole involved somewhere in the mix.

        • Mac and cheese is amazingly non-filling. I like boxed mac and cheese, but I seldom buy it, I can eat a box of it and it doesn’t even take the edge off of hunger; seems like a real waste.

      • Planned leftovers. 🙂

  14. “I fail to see how, short of a Stalinist regime, where you end up having turnips five times a week and like it.’

    There is a very old joke of the Russian general and the US general comparing diets for their troops. The Russian says proudly his soldiers consume 1000 calories a day. The American responds with the news that his men eat 2500 calories a day.

    “That’s impossible,” shouts the Russian. “No one can eat that many potatoes in a day!”

  15. In relation to 0care and Gov’t doing things, I’ve relations who are demanding Single Payer healthcare. Wait until you hear the reasoning.

    One has developed MS, the other has had a heart issue that came on suddenly.
    Yes, expensive cost, but both avoided paying taxes as much as possible all their lives (the MS sufferer I think never payed a penny in taxes, ever), working for cash, and never saved anything for emergencies, let alone retirement. Now, when the MS was setting in, one or two of the attacks were trips to an emergency room, but when more in depth help was needed they went to Louisiana’s Charity Hospital in N.O. and then to the state run clinics because Charity is a nightmare to deal with, driving first almost 60 miles to one clinic, then when it changed a shorter 45 miles to another. The diagnosis was finally arrived at, and a shot prescribed to combat it, at $450 a month, so it was arranged to receive the medicine direct from the Pharma for free. Much gnashing of the teeth was done over the rotten quality of the Charity systems and they really hated when they HAD to go to the actual Charity in N.O. (it is now part of the Medical School of LSU, so certain things can be done there that cannot at the outlying clinics) the complaints were long and loud.
    The other, has paid some into SocSec, and was paying taxes when forced, but made much under the table. Also they are a Vet, so they could go to the V.A., right? No, the N.O. VA is one of the not so good ones, so when an issue or two came up they instead went to an emergency room and paid for it with cash or check. Even when the heart issue hit, with nearly a week spent in the hospital, instead of going in to the V.A. they went to regular hospital. Didn’t even bother with a Methodist one (there were/are two I think in the N.O. area and they had well known charitable sections) but absolutely refused to go to the V.A., even when they knew there was no way they could pay for treatment. Both are now considered wards of the state.
    Why are they wanting single payer? Simple . . . see the V.A. and Charity system suck really really badly (state run) , and say Ochsner, Methodist, et al do not (not being state run) so if EVERYTHING was run by the gov’t, they would be run like Ochsner and Methodist, not like the V.A., or Charity. See? Makes perfect sense. Really.

    • Jpkalishek I’d say you have to come over and mop my brain from the bookcase, but I’ve seen this reasoning from my highly educated colleagues, together with the “if there was single payer, we could just write and not worry about getting sick” — it’s a magic umbrella, it’s pixie dust… it’s industrial grade stupidity.

      • I am reminded yet again that the liberal mind set is all about rainbows and unicorn farts and how things really really have to be in their fantasy world. So when reality rears its ugly head and gobsmacks them they are dumbfounded and immediately seek to blame someone else for the unfairness of it all.
        Of course under single payer the bitching and moaning wouldn’t last all that long. Complicated and expensive medical condition? Here’s an unlimited script for pain meds, enjoy your final days.

      • William O. B'Livion

        ITYM “Weapons Grade Stupidity”.

        • “Government Grade Stupidity.”

          Only comes in one size (massive).
          Only comes in one flavor (we’re here to help!).
          Only costs one thing (how much you got? Yeah, all of it).

          Individual persons do some stupid things, groups of persons can become a mob with practical intelligence inversely proportional (logarithmically) to the number of persons, but governmental stupidity rules them all.

      • “it’s industrial grade stupidity”
        Describes them to a tee.

    • I have yet to see a good VA Hospital. If we went to single payer it would be like the VA.

      • When my folks were still traveling in their retirement, they wintered places in part by the quality of their V.A. hospital. Melbourne, FL had a good one, Down by Corpus Christi was another, and Iron Mountain in the U.P. of Michigan is quite good as well so when Dad decided to get a new hip he stayed home that winter, though the surgery was actually done in Milwaukee (not any good, but the only things they needed were the O.R. and a bed for recovery, everything else was done by Iron Mountain). Dad is not amused he now has to use Memphis, they nearly ran him out of medicine twice in less than a year.

    • Both those people would be the first to be labeled “not necessary to treat” in a new system. We can’t fix MS, and the heart patient just keeps taking more resources. What makes them think they are going to keep getting treatment at all? The day they tell me what not to treat is the day I retire. “You can keep your doctor, if they have no conscience”.

  16. I remember I looked at her for a moment, then said “there is. It’s called PF Chang’s.”

    Wait, that’s AN ACTUAL PLACE?!?!

    *BING!*

    Yeah, but at least it’s only a big city thing…. I’ve only ever seen the name on bag dinners in Safeway.

    Sorry… my reaction to an obviously common place shorthand amused me enough to post about it. 😀

    • LOL. Yeah, we used to go there for birthdays or when at cons before low carb. EVERYTHING, even the salads, is high carb there, though.
      Dan drove home from DC after 9/11 and in a store in the middle of nowhere he found something that swore they were krispy kream doughnuts. They were lumpy and looked hand made… 😛

      • Sarah, come visit me and I’ll make you Chinese food that’s low carb, and better than PF Changs (poor imitation Chinese!)

    • They have a line of frozen skillet meals.

  17. Christopher M. Chupik

    Flying cars are cool, but from a safety standpoint, they’re a nightmare. Even a fender-bender could result in casualties. Not to mention them crashing onto the sidewalks or into buildings. Maybe for long trips across the country, they’d work. But in a city? Not likely.

    • Whole airplane parachutes should reduce the carnage rate if they run out of gas or a goose decides to take up residence in a turbofan. Fender benders are unlikely to be very common as every sane scheme for these things has the majority of them running semi-automated.

      • Aircraft coming down with whole plane parachutes deployed still arrive at the ground at something close to freeway speeds. I personally don’t want 4,000 lbs of flying car under a chute dropping on my house at that velocity, thanks. Put wings or a rotor on it and there’s some control – under a round chute it’s just falling slower.

  18. I don’t have to imagine it, I’ve lived it. We actually had it pretty good on the carrier. Aft mess deck had a couple of options for entree and side dish (grey lumps in brown sauce or brown lumps in grey sauce), plus rice and a salad bar. Forward was usually some kind of “fast food” option: burgers, fried chicken etc. In between there was the quick option, sandwiches on my second deployment, multi-colored hot dogs the first.

    All of it was free, except you had to stand in line unless the ship was in port, because NOBODY ate on board if they could help it. And pretty much everyone had some non-perishable food that they kept in their lockers. Cerial bars and ramed were popular.

    • William O. B'Livion

      Do the same thing, only in a tent.

      In Wisconsin.

      In Feburary.

      Minus the options for hte entree.

      Do you know how cold your fingers get when you *peel* a case of uncooked eggs–because they are frozen and you have to get the shells off before scrambling them?

    • Jeff, I wonder if the person who came up with the lumps-in-sauce had a relative in university food service. The one dish that 95% of undergrads at my college avoided was “curry:” AKA lumps in yellow sauce. I suspect the problems with the dish were 1) cheap yellow curry powder and 2) trying to use a white sauce as the sauce base. Flour, milk, and curry powder really don’t make for a good curry. IMHO.

    • Weird. I’d heard that sailors had a better mess, because they knew that morale was important. My data’s probably way out of date…

      • Comparing the mess decks to the DFAC at Kandahar, I preferred the DFAC. The raw ingredients were the same, whatever the DOD could get from the lowest bidder, but in Afghanistan the food was prepared by people from India/Pakistan who were being paid many multiples of their wages back home. They also couldn’t go home, if they were fired they couldn’t find another job over there, someone else took their place at the money tree. As a result they, unlike the cooks aboard ship, actually cared about what they were preparing.

        • Yeah, but you have to admit that eating Mexican food prepared off of the DOD recipe card system, and as interpreted by someone whose spicing sensibility was developed in Southwest Asia is a bit… Disconcerting?

          It’s really weird to bite into what looks like it might be a decent Mexican dish, only to find that it tastes like curry. Then, there’s the Southwest Asian interpretation of refried beans, which is, in essence, thin bean soup. The military cooks we had supervising them simply could not communicate to them that the cans of refried beans were not soup concentrate…

          We had a Mexican-American senior cook, who went all out for one of the big Hispanic holidays–Cinco de Mayo, or something. The poor guy was in tears, when he saw the final results of all his scrounging, scrimping, and saving. It just did not work out well, at all.

          That said, I wish they’d just turned those Sri Lankan and Indian guys loose on the ingredients we gave ’em, and told them to make what they wanted with them. I made friends with a couple of the Indians on my first deployment, and I’d go up to the chow hall when the kitchen staff was eating, instead of during normal hours. Holy crap, but could those guys cook. I swear, some of the dishes they were doing for themselves were better than I’ve had at some very expensive Indian restaurants here in the US.

      • IIRC, sailors do have better food than in the “mess”– that’s Army, yes?

        The submarines have even better food, basically (from memory) about the same level as what’s offered in the officer’s galley.

        I’d put it slightly lower than Denny’s at about three AM, without any alcohol to improve matters.

        • I haven’t seen a Denny’s since I left the coast, but the one we used to stop at when we got off work at 2:00 AM served good food.

          • I love Denny’s, but I’m well known to have no “taste” when it comes to food– I would be pleased to be asked on a “nice” date to Denny’s, or Outback, or Sizzler’s. I’ve been to a couple of places with cloth napkins, and my only word of praise is thank God it was a tourist area so I didn’t stick out too much. If I’d known, I would’ve packed something nicer and been uncomfortable with some indication I had a clue….

            My husband tolerates me, but it’s a bit trying on him.

            Anyways: possibly the Denny’s with a consistent “guys getting off work” flow will have a good cook on at that time, but the one down by base in Mississippi was… well, only slightly better than ship food.

            • I like Denny’s for breakfast. But I also have no taste.

              • We usually ordered breakfast, but then we were all cheap, and Denny’s has good breakfast. Sometimes they would give us a piece of pie for half price or free, because they don’t like to hold them over until dinner the next night.

            • I like Dennys, too, but you might not want to use me as a comparison. I also like Taco Bell, Waffle House, McDonald’s, etc.

            • I recall working out of town and asking the client where was a good place to eat. He told us about this place that served really good Italian food, “It looks like a house on the outside, and doesn’t have a sign, but it is nice inside and the food is really good” should have been a clue. So… three of us roll in there on our way back to the motel after working in the woods all day in triple digit heat. We walk through door (in dirty jeans, work boots, sweat-stained t-shirts with the sleeves ripped off, etc.) and there is a guy in a tuxedo to seat us, all the tables have lit candles in silver candlestick holders, cloth napkins, real silverware, and crystal glasses. 🙂

  19. Off the topic, I thought you’d find this amusing. From a gun blog, Say Uncle. Junior is blogger’s young daughter:
    It’s an Oleg kind of day
    Just got off the phone with Oleg and Junior hears the conversation and asks when he’ll be back for a visit. She likes him.

    I then walk in and see she’s found my copy of Larry Correia’s book Monster Hunter International. She looks at me and says: This book has an interesting first page.

    Me: Oh?

    Her: Yeah, in the first page, he shot a werewolf, a Mr. Huffman, someone named Smith and someone named Wesson.

    Me: Smith and Wesson is a brand of gun.

    Her: Oh, that makes that first page make more sense.

    A bit later, she comes running out shouting “OLEG IS IN THIS BOOK!!”

    – See more at: http://www.saysuncle.com/#sthash.4cDi4MmH.dpuf

  20. My undergrad college had magnificent food. Why? 1) Southern Tradition. 2) It was a selling point for the campus. And we were a small college (at that time). When the vegans complained about the lack of selection, the manager met with them and showed them the economics, and they agreed that you can’t scale Moosewood up to feed 450-800 people, three times a day, and keep fees reasonable. Sib’s undergrad and grad college had good food. Why? Private contractor and lots of competition around the campus (urban campus in a large city) so the school could pressure the contractor to keep the quality and selection up to snuff.

    Public schools I attended? Ak-pathooy. Canned and reheated veggies and “meat” patties because it met the USDA funding requirements and the budget. I suspect by the time any bureaucracy gets its hands on edibles, culinary disaster ensues just because all the competing demands push the results down to the lowest, blandest, cheapest denominator. And that’s before you get people lining their pockets.

    • As an undergrad I discovered the cafeteria in the med center took the dining card just like all others, but the food and atmosphere was at least an order of magnitude better. Turns out million dollar heart surgeons get treated more equally than a room full of hung over adult children undergraduates. Who could have for seen that?

      • *grin* At Little Mountain State U, the “cafeteria” was lumps, sauce, and salads past their prime… but the secret was the ag campus foodhall.

        Heck of a hike from main campus, but *real* BBQ, fresh veggies, Southern biscuits and gravy, and cobbler that was to die for. I gained weight for the first time since my teens. *chuckle*

        • The vet school at Flat State is far enough from the main food court that they have a cafeteria. I always wondered about the meat, but never asked. However, if you wanted dairy (25% butterfat ice cream), meat, or grain-based stuff, you never had to leave campus for your grocery shopping. As you say, there are some advantages to cow colleges and ag programs. 🙂

          • Heh. At Little Mountain, it couldn’t have been ours- or at least, most of it wasn’t. Not near enough head of beef cattle to support hungry redneck guys and gals in the prime of their appetite. Dairy on the other hand… I do miss that ice cream. Beats the tar out of anything store bought.

            • You would really be able to relate to Silver Spoon, the Japanese ag school anime. One of the major turning point episodes is the day they make pizza from scratch.

              The Japanese usually don’t like and have trouble digesting milk and cheese (although they do like ice cream, whipped cream, etc.), so the interesting food fact of the ep for me was that Japanese people love gouda on pizza.

    • The cafeteria at my alma mater introduced me to “hamdingers” — which we knew as “spam twinkies”. That semester of food was so bad half my friends joined the student committee that helped pick which foods got served.

      It was great for me, as I lived off campus and got invited to the taste-testing.

      • I have no explanation as to why my elementary school lunches were so darn tasty. It wasn’t because I was a snot nosed kid– mom was a good cook and I was appreciative of her efforts. We did have a principal who was a southern belle, and the kitchen staff were an army of hispanic Catholic church ladies. When what they got was substandard, they went straight to the top and complained in no uncertain terms. One year they had us start a garden in the back so we could get good veggies.

        That was an odd public school though. We had parents who really participated. Strangely many of them had PHDs and launched rockets for a living. I mean, in those days, I thought everyone was a nerd, even the farmers. There, they WERE. Anyhow, as an adult I see that farmers are far nerdier than slickers, at least percentage wise. Not that my experience is data…

  21. By 1974, even a Nation columnist was treating public refectories as a nightmare. Needless to say, he tried blaming the Leftist dream of a few decades earlier on Big Business.

  22. Skywalker Ranch has/had three dining choices (it really wasn’t close enough to run to McDonalds)… they had one place with burgers, one with good cafeteria style meals, and the Main House, which was reservation only and fancy stuff. We did that with each kid on his or her birthday or when people visited from out of state. It must have been pretty cheap though, because I don’t remember that it was expensive.

  23. There’s a reason for the pressure to get women to work outside the home. When woman cooks a meal at home, she’s adding to the nation’s wealth, but her contribution is not taxable. When the same woman cooks a meal in a restaurant, she’s also adding to the nations wealth, but her wages are taxable. The government has been working for years to get its hands on the wealth that women create, and the only way to do that is to get them out of the house, where they work for taxable wages. Regulations, taxes, propaganda (you’ve come a long way, baby) are all aimed at making the wealth women create taxable.

  24. “Could it have worked? In real life?”

    We have it now, called school lunches. Don’t know whether you’d consider those “working.’ They’re very small unsatisfying meals.

  25. In all seriousness, let’s not forget how Soviet central control of food distribution worked out in the Ukraine.

  26. I’m thinking about centralized food dispensers, and then I’m thinking of the vast array of food allergies of people I actually know, which include
    Nuts
    Shellfish
    Mushrooms
    Eggs
    Peppers
    Fresh tomatoes
    Quinoa (yup)
    Cinnamon
    Soy
    Gluten
    Lactose
    … and so on, and so forth, and you really get the sense of the line “one man’s meat is another man’s poison.” There’s no possible way that you could prevent cross-contamination, and when the food allergies can scale up to “deadly” in certain circumstances, I can’t see the concept of mass food dispensers as feasible. (I’m sure that someone out there is allergic to turnips.)

    On a side note, I apparently got to partake of government cheese (a perennial favorite of improv game suggestions) when I was a child. My Nana was living with us and apparently was given a regular ration of cheese as part of her SSI or something, and my parents would “buy” it off her with foods she could actually eat (that weren’t bad for her health.)

    • And we wouldn’t be able to have GMO foods, either. I was at a potluck the other day and heard the guy across from me telling the guy behind him in line, “it’s a good thing my wife isn’t here, she wouldn’t be able to eat any of this, she is allergic to all GMO foods.” I really wanted to grab him and beat his head against a wall. Because it would be more productive than beating mine against a wall, and sometimes teh stoopid should hurt.

      • I’m pretty sure she does have some nasty reactions if she thinks she’s eaten GMO food.

        Some of the unmourned victims of pseudoscience are those folks who are suggestible like that.

      • It’s impossible to be allergic to GMO foods. You might be allergic to one of them, as to anything else –but I suppose telling him so wouldn’t work?

        • Exactly!

          Some people’s comprehension is scary. I was going to say language comprehension, but since he explained to the guy behind him what GMO foods was he comprehended the language, just had a huge fail from there.

  27. I am not old enough to have direct knowledge, but I believe that part of this is another expression of the logic noted in yesterday’s post, A Slip In Time. It seems to me that the American “Restaurant Culture” was mostly pretty bad through the Sixties in most parts of the nation. While there were a few ethnic places — Chinese, Italian, maybe Mexican in the Southwest — what passed for restaurant fare throughout most of the country was the ordinary fair most people fixed at home. Kitchens were (I think) much smaller in most homes, too, with refrigerator space more limited.

    Perhaps public refectories seemed more sensible, especially for the kind of people writing SF, as they likely ate at least some portion of their daily meals in a “corporate” dining facility — faculty dining rooms or factory cafeteria, which would have featured fairly well-prepared meals because they were feeding the level of personnel (teachers, engineers) whose work product would be affected by the dining environment.

    Certainly there is evidence in the Nero Wolfe novels that through the Fifties meals out were often extremely fancy — Rusterman’s — or fairly basic, with Archie grabbing a ham sandwich at a drug store or Five & Dime. Even into the Sixties the idea of an Automat held sway as a method of delivering food to the masses, so perhaps the public refectories were less unreasonable.

    I clearly recall the Sixties as a period when Fast-Food* places such as McDonalds (and its many equivalents), KFC, Pizza Hut spread across the land, followed a decade or two later by such corporate franchised venues as Red Lobster, Steak Houses galore and other representatives of what has become known as “Casual Dining” appeared.

    The history of restaurants in America might be an interesting exploration. From boarding houses (which often served a lunch to workers employed in the vicinity) to the Harvey House to the present array of establishments there has been a significant cultural evolution. The ready availability of prepared meals has also fostered the culture of home “gourmet” preparation, in which cooking is a hobby rather than a chore, a luxury made possible by not having to repeat the experience seven nights a week.

    *Contrary to what has been rumoured, these places are not called that because most sensible people would rather fast than eat there.

    N.B. — it is entirely possible that everything I have said here is wrong, an effect of misunderstanding, misinformation and misapprehension of what was going on around me. It would not be the first time for such a categorical error. Readers are encourage to a) perform their own research or b) cite me loudly and authoritatively in the hopes that by so doing we can make this version of history the perceived truth and people with actual facts and knowledge can be derided as the mistaken ones or even liars desperately attempting to rewrite History. What the heck, it works for the Palestinians.