Of course, the ocean of issues that need attention in our world is bottomless. On a roll today, and feeling combative, I’ve picked three minor irritations that crossed my path this week. If you want to get warmed up for the real deal (climate catastrophe, income inequality, pollution of the planet, etc.), consider taking a few practice swings over these three.
Grocery store tomatoes
Amazon (the retailer)
Hospital Food • A friend spent a week in a Toronto hospital recently and reported that the food is just as terrible as we hear — sickening — and that requests for no meat or no gluten go unheard. What arrives is tasteless food of god-awful quality often wrapped in wasteful packaging. A big part of the problem is that institutional food is usually outsourced to enormous multinational companies. In Ontario, we are at the point where if you want to eat decently when sick in a hospital, friends or family have to bring nourishment to your bed. People without friends and family are out of luck. Doesn’t that piss you off enough to complain to someone and keep complaining? Or maybe organize a group of friends to complain with more influence? One day, you and I are almost certainly going to be patients (my wife was a patient in Guelph General a few years ago for five days and couldn’t stomach the dreck served to her; a few months later, a doctor friend found himself in the hospital and was utterly disheartened by the food he’d been sending people to eat for decades). If self-interest is a big motivator for you, start advocating now on your own behalf, if not the behalf of actual patients, before the plastic tray arrives at your bed with the unrecognizable steamed ham slice and the grey peas. This is an issue you can get your teeth into.
Grocery Store Tomatoes • We are at the pinnacle of tomato season when one of creation’s greatest vegetative miracles should taste like heaven. Some are pretty good because they are picked locally. But boy, in a supermarket it’s hard to come by those tomatoes we remember as children, the ones that actually tasted spectacular. This is another issue to get pissed off about — because you and I can drive to our local supermarket and tell the produce manager that those taste-free things resembling tomatoes are a sham. Or write to Galen Weston Jr., the CEO of Loblaw Companies and let him know that, really, with the rest of the world in such dire shape, the least he could do would be to ensure that tomatoes actually tasted like tomatoes. Send him this paragraph from Eater.com if you need ammunition:
…The tomatoes you’ll find year-round in the grocery store are hybrids, which means that humans have cultivated and bred them for specific characteristics. Not all hybrids are bad, but the grocery-store ones are; they’re bred for resistance to diseases, firm flesh, thick skin, and storage potential, rather than, say, juiciness or flavor. They’re also yanked from the vine while they’re still green — and therefore hard as rocks — so that they don’t get crushed while they circumvent the globe to their final destination. Once there, they are sprayed with ethylene gas that induces reddening and softening — but off the vine, they can’t develop the sugars and acids and other flavor/aroma chemicals that make tomatoes actually taste good. So you get watery, cottony pucks, instead of the mind-bending globes of wonder that you’ll find at the green market in the summer.
Amazon • A friend who worked in the book business for years, first in an independent local store (still in business) and later for two publishers, despises Amazon for devouring the book industry. The thing now is that Amazon sells everything, and it has lost control of what’s being offered by the millions of third-party sellers (mostly from China) that use its marketplace. I have lately bought inferior goods posing as good goods and felt a serious erosion of trust in Amazon. Seth Godin said a couple of months ago that we are likely to acquire, for example, solar sidewalk lights that, despite favorable reviews, work for a couple of weeks before becoming landfill junk. The system has been gamed, and when it comes to kids toys, it has become dangerously gamed with toxins and other hazards. Watch this Wall Street Journal video and get pissed off. The big question: Can we resist Amazon? Like Facebook, it gives us something of value while stealing something else. Does the value trump (sorry) the theft? My friend would say, “Absolutely not. They are devils. You are dealing with devils.” Our choice.