Unprecedented torrential rains – an atmospheric river – have caused major flooding and landslides in British Columbia, cutting the interior off and closed highways for days. This meant no trains leaving the harbour, no trucks and no cars coming through with supplies, causing shelves in grocery stores to empty. Panic buying didn’t help either. I looked at our pantry and figured we’d be alright for about a week before I would have to get creative and invent some new pasta and rice dishes. At least my neighbour’s chickens are laying unperturbed by climate change. ‘It’s a mess,’ Camp said after we made ourselves comfortable in our usual corner at the seaside pub. Luckily, I’m not involved in shopping or cooking, since Muriel takes care of all that.’
‘Well, I’m the one shopping and cooking since Clare is still in the trenches, bringing home the bacon, postponing her retirement,’ I said. ‘I remember my mom used to make a weekly shopping list, complete with a budget and booklets of stamps and coupons on the table. It was a pennywise, weekly exercise in frugality. The meals were routine, meat only on weekends. Lots of liver, tripe and black pudding on week-days. Left overs on Thursday, fish on Fridays. The main meal was always at lunch time when my dad came home for his two-hour lunch break. These days, I shop maybe every third day and always make it up on the fly. Maybe a look in the fridge or the pantry before heading out, that’s about it.’
‘You check the prices, go for the discounts?’ Camp asked, lifting his pint.
‘Not really. Actually, I do go for the discounts at the liquor store but groceries I just buy without checking the prices. What’s the point? Just because I think cheese is outrageously expensive, I still have to have it. Life without cheese isn’t worth living.’
‘Well, my friend, we’re lucky we have the means. It’s not like this everywhere. Millions go hungry every day, from sub-Sahara dust bowls to the refugees and migrants from the southern US border to those trapped between Poland and Belarus or caught in tribal wars in Ethiopia, Yemen or Somalia.’
‘There were millions starving when I grew up. We just didn’t hear about it on a daily base,’ I said.
‘We also didn’t hear about food fetishes, organic guilt shoppers and overpriced, over packaged gourmet foods.’
‘Whenever we didn’t like what’s on our plate, like zucchini or rise pudding, we were forced to sit and eat or go to bed hungry and it was then we were told to think of the poor starving people in Biafra or India. It meant nothing to me then and I didn’t understand why I was punished. It wasn’t my fault I didn’t like zucchini or raisins.’
Camp chuckled and took a sip from his brew. ‘Even in our so-called civilized society, kids go hungry and if it wasn’t for school lunches, many of them would go without proper nutrition. On the other side of the coin looms large the biggest health problem in the US: Obesity. Poor diets, too much junk and processed foods and low levels of exercise due to excess driving because of urban sprawl are the main causes,’ Camp said.
‘Yes, I read somewhere that over 60 percent of the American diet consists of food that has been taken apart and put back together with various combinations of sugar, salt, oils and additives. Bon appetit!’
We both looked out at the grey, dark water. The only ray of sunshine at this hour is in our drinks. I’ve never seen so much rain like the past month. Or maybe we just forget.
‘Old bread is not hard – no bread is hard!’ I quoted the proverb often used by my dad when I was just a snotty boy reaching for the fresh bread, blithely ignoring the old crusty loaf. My Dad, who rose early every day, used to eat the old crusts and dunk them in a big bowl of morning coffee before he set off for work.’
‘And then there is food-insecurity. According to Provincial Health Authority, one in ten BC households is food-insecure. In the US it’s one in five. This sad statistic is led by single moms with kids. No surprise there,’ Camp said.
‘This is the time of year when food-banks are particularly busy. Even the liquor store is collecting funds for the local food banks.’
‘What? To contribute beer or wine?’ Camp said. ‘Sorry, bad joke.’
‘Not really,’ Vicky, who overheard that last remark, quipped. Even the poor like a drink once in a while.’