I rarely go to the grocery store, but last week I was called on by my lovely wife Rothann to stop after work and pick up a few items she needed for supper on that particular summer evening. One of the things on my list was tomatoes, and I quickly found a pack of six nice red ones in the produce section. As I was putting the boxed set into my buggy there at Food Giant, I noticed something that made me stop and consider. The package I was holding was marked “Produced in Mexico.” Now I’ve been to Wal-Mart plenty of times over the past twenty years, and I know that virtually none of our gadgets or sundries are made in this country anymore. But now I’m standing in my local grocery store in rural Mississippi, one of the most fertile places on the face of the earth, in the heat of summertime, and I’m holding a cardboard container of tomatoes produced in Mexico. I’m simultaneously shocked and appalled. As far as I’m concerned I am holding in my hands the complete and total failure of America.
I’ve grown tomatoes myself in years past, and I know that just a few plants can produce more tomatoes than a family could possibly eat in a year’s time. I’ve seen my mother’s and grandmother’s kitchen counters stacked so full of tomatoes, and okra, and peppers, and eggplants, and cucumbers, that you could not find a place to lay the mail. Standing here now looking down at these Mexican tomatoes, I’m ashamed that I have a pasture just behind my house that does not have anything growing in it but grass and weeds.
Over time – decades – we have allowed “corporate America” and “big government America” (that would include both Democrats and Republicans) to prod us, like cattle down the sale chute, into a belief that we can’t even feed ourselves. We have been convinced of something that is not true. It is so untrue, in fact, that to accept it as the modern way of American life is a dark joke. With a handful of seeds, a few animals, and small plots of land, north Mississippi families, with dozens of children, fed themselves for a hundred years right here when this place was nothing but a wilderness without electricity or running water or paved roads. But now we pay $2 for a bottle of water and $4 for a chicken sandwich, and we don’t bat an eye. Follow that $6 to its final resting place, and you will find the perpetrators who have pulled this fast one on us. And the group most distressed by this development in American society may very well be the chickens themselves. At least when they lived in people’s backyards they had a chance of avoiding becoming the main course at Sunday dinner by being faster than the next guy. Now they live their whole lives seated in a factory crate, pumped full of some sort of breast-growth juice. Pasar el pollo frito!
We have a town that has a lot of people who don’t have gainful employment. We have land and sunshine and rain and the grace of God. A Baldwyn produce co-operative to supply Food Giant and Super Valu grocery stores, or a local farmers market, with fruits and vegetables is a good idea. Somebody do that.
Or we can just keep buying Mexican tomatoes. Viva la Mexico.