Heard on WAMC/Northeast Public Radio: When the New Orleans streetcar drivers went on strike in 1929, the unemployed workers showed up at a restaurant’s back door. Greeted with the cry,“Here comes another po’ boy!”
they were given a hunk of crusty bread stuffed with “debris,” consisting of trimmings of roast beef and gravy, scraps of Creole sausage, fried oysters or shrimp from the Gulf.
The times are not changing — much. As we plunge into another real or feared depression, we are fast becoming a mighty global heap of po’ folks.
Pendulums swing, but never go back entirely to the way we were. There’ll always be luxury in the midst of plenty.
When the legendary restaurateur Joe Baum opened The Four Seasons in 1959, it was one of the most expensive, culinary palaces in Manhattan. On the menu were:
Meadow Veal Cutlet with Morels, $5.75
Two Thrush en Brochette, $7.50
Beefsteak Tomato, Carved at the Table, $1.25 (and served with a steak knife)
Baby Pheasant in Golden Sauce, $6.25
Twin Tournedos with Woodland Mushrooms, $7.00
The Youngest Carrots in Butter, $1.25
Nasturtium Leaves .95 cents
The average price of a car was $2,200, gasoline was 30 cents a gallon, and the average annual income was $5,565, with minimum wage set at $1 an hour. Today, the fingerling potatoes cost as much as the roasted chicken.
You’d think we’d be drowning our sorrows in spirited drink. Not so. The restaurant consulting company Technomatic, reports that sales of grown up beverages have plummeted. Yikes! Could it be that we are skidding towards temperance?
Some have an even worse time than the rest of us. $2.52 a day is the total allowance to cover three meals a day in the Federal penitentiary. Today 2,258,983 prisoners are held in Federal or State prisons or in local jails.
So I have a way to deal with this problem. To save gas, let’s “free” the offenders (fitted with GPS-monitored anklets) so they can grow vegetables and plant fruit trees along our highways. All our food will be produced locally.
Estimates vary but some suggest there are close to 90,000 students currently enrolled in culinary schools nationally. I could find jobs for ALL of them. They can cook all the food farmed by felons in community kitchens.
More bad news: we’re going to have to give up those monster steaks and downscale from red meat to white. Instead let’s produce protein from stem cells. Of course there’ll be resistance. So we’ll have to introduce the idea in animated cartoon form on Super Bowl Sunday. I suggest we name the new stuff Hypp—O (Have Your Pure Protein — Organically). The logo will be a frolicking hippo fashioned like the Metropolitan Museum of Art cutie.
Corn is a big issue in these hard times. We’ve made the eminently foolish decision to convert it into inefficient bio-fuel, thus creating a shortage. It looks as if we’re going to have to rethink this basic foodstuff. Scarcity will enhance its appeal, but if we used the methodology that gave us red, orange, yellow, purple and black peppers, we can surely color all the golden corn green. Green is what we’re into now. Big time.
Speaking of big, it is an indisputable fact that most of us can no longer afford to shop or go to fancy restaurants. We’ll have to stay at home and stare at all those flat screen TV’s we bought in the good old days.
But, this is good news!
We know when blackouts and other catastrophic world events kept the public off the streets, this resulted in a heap of begetting. This behavioral shift could point the way out of our current economic woes. Little babies are incredibly demanding. They need stuff: diapers, sun hats, crayons, piano lessons, little league uniforms, schools, toys, cell phones and tons of other things. There’s nothing like a new baby to get consumers dashing into the stores and spending without ceasing.
As you see, we just need to look at the future with a telescope instead of a microscope.