Continuing on the subject of food, I want to mention that about a month ago, an NPR reporter was traveling around the Midwest, talking to local business owners to do a story on the state of the economy. She interviewed a woman who owned a cafe/bakery in Iowa. The cafe sounded lovely. I'm sure I would love it if I visited it (the photo is not intended to represent anything they would serve at that cafe). The owner reported that she had been through some hard times, business had been slow, and she'd had to let some employees go or cut back their hours (I can't remember now with certainty which it was). But, she reported, things were looking up. How could she tell, asked the reporter. Well, she said, during the bad stretch, customers would come in, and for lunch they would have only a half a sandwich, a cup of soup, and a glass of water. Now, she said, people were ordering a complete lunch, including a drink and dessert. The reporter laughed, and indeed, that was a very clever and concrete economic indicator.
When I thought about it over the next couple days, though, it made me think about interests--that we live in a world of diverse and competing interests (see, now I'm coming around to my blog theme: Discomforts of Diversity). Although I wish the cafe owner no harm, and I certainly want our economy to be vigorous and for small business owners to thrive--especially those who make lovely food from scratch and create welcoming atmospheres where people can gather--I am also consistently hearing about the obesity epidemic, diabetes, heart disease, and the drain on the whole economic and health care systems that these diseases pose. So the cafe owner who thrives when people order a full lunch represents one set of interests; a competing set of interests would argue that people might be better off with a half and sandwich, a cup of soup, and a glass of water. They (and the whole system) would also be better off if they skipped dessert. Which interest is more important? Moderation is likely the key here, but you see where I'm going.
This brought me to think of other competing interests: The spotted owl vs. the loggers. The ban on deep-water oil drilling vs. the people who are out of work because of it. Closing military bases vs. people losing jobs. Even ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan means people will be out of work. Government budget cuts almost always translate into people out of work. It's a closed system. We're all in it together. Someone always has to pay. How do we decide who?