Paging Jeremy Beer: Indiana-born Miss America 2009, Agrarian

The whole Miss America thing usually doesn’t interest me much, but, while sitting in my grandfather’s living room, I noticed something in the 3 July issue of Indiana AgriNews that really piqued my interest: Katie Stam, Miss America 2009, is the first to hail from Indiana. More important (Yes, even more important than some Hoosier pride!), she’s real farm girl.

From the article:

[Stam] has signed on to be a spokesperson for the American Dairy Association of Indiana to help spread the good news about the importance of dairy nutrition, as well as tell the story of Indiana’s dairy farmers.

Stam grew up in Seymour and helped on her family’s dairy farm as a child. She is a 10-year 4-H member and showed dairy cattle.

[…]

“I’m a farm girl, and it is a goal of mine to be able to promote family farms,” Stam said.

She said her rural upbringing taught her discipline and the importance of family and family tradition.

“This isn’t just a lifestyle — this is my lifestyle, and I am very blessed to be able to take this message to a national stage,” Stam said.

{My emphasis. — NPO]

How cool is that? Gary Truitt has more at Hat Chat

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Wal-Mart math

I’ll have much more (I hope!) to offer on this later. For now, though, I want to list a couple of statistics and then to return to my hard cider, which I enjoy before I must, somewhat unwillingly (I drove a John Deere tonight! I never have that opportunity in Maryland.), leave Indiana for the East Coast. These are really loose figures — and this is a really rambling post –, but they should give the reader some idea of the massive amount of ground coverage detailed.

At any given time, approximately three hundred and fifty Wal-Mart stores sit empty, the victims of relocation and/or expansion.

In Nineteen ninety-nine, the average empty Wal-Mart covered sixty-two thousand and fifty-seven square feet.

That’s about five hundred acres. Area dedicated to parking at a Wal-Mart sometimes as much as triples the acreage of the store. Estimating conservatively, we’ll go with two-and-one-half times. That takes us to about twelve hundred and fifty acres.

Think, now, about how many more Wal-Marts have, probably, closed their doors, about the increased size of stores — and the size of Supercenters and concomitant parking lots –, and the number of abandoned Home Depots, Lowe’s, and so forth. And don’t forget about shopping malls and strip malls. Stacy Mitchell, in 2000, wrote that, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, about five hundred million square feet of retail space sat empty (almost eleven thousand, five hundred acres!); acres of unused asphalt surround most of those vacant spaces.

Anyone not see something wrong with this?

More on this — with a point! — and, I hope, much more web-logging, once my respite in the Hoosier State ends and I return to the Free (except for all of those taxes) State

The scent of the mint on a warm September night is reassuring. It’s sexy.

I posted the following on my Xanga page at two fifty-nine a.m. on the twelfth of September, back in 2005. So long ago! I had headed home for the day — or maybe only for a couple of hours –, and on my way back to Notre Dame, thoughts emerged in my head, as I breathed deeply the heavenly scent of mint whilst heading north on US 35 north of Knox, that later that night became this post. In the spring of 2006, under a title that I don’t recall, it ran in Common Sense, the left-wing student-run paper at Notre Dame. (Yes, I wrote for a left-wing paper.) Perhaps not the most scintillating piece that I’ve ever written, it nevertheless conveys a degree of emotion that I usually refrain — or at least try to — from allowing to slip into my writing. Doubtless, some edits, particularly for any typos in the original post, occurred prior to the run in C.S.; I published here, at Nathancontramundi in March, and, back in North Judson, have decided to re-post it because, as I drove north on IN 39, about five twenty this morning, the intoxicating aroma of mint hit me for the first time in far too long. Now, as in March, I present it, errors intact, as I posted it on Xanga.

***

A certain security exists in the nighttime drive through mint country in late summer. The calm breeze, wafting that strong, almost intoxicating (but not in an inebrious way) scent of mint, sets the soul at ease. I know that the drought-like conditions of the past summer stunted terribly the yields, and that farmers will suffer this as they continue the struggle required simply to make ends meet. But the sense of safety is still present.

I fear that this is a false sense; perhaps for me it isn’t, but for the mint country of rural Indiana that is my home justification for this fear is plentiful. Maybe, though, it’s not the people, my neighbors, who fear for themselves. Rather, I fear for them.

I don’t, I think, risk misrepresenting myself very much when I assert that I come to Notre Dame from a place inconceivably different from the cities, suburbs, and communites whence most of my peers moved on to Our Lady’s University. A few certainly knew conditions worse than those that surround me whenever I venture home; some, even worse. Most though, without a doubt, can only imagine what life is like for the “ordinary people”. Maybe they can’t.

The student body of this school is known for its involvement in service projects; for this they ought to be commended. Taking oneself out of the comforts of the upper-middle class world, if only for a weekend, or even for an hour, requires a love of neighbor that in many is little more than skin-deep, little more than a clever disguise for self-centered intentions. Some students, quite admirably, have even pulled themselves out of the comforts of this country to cohabitate with some of the most abused, ignored, pawn-like members of our society, starving, victimized humans in Uganda, or Costa Rica, or Southeast Asia.

Most of them barely get it, though. Or so it seems to me. Their concern, their attempt to rally support for their causes, is sincere. Nevertheless, only a couple, maybe just those who’ve freed themselves from the security of living in this country — along, of course, with the very few who emerged from settings similar to or worse than mine — really, truly, deeply understand.

I’ve always been fortunate, lucky, blessed, whatever you will. My family’s roots in my community reach far deeper than most of my peers’; my mom and dad, employed as a medical assistant and a rural mail carrier, respectively, earn income that, for our area, is reasonably high. It’s not the same as the annual salaries of lawyers, doctors, and investment bankers, but it typically suffices, or at least it did before bills from two universities started arriving in the mail; at least it did before my dad was out of work for half a year because of health problems.

I’m fortunate; but I’m surrounded by the down-trodden. Starke County, Indiana, which happens to border the extreme southwest corner of St. Joseph County, is the second poorest, if not the poorest, county in Indiana, by no means the wealthiest of states. This past summer, serving as an assistant manager in the grocery store where I’ve worked since July of 2000, I earned $8.00/hr. That was good money.

Most of the jobs that actually exist in my hometown are in the retail sector. Retail, across the board, across the country, is always at the low end of the wage spectrum. Here in North Judson, wedged in between acres of corn, mint, and hay, it hits rock bottom. Some of us earn, say, $6.00/hr, nothing about which to brag, for sitting atop the lifeguard chair at the country club’s pool. The pay perhaps fails to suffice, but the workload, the seasonality of the job, and our age combine to provide some sort of justification for this.

Single mothers working eight-hour days on their feet, serving up $13.99 prime rib meals or standing at the cash register, allowing their souls quietly to slip away, find any sort of justification or satisfaction to be something chimerical. Or at least they view satisfaction quite differently. For some of our parents, our attending Notre Dame was an attainable form of satisfaction. For many whom I know, clean clothes, functioning shoes, and three (with help often from school lunch programs) squares for their kids add up to satisfaction. The car payment might have to wait; rent, too; but the kids will not go to bed hungry. It takes work. It takes love. It takes every ounce of being.

My passionate hatred for Wal*Mart, my detestation of most things corporate, is by now known to many. Nevertheless, criticizing wholly, without any sympathy, those who skip over my employer’s store, or perhaps only “cherry-pick” there, and drive thirty miles to Wal-Mart troubles me too much. When I am aware that a fellow student recently has been to Wal*Mart, or will be heading there, or to Target, or Meijer, or many similar stores, I typically lose the slightest bit of respect for him. Usually a student here need not frequent the store because of legitimate financial hardship. It just happens to be cheaper. We should know better, but we don’t.

People back home, even some who earn those meager wages working in a grocery store that without question suffers from the Waltons’ presence thirty miles away, need to go to Wal*Mart.

Of course, because of the dearth of jobs in town, many flock to this same store seeking employment. Some of them actually make a bit more than they would in town, at least before the costs of gasoline and eventually repair of problems caused by the wear and tear of the trip on the car are factored into the equation.

In a way, the seemingly ever-increasing prices at the pump benefit my home town. Driving thirty miles to W*M does not result in the same overall savings that it once did. As much as I rejoice at the possibility of even slight growth in economic activity on Lane St., this saddens me. The entire system is broken; as long as it is, shopping locally will hurt them as much as it helps them. And now, it seems, the harm of shopping at Wal*Mart has become more visible. Escape, though, is virtually impossible.

What, on cursory glance, at least by “progressive” standards, provides the most trouble is that these people never vote “in their best interests”. Democrats typically in the past, though not so much of late, have retained a stranglehold over much of local politics. But this is the oft-forgotten rural, conservative branch of the Democratic party. The same electorate constantly supports the GOP in the presidential elections, not to mention Senatorial and Congressional races.

A sense of puzzlement, sometimes even resentment, emerges in those who look at this scenario from the left. These lookers-on just don’t get it. They can rant for days about “Jesusland” and “off-shoring” and about the ignorance of these people. But they can’t know. These are two different worlds. The separation between them, though, is far from merely an economic one.

Faith in God, particularly of various Protestant persuasions, drives these people. Even those who end up giving birth to five children by four different fathers have this faith. Even those who get drunk on Saturday night and end up in bed with a near-stranger and then walk into church in their Sunday best without a hint of shame on their faces have it. And it’s not a matter of simple hypocrisy. It’s a matter of existence. Failing always to live up to the standards that one professes indicates not hypocrisy at its heights, but instead humanity as it really is.

This faith is nearly incomprehensible to many of its secular critics. It still baffles me as a Catholic, even though I’ve grown up surrounded by it, sometimes threatened by it, sometimes strangely encouraged by it. The Republicans may someday lose this sector, but the Democrats likely never will gain it. Inroads may be made, but no great ideological shift will occur. Part of it is psychological: the Republicans at least seem to welcome God-fearing people, while the Democrats, at least in these minds, do not.

Something more, I suspect, is at play here, too. Many of these people rely on welfare programs. A heck of a lot of them abuse these same programs. Some of them would be in the street without hand-outs courtesy of you, me, and the rest of tax-paying America. However, a certain sort of unseen, almost undetectable resentment accompanies the reliance on, and even the abuses of, the welfare state.

The father whose job disappeared from under his nose and whose unemployment benefits have run dry often cannot help feeling shame as he opens that check, as he signs it, as he cashes it; cannot help feeling embarrassed as he hands his HoosierWorks card over to the cashier as a teenage boy, perhaps a friend of his son’s, bags the bread, eggs, and lunchmeat for $6.00/hr. Six whole dollars each hour, six dollars worked for, and not received from a helping hand. The same welfare programs intended by the Democrats (and, perhaps still beyond the realization of this father, the GOP by now as well) to help the man hurts him. He becomes a slave, and as long as the system runs as it does, he’ll remain a slave, even if he gets back on his feet. Because wage slavery and welfare slavery, at the core of the matter, are frighteningly similar.

But I’ve digressed even further than I often tend to do. Back to the mint. Dismal thoughts of drought-caused yield reductions aside, the scent of the mint on a warm September night is reassuring. It’s sexy. This is the smell of life and death, of love and hate, of humanity. It’s the smell of fear.

Not until one smells the mint can one begin really to understand what it all means — the plight, the faith, the strange reassurance, the hope. Only then.

Slaughtering cows, messing with a good thing, rather than encouraging personal responsibility

First, allow me to make some-thing perfectly clear: I love meat. I generally eat it five, if not six, days weekly (I have taken up the penance of fasting there-from on Fridays.), usually in the form of steak. However, I sympathize, completely, with the culinarily conservative, earth-friendly, crunchy attitude toward raising (rather than manufacturing) natural, organic meat (even if my buying habits rarely, presently, reflect this). Not only do I dis-dain factory farming practices; I, also, have a problem with wasting food, because I love food, sicken a bit at the thought of an animal’s dying, only for its death to be de-meaned in such a sad way, and recognize that food that could be feeding the millions, if not billions, of severely hungry and starving people across the world, ends up in a land-fill some-where. Finally, I rather loathe the nanny state and any attempts to curtail, say, health problems, that rely on methods other than encouraging personal responsibility.

All of this being so, that this article in to-day’s Washington Post frustrates me ought not to surprise the reader.

LA PLATA, Argentina — The quest for the perfect hamburger, as any ambitious barbecuer knows, is an exact science. And science is all about trial and error.

“How many hamburgers have we made?” says Noemi Zaritzky, head of Argentina’s Center for Research and Development in Food Cryotechnology. “In total, you mean?”

She’s stumped. . .

[. . .]

They explain the basics: 40 hamburgers for each formulation. Hundreds of formulations to test microbiological reactions, oxidation, texture, taste . . .

“A lot of burgers,” summarizes Silvina Andrés, a biochemist who helped lead the project.

The result is a lean beef burger that is low-fat, low-sodium and juicy, without saturated fat, and that tastes — according to limited consumer tests — as though it probably shouldn’t be good for you.

Essentially, what the scientists have done is take the beef fat out of the meat and replace it with a combination of substitutes less likely to clog arteries. Those substitutes include high oleic sunflower oil and fats from seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which many studies suggest benefit cardiovascular health. They also added phytosterols to the mix — a byproduct of soybeans that can lower the body’s cholesterol absorption.

[. . .]

The average Argentine in 2006 consumed more than 140 pounds of beef, according to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. None of the other nationalities studied consumed even half that amount, with the exception of Americans, who consumed an average of 97 pounds.

Argentines have one of the highest levels of heart disease in the world, according to the American Heart Association.

[. . .]

In a boxy building about an hour outside of Buenos Aires, more than 100 researchers in white coats mill around test tubes, big-bellied flasks and centrifuges, working on food-related science projects that are funded in part by the Argentine government.

Really, why not tell Argentines to eat less hamburger and to exercise more, stop wasting their tax dollars, stop messing with this delicious, perfect every-man’s cut of meat, and halt the need-less slaughter of the number of cows sufficient to supply forty hamburgers for each of hundreds of formulations? Long live paternalism, eh?

Well, duh!

Pleas for top-down aid to the world’s hungry, about which I have mixed feelings (Yes, I should like to witness the eradication of poverty and hungry; no, I don’t have any particularly affinity for World Bank, not to mention G8.), notwithstanding, Zoellick’s call for “reform of biofuel policies in rich countries, urging them to grow more food to feed the hungry” warms the cockles of my heart.

Speaking on the sidelines of the summit on Hokkaido island, Mr Zoellick said biofuels – transport fuels made from crops – have made a contribution to food price rises. [. . .]

”The US and Europe also need to take action to reduce mandates, subsidies and tariffs benefiting grain and oil seed biofuels that take food off the table for millions,” he said.

That only now has some-one made a fuss of this at such might heights baffles me. Long ago, I, coming from a (formerly) farming family, working in a grocery store at the time, and having many friends who farm, recognized that dedicating our monoculture production more to filling our tanks than our tummies would prove to be disastrous. My friend Eric, a farmer whose family has long benefitted from government intervention in the agri”culture” market, willing concedes that this is bad policy; self-interested, as we all are, he welcomes the increased prices, but he knows that this is bad news. I do, too, and I’m more than happy that my father and grandfather increased their annual rents by some thirty dollars per acre thanks to the ethanol craze. As nice as that is, though, we cannot, as Zoellick acknowledges, continue this asinine policy (or, truth be told, as Wendell Berry has, many times, reminded us, our entire system of monoculture agri-business. This is no place for such digression, though). Perhaps, this time, some-one in power will listen. Beginning to resemble a broken record of some-one as depressing as, say, Joy Division, I again remark that I remain bitterly pessimistic.

Something from the past

I posted the following on my Xanga page at two fifty-nine a.m. on the twelfth of September back in 2005. So long ago! I had headed home for the day — or maybe only for a couple of hours –, and on my way back to Notre Dame, thoughts emerged in my head, as I breathed deeply the heavenly scent of mint whilst heading north on US 35 north of Knox, that later that night became this post. In the spring of 2006, under a title that I don’t recall, it ran in Common Sense, the left-wing student-run paper at Notre Dame. (Yes, I wrote for a left-wing paper.) Perhaps not the most scintillating piece that I’ve ever written, it nevertheless conveys a degree of emotion that I usually refrain — or at least try to — from allowing to slip into my writing. Doubtless, some edits, particularly for any typos in the original post, occurred prior to the run in C.S.; I have opted to publish it here as I initially, charged with certain feelings, submitted it on Xanga.

***

A certain security exists in the nighttime drive through mint country in late summer. The calm breeze, wafting that strong, almost intoxicating (but not in an inebrious way) scent of mint, sets the soul at ease. I know that the drought-like conditions of the past summer stunted terribly the yields, and that farmers will suffer this as they continue the struggle required simply to make ends meet. But the sense of safety is still present.

I fear that this is a false sense; perhaps for me it isn’t, but for the mint country of rural Indiana that is my home justification for this fear is plentiful. Maybe, though, it’s not the people, my neighbors, who fear for themselves. Rather, I fear for them.

I don’t, I think, risk misrepresenting myself very much when I assert that I come to Notre Dame from a place inconceivably different from the cities, suburbs, and communites whence most of my peers moved on to Our Lady’s University. A few certainly knew conditions worse than those that surround me whenever I venture home; some, even worse. Most though, without a doubt, can only imagine what life is like for the “ordinary people”. Maybe they can’t.

The student body of this school is known for its involvement in service projects; for this they ought to be commended. Taking oneself out of the comforts of the upper-middle class world, if only for a weekend, or even for an hour, requires a love of neighbor that in many is little more than skin-deep, little more than a clever disguise for self-centered intentions. Some students, quite admirably, have even pulled themselves out of the comforts of this country to cohabitate with some of the most abused, ignored, pawn-like members of our society, starving, victimized humans in Uganda, or Costa Rica, or Southeast Asia.

Most of them barely get it, though. Or so it seems to me. Their concern, their attempt to rally support for their causes, is sincere. Nevertheless, only a couple, maybe just those who’ve freed themselves from the security of living in this country — along, of course, with the very few who emerged from settings similar to or worse than mine — really, truly, deeply understand.

I’ve always been fortunate, lucky, blessed, whatever you will. My family’s roots in my community reach far deeper than most of my peers’; my mom and dad, employed as a medical assistant and a rural mail carrier, respectively, earn income that, for our area, is reasonably high. It’s not the same as the annual salaries of lawyers, doctors, and investment bankers, but it typically suffices, or at least it did before bills from two universities started arriving in the mail; at least it did before my dad was out of work for half a year because of health problems.

I’m fortunate; but I’m surrounded by the down-trodden. Starke County, Indiana, which happens to border the extreme southwest corner of St. Joseph County, is the second poorest, if not the poorest, county in Indiana, by no means the wealthiest of states. This past summer, serving as an assistant manager in the grocery store where I’ve worked since July of 2000, I earned $8.00/hr. That was good money.

Most of the jobs that actually exist in my hometown are in the retail sector. Retail, across the board, across the country, is always at the low end of the wage spectrum. Here in North Judson, wedged in between acres of corn, mint, and hay, it hits rock bottom. Some of us earn, say, $6.00/hr, nothing about which to brag, for sitting atop the lifeguard chair at the country club’s pool. The pay perhaps fails to suffice, but the workload, the seasonality of the job, and our age combine to provide some sort of justification for this.

Single mothers working eight-hour days on their feet, serving up $13.99 prime rib meals or standing at the cash register, allowing their souls quietly to slip away, find any sort of justification or satisfaction to be something chimerical. Or at least they view satisfaction quite differently. For some of our parents, our attending Notre Dame was an attainable form of satisfaction. For many whom I know, clean clothes, functioning shoes, and three (with help often from school lunch programs) squares for their kids add up to satisfaction. The car payment might have to wait; rent, too; but the kids will not go to bed hungry. It takes work. It takes love. It takes every ounce of being.

My passionate hatred for Wal*Mart, my detestation of most things corporate, is by now known to many. Nevertheless, criticizing wholly, without any sympathy, those who skip over my employer’s store, or perhaps only “cherry-pick” there, and drive thirty miles to Wal-Mart troubles me too much. When I am aware that a fellow student recently has been to Wal*Mart, or will be heading there, or to Target, or Meijer, or many similar stores, I typically lose the slightest bit of respect for him. Usually a student here need not frequent the store because of legitimate financial hardship. It just happens to be cheaper. We should know better, but we don’t.

People back home, even some who earn those meager wages working in a grocery store that without question suffers from the Waltons’ presence thirty miles away, need to go to Wal*Mart.

Of course, because of the dearth of jobs in town, many flock to this same store seeking employment. Some of them actually make a bit more than they would in town, at least before the costs of gasoline and eventually repair of problems caused by the wear and tear of the trip on the car are factored into the equation.

In a way, the seemingly ever-increasing prices at the pump benefit my home town. Driving thirty miles to W*M does not result in the same overall savings that it once did. As much as I rejoice at the possibility of even slight growth in economic activity on Lane St., this saddens me. The entire system is broken; as long as it is, shopping locally will hurt them as much as it helps them. And now, it seems, the harm of shopping at Wal*Mart has become more visible. Escape, though, is virtually impossible.

What, on cursory glance, at least by “progressive” standards, provides the most trouble is that these people never vote “in their best interests”. Democrats typically in the past, though not so much of late, have retained a stranglehold over much of local politics. But this is the oft-forgotten rural, conservative branch of the Democratic party. The same electorate constantly supports the GOP in the presidential elections, not to mention Senatorial and Congressional races.

A sense of puzzlement, sometimes even resentment, emerges in those who look at this scenario from the left. These lookers-on just don’t get it. They can rant for days about “Jesusland” and “off-shoring” and about the ignorance of these people. But they can’t know. These are two different worlds. The separation between them, though, is far from merely an economic one.

Faith in God, particularly of various Protestant persuasions, drives these people. Even those who end up giving birth to five children by four different fathers have this faith. Even those who get drunk on Saturday night and end up in bed with a near-stranger and then walk into church in their Sunday best without a hint of shame on their faces have it. And it’s not a matter of simple hypocrisy. It’s a matter of existence. Failing always to live up to the standards that one professes indicates not hypocrisy at its heights, but instead humanity as it really is.

This faith is nearly incomprehensible to many of its secular critics. It still baffles me as a Catholic, even though I’ve grown up surrounded by it, sometimes threatened by it, sometimes strangely encouraged by it. The Republicans may someday lose this sector, but the Democrats likely never will gain it. Inroads may be made, but no great ideological shift will occur. Part of it is psychological: the Republicans at least seem to welcome God-fearing people, while the Democrats, at least in these minds, do not.

Something more, I suspect, is at play here, too. Many of these people rely on welfare programs. A heck of a lot of them abuse these same programs. Some of them would be in the street without hand-outs courtesy of you, me, and the rest of tax-paying America. However, a certain sort of unseen, almost undetectable resentment accompanies the reliance on, and even the abuses of, the welfare state.

The father whose job disappeared from under his nose and whose unemployment benefits have run dry often cannot help feeling shame as he opens that check, as he signs it, as he cashes it; cannot help feeling embarrassed as he hands his HoosierWorks card over to the cashier as a teenage boy, perhaps a friend of his son’s, bags the bread, eggs, and lunchmeat for $6.00/hr. Six whole dollars each hour, six dollars worked for, and not received from a helping hand. The same welfare programs intended by the Democrats (and, perhaps still beyond the realization of this father, the GOP by now as well) to help the man hurts him. He becomes a slave, and as long as the system runs as it does, he’ll remain a slave, even if he gets back on his feet. Because wage slavery and welfare slavery, at the core of the matter, are frighteningly similar.

But I’ve digressed even further than I often tend to do. Back to the mint. Dismal thoughts of drought-caused yield reductions aside, the scent of the mint on a warm September night is reassuring. It’s sexy. This is the smell of life and death, of love and hate, of humanity. It’s the smell of fear.

Not until one smells the mint can one begin really to understand what it all means — the plight, the faith, the strange reassurance, the hope. Only then.