$4.99. I stared at the label, not quite believing my eyes. My kitchen was sacked, resembling what I imagine Carthage must have looked like after the Battle of Zama. The dishwasher was askew and looked ready to escape the madness. Loose heavy gauge wire snaked behind the cabinets like giant spaghetti. The sink was freed from its moorings and the faucet was scattered about on the floor. Chicken stock and jam were simmering and boiling, in that order, on the range. The crock pot was bubbling with soup and empty jars littered every available space. Sourdough bread was rising in the chaos, destined to fail from want of attention. The oven was set on 400 degrees and I was dangerously close to a full kitchen fire. Just add grease.
This time of year renders everyone insane. Those who do cook feel responsible for every mention of a Holiday dinner. The non-culinarians feel obliged to still contribute to the feasting in some way and so overspend at Whole Foods and Boston Market. At this point in time, the promise that this year, somehow, I will spend less on Christmas is shot as the Absolute Delivery Date From Amazon pursues us across the calendar is abandoned and largely forgotten.
The money crunch seemed more real this season. With one house empty on the market and another occupied by our small family, we were monetarily stressed. End of year costs for the self-employed are extremely shocking. Rising health care and all the myriad of fees, taxes and levies are leaving small business owners raped and broken as we front the money required to employ a host of government employees, whose sole intent seems to be declaring the day after Christmas a Holiday.
I looked at the war zone of a kitchen, dashed over to the range in time to keep the jam from boiling over and considered the real cost of eating in our country. It is ever popular to piously choose healthy food choices over packaged ones as more of us have the opportunity to do. Supply is rising in response to the social self-justification of high quality food products. High-end box stores such as Whole Foods are nearly neighborhood fixtures catering to the middle and upper class, primarily white, population. Fish markets are now part of a hip culture as consumers pose with product and hawkers gain reputation not for their fish, but their ability to toss them for their customers. Butcher shops, although still trailing their seafood and produce brethren, are also on the rise as the millennial horde discover what humans have intuitively known for thousands of years: Meat is good.
All this has its repercussions. We are still single consumers amongst billions that need sustenance to survive. If we are so lucky to have our own small gardens, access to local farms, waterways, apiaries, backyard poultry farmers and sustainable meat, then we should count ourselves blessed. What we proclaim as a right, access to good food, is in fact a privilege.
With all this in mind, as news coverage of demonstrations against racial and social prejudices plays silently on my open laptop, I sat stunned on the floor with my five dollar ball of twine. $4.99, plus tax, to be exact. It was in fact adorned in the appropriate wrapper. The label designated it as Gourmet Kitchen Twine. Was it so different than the twine used around the world by the working poor and upper class alike, which is available in most food supply stores and other bulk stores for about the same price as their gourmet counterpart, only for FIVE HUNDED feet of it?
I unwrapped the twine out of curiosity. What was the actual cost of this stuff? A rough measurement confirmed what I had suspected; the size of the ball was correlated to the length, as is every other rope-like product of similar diameters, regardless of the price. Brown twine, which widely available at most, if not all Asian, Latino, Middle-Eastern or the myriads of other “ethnic” supermarkets, works out to a penny a foot. The shit being sold to pretentious wealthy white shoppers in search of the most seasonal and local vegetables to go with their imported cheeses and wines: About $0.25 per foot. You pay a lot for the packaging and marketing that goes along with being a foodie these days.
What irked me the most was that it was in our kitchen. That means that either my wife or myself, most likely me as badly as hate to admit it, had purchased it. One or both of us had thought so little of the costs associated with wrapping our sourdough starter, homemade butter and meat products that I simply had not checked the price. Such a thing is unthinkable for most Americans, regardless of color, but would be particularly nauseating for one of our ethnic minorities. I have dared think of people watching the price of their groceries mount on the blinking screen as they weigh their options as just not as smart as me. As I smugly stand in line with my frivolities, organic seedless grapes ($10.99 a pound at Whole Foods) and Kombucha ($5.99 per 12 fluid ounces at a local gourmet grocer), these people are weighing the cost of surviving until the next paycheck or government assistance installment.
The truth in the escalating price of wholesome food, health care and reality of the aptly labelled food deserts is not in the lack of education: It is in the lack of options.
I shamefully utilized my ball of twine. But not before I put up a length of it in my workshop. Six feet, six inches. Just a little over a $1.50. To measure the growth of my son, and to remind myself that food options, for now, are a luxury of the fortunate and a miserable truth for others.