Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sometimes I am moved to climb on a soapbox to sound off about concerns--though what concerns me may not concern anyone else or they may be things that one squeaky voice cannot change.

Yesterday morning I read the Jackson, MS newspaper online, as I do most mornings, and my attention was drawn to two different articles, both concerning food and the economy. The first informed the readers of the decline in the catfish industry in the Mississippi Delta. Some years back when the government declared how much cotton could and could not be grown, many Delta planters converted some of their acreage to catfish ponds. I had never particularly had a taste for the old style river catfish, bottom feeders as they are, but pond raised catfish is quite tasty. Catfish began to show up on the classiest of menus and their production provided jobs for many who had lost out to more mechanized farming techniques. Now, both jobs and the supply of catfish is threatened because the farmers have to sell their product for less than what it costs to produce it--a fact I'm sure can be repeated in many areas of the country about many products.
Too many big businesses are making too much money at the expense of too many "little guys."

The second article was about the hard time shrimpers are having in the Gulf of Mexico. To me gulf shrimp are absolutely the best! And they are harder and harder to find!! They are nowhere to be found in Jackson, TN, but I did see some in a fish counter in Raleigh, NC. Here, I have to settle for farm raised shrimp from Ecuador. Do you realize how many of our food products are being imported, not because we can't or don't produce them, but because of lower costs? The article I read told of one shrimper who has a boat with a 2500 gallon tank which he fills with diesel at $4 a gallon, a whopping $10,000 worth of fuel--and we thought a trip to the pump with our vehicles was bad. That much fuel lasts twenty days. He gets shrimp, but the market isn't as good as it once was because of the lower cost of imported, mass produced shrimp. A big wholesaler on the coast suggested that the consumer go straight to the boats to buy (not exactly convenient for those who don't live closeby) and ask when get ready to order shrimp in a restaurant if they serve Gulf shrimp.

For you readers in California, the Gulf shrimp concern is not an issue, but it is representative of many of the food products grown in your state. When I lived there I used to shop and see fruit from South America, citrus from Florida or Texas, other products from Mexico and wonder, "Why would I want to buy something not grown locally? The flavor is usually better, it's fresher and it supports the local economy." Our West Tennessee Farmers' Market has a section that sells only products grown in the state and occasionally I ask where something was grown just to be sure. (I have to go to another section to find Mississippi sweet potatoes, simply the best.) I can buy strawberries in the grocery store from Watsonville, CA that look just like the ones I bought when I lived in California. They look the same, but they don't taste the same--picked too early so they could be packaged and shipped elsewhere.

So, where am I headed and what's the point of this rambling? What can we do? Eat more catfish and help stamp out poverty. Seriously, many folks on the Welfare rolls would rather not be there and would not be if they had jobs to support themselves and their families. Buy from local sources when you can. Let restaurants and other food providers know you prefer American grown food. We have better regulations on our foodstuffs and the wherewithal to trace tainted or contaminated food. Our consumption of American grown and made products is good for our economy and the provision of jobs to the unemployed goes a long way in making a better, stronger country.

Today I may sound more like a politician than a pastor. That's not my intention. To be pastoral is to care for others, have their best interests at heart. Jesus fed the hungry. He helped the fishermen. He taught us to live simply, relying on the abundance that comes from God and He warned against greed. Knowing that pushes me up on my soapbox.

Pastor Margaret

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