Friday, August 27, 2010

The cost of eating

Last night, my husband and I had to make a trip to the grocery store for a few necessities, like milk, tea, lunch meat, etc. and I was just appalled at how much prices have gone up in the last few weeks.

The sale price for chicken breasts was $1.99 a pound! On Sale! That is simply insane. Generic canned corn was 79 cents a can. When did that happen? Granted, I do not buy a lot of canned vegetables since I put up most of ours, but the last time I looked they were around 50 cents a can. Some times, if the store is having a case sale, you can get them 3 for a dollar. But almost 80 cents a can is insane. For generic. I didn't even look at the name brand. I was afraid to.

All of this is convincing me more and more that I am not putting up enough food. We need to be able to eat out of jars or the freezer and not have to make bi-weekly trips to the local grocery store. I have canned some chicken and beef, but I am thinking I need to do more. I need to find a couple of bags of chicken legs and thighs for 59 cents a pound (sometimes I can still find them for that) and can them up. 10 pounds bags will make around 8 or 9 pints of meat and 7 or 8 quarts of broth. So for $5.90, that is a minimum of 8 or 9 meals, but really closer to 12 since I don't always use a whole jar of meat per meal for the 3 of us. And the broth is quite useful for a lot of things too, not just soups.

I have canned a lot of fruit this year. Mostly peaches and plums but I have done a few blueberries and some cherries. I think I have enough beans to last the year, but you never really know. I didn't put up enough corn this year but that is one of those things that sometimes we eat a lot, sometimes we don't. I don't know, I guess we will be OK.

I plan to start curing some more Canadian bacon today. My son really likes that for sandwiches in his lunch bag. And it freezes well so I might as well. And the pork loin was on sale for less than $2 a pound, which is quite a bit cheaper than over-processed lunch meat.

I really don't know how people on fixed incomes or low incomes with families can afford to eat. I realize the over-processed convenience foods are cheaper, but you don't actually get much food value out of those.

There has to be a balance somewhere in all of this.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Americans these days are concerned, or downright fearful, of what the future may hold. With the current economic situation and all of the unrest around the world, we have a reason to be concerned. This is not 1950 any more. We do not have a lot of confidence in our leaders, our economy, or even that we will have a job tomorrow. The era of "buy what you want, when you want it" is over.

Most people aren't buying big ticket items any more. Existing home sales are way down. Car sales are down. People are not eating out as much. Everyone is trying to find ways to save money.

For businesses, that means not hiring any new employees or in some cases, laying off. For the working class, that means eating more Mac and Cheese instead of grilling steaks every weekend. We try to find less expensive ways to entertain ourselves. The big problem with this is that it is a vicious cycle that just feeds into itself. Say you own a moderately priced, sit down restaurant and you have 12 employees, 3 cooks/chefs, 6 servers, 2 busboys and a hostess. You have owned this business for several years and have always managed a reasonable profit. Suddenly, the banks are not issuing small business loans and you need a new grill. You have the choice of doing without the equipment, buying it from your own salary, or getting it fixed as best you can. You decided to get it fixed and hope you have enough profit in the next couple of months to be able to buy a new one. Then one or two of the major employers in your community begin to lay off portions of their work force. Those people will have a hard time finding new jobs in the current economy so they will stop eating out. Your business drops off. You change your server scheduling because you don't need all of the wait-staff standing around getting paid with nothing to do. They all get fewer hours and fewer tips. So their personal spending is affected which affects other businesses. Your business slows to the point where you have no choice but to lay off 2 of the servers and 1 of the cooks. So now you have 9 employees. During the busiest prime time rush, your service is slower because you have less help. This causes customers to not come to your restaurant as often. Less business means you either have to raise prices or lose money. Raising prices causes fewer customers, who are also trying to save money, but losing money means that you cannot afford to upkeep equipment, buy quality ingredients, or pay a decent wage. You have no choice but to close your doors. Now there are 9 more people out of work.

All of these things are inter-dependent with every other business in the community. If even 1 business goes under, it effects everyone. And this is happening all over the country. And small communities are being hit the hardest. They are the ones who can least afford for a business to close it's doors.

People are scared that if the economy doesn't get better, all of the jobs in the US with the exception of teachers, public safety(police and firemen) and union jobs (which are protected by the big wigs in Washington) will simply go away. The jobless numbers that we hear about on the news are ONLY the new unemployment claims, not those who have been unable to find a job for the last 18 months.

But even so, you think 10% isn't a bad unemployment number. But think of it this way. That is 1 out of every 10 people you know has just gotten laid off. You know 30 people? 3 of them got laid off this month. And the next month, 3 more get pink slips, and so on. Eventually, most of the people you know will be without a job. Some, maybe half, will be able to find a job of some sort, but it will probably not be for the same pay they were getting before and it probably will not be in their chosen career. It is just a job to keep the bills paid. And it will take them longer to get that job because employers do not want to hire over-qualified people for entry level positions. And there is a lot of competition for every job opening.

Is it any wonder people are nervous? According to the US Department of Labor, 14.6 Million people in the US, and 6.6 Million of those have been unemployed for more than 27 weeks. Don't believe me? Here is the press release from the DoL dated Aug 6, 2010. .

Does anyone honestly think that 14.6 million jobs will miraculously appear in the US so these people can go to work? Not very likely.

Friday, August 13, 2010

End of Summer

School will be starting next week, but it seems that I still haven't finished with the canning thing for the year.

Last weekend I stopped by a farm market for some tomatoes to can. While I was there, I also picked up some new potatoes, early apples, a cantaloupe, zucchini, corn, and a box of over-ripe peaches.

Let me tell you something about peaches. They are best if you go out to the trees, cup your hand underneath it, and it falls off in your hand. That is how you know if it is ripe. The next best thing is to find a farm market that sells peaches and buy a box of their over-ripes. You can get them for almost nothing, and with the exception of a few bruises, they will be the best thing you have ever put in your mouth. They are the "bite-into-it-and-juice-drips-off-of-your-elbow" ones that those in the know will fight over. These peaches are the proof that the fruit you get at the grocery store is a joke.

I picked up a "lug" (about 1/2 a bushel) of these over-ripe peaches for $10. We ate several of them fresh and I put the rest in the freezer. There were only 3 out of the whole box that I had to throw out because they were too damaged. I still had 9 quart-ish sized bags for the freezer. My husband had never really had a "good" peach before and was simply amazed. Now I need to get some more.

I told my dad about them. He wants to do a swap of canned peaches for canned pears. He has a buddy with pear trees that gives him 5 or 6 5 gallon buckets of pears every year. So Dad is going to can up some pears for me and I will can some peaches for him. We are already swapping plum jam and preserves for purple hull peas, so the fruit swap is just a bonus.

But it will keep me busy for a few days. Not that I have a problem with that.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Morality and the Constitution

I am not by any means a Constitutional attorney nor am I a theologian. But I am a moderately intelligent individual who reads and knows how to listen. So here goes...

Morality can mean different things to different people. It generally depends on the values you were raised with. Compassion is another one of those things that has to be taught, you aren't born with it. When you have a government, or any other type of "leader" be it a CEO, President, Congress, Pastor, or Parent, that does not place any value on morality or compassion, they will corrupt the values of every person "under" them simply by communal morality. If it isn't seen as wrong for a business to overcharge for a product or service simply because they can, every employee learns how to get that extra dollar from the customer. Other businesses see that company making money, so they implement the same doctrine. Pretty soon, the entire industry is overcharging for their products.

It is the same for all aspects of our lives. If it is permissible for teens to dress in a provocative manner and behave in certain ways, then ALL teens will do so due to peer pressure.

On the other side of that coin, if we encourage our children to be modest, kind, caring and helpful of others, it too will have a ripple effect.

The problem is that the media does not help us to encourage family values and is actually counter-productive of our efforts to raise our children. We are encouraged to buy things we do not need, therefore reinforcing the "need" for more money. How do we make more money? By working for companies that are not as concerned with the morality of their actions, just the bottom line. We are told that it "takes a village" so parents do not take the time to raise their children (they are too busy working to make enough money for the things they are told they need) because the teachers at school will raise their kids for them. Corporal Punishment hurts a child's self-esteem so we cannot teach our children that actions have consequences or some "well meaning" busy-body neighbor will report us to Child Services.

When you have an entire generation of kids who see the rich getting richer off of the backs of others, of course they will want to be the ones getting money. And they will teach that same morality to their kids.

As for the Constitution, it was written to protect the citizens FROM the government. Read the Bill of Rights. That is what the Founding Fathers wanted to emphasize.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

We have the right to say what we want, worship how we wish, gather in groups, and tell the government they are wrong.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed

We have the right to protect ourselves, even from the government, if we feel threatened.

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

We do not have to let the military into our homes without our consent. Not that big of an issue now, but at the time, it was a major issue. The British government forced landowners to house and feed military units at their own cost instead of the government having to pay for it. It bankrupted and starved many families.

No person shall be held to answer for any capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

This one is abused a lot these days, all in the name of public security.

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.

Speedy trials are a joke with the overburdened justice system, and Public Defenders are the least knowledgeable and least effective of all criminal trial attorneys. But we do have a right to them.

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Trial by jury, even when the jury is stacked, doesn't really seem like a good deal, but compared to the trials in good old England at the time, where all trials were before a panel of the ruling class and the poor were punished simply for being poor, was a major step up for justice.

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

What! No torture in the jails? No fines designed to put you in debtors prison? But I digress....

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

The government only has the rights the people give it. Those rights the people do not turn over to the government cannot be infringed upon by the government. It says so right there on #9 of the Bill of Rights. It also says that you have any right that doesn't infringe on anyone else's rights.

and finally..
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

The States have rights too, that the Federal government cannot, by Law, infringe upon. And the people of those states also have rights that the federal and state governments cannot infringe upon.

None of these articles in the Bill of Rights are really, truly valid any more because we as a people have turned over most of our rights to the government. Subsequent amendments and precedents established by interpreting judges have severely limited the rights of normal citizens, but the fact remains that the Founding Fathers were trying to limit the amount of interference the government could inflict in our daily lives.

My personal take on the whole thing was that the federal government was designed to be a regulating body for the states, not the other way around. As it stands now, the States are subservient to the Federal Government, and the people have become dependent on a strong centralized government that was not designed to be be that way. It creates waste, abuses, and wide loopholes for corruption.

OK, enough soapbox preaching. This is too long as it is.

Again, these are just my opinions. Take them as such.

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