poverty with plenty

Abundance in the midst of a recession. It is the only way to describe the current economic crunch.
The sharp financial downturn of recent years has increased the unemployment to double digits. Requests for services from charitable organizations and federally funded assistance programs have risen significantly. Shopping has increased at thrift stores, consignment shops and re-sale shops.

All true. Folks have to pinch their pennies more these days, but the crunch in the cost of living has not effected our national obsession with excess. Obesity still remains a major problem in this country. While retail and department stores have closed their doors, consolidated their businesses or tightened their belts in the hopes of better days, fast food franchises have faltered but no major chain has failed.

The book “Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World” and the reality show “Biggest Loser” capture the causes and consequences of our self indulgences.
Everywhere one looks they see children, teens and adults with expanding girths.
The family photo albums from 60 to 70 years ago sharply contrast with the current generation’s family photos. More than 80,000 photographs of America taken during the Depression by photographers hired by the Farm Security Administration capture the problems the nation faced as seen on the website Livinghistoryfarm.org. Along with capturing the devastating sand storms that swept the mid-west before soil preservation programs were established, the photographs reveal the naturally trim figures of children and parents inside their homes built of logs, raw planks, beams and sod shanties.

The men, women and children captured at work and play in those colorful shots obviously fall within the national guidelines for a healthy weight. Even those photographed sitting around what would be today’s verboten meal of pork chops, gravy and heavy dessert do not have bodies that would qualify for the Biggest Loser. Part of the reason for that is simply that the economic and physical environment did not provide opportunities to add on pounds.

The portraits capture an astounding lack of all the items and comforts we consider so necessary today. There are no televisions or DVD players for couch potatoes to watch while collecting calories, no debris from fast food places to clutter the streets in photo shoots in the cities. With a dearth of toys, video games and kiddie shows, children went outside to play as soon as their parents declared their chores done. During their free time they entertained themselves with bikes, sandlot games of ball or going a couple blocks over to a friend’s house — on their own two feet without begging mom to take them there in the car.
Inside the homes, the lack of excess is reflected with a simple picture enhancing an unpainted wall, plain tableware and the absence of lounge chairs for the muscular, trim fathers and sons to lay in while watching a ball game.

Few had heard of, let alone considered, the necessity for a two-car garage because bikes, walking and living close to one’s place of employment meant not only did they save money on gas but they also burned more calories.

Today, folks expecting a hand-out find funds for cell phones, cable television, Internet services, electronic games and lottery tickets. Those accepting food stamps refuse food that does not suit their palate — a luxury their great-grandparents rarely enjoyed. News reels from the Great Depression show folks wearing out shoe leather searching for a job. Today those seeking a handout arrive in their personal gas guzzler and carry a Big Gulp. They want a hand-out, but they won’t take a hint: quit eating out, combine errands to save gas, shop thrift stores and yard sales and learn to say “no” to anything other than basic necessities. Read a book, play a game, have a conversation and cancel the cable service – otherwise your actions speak so loud, it’s kind of hard to hear your cry of “poor me.”

(Joan Hershberger is a reporter at the News-Times. E-mail her at joanh@everybody.org.)