It is about noon. I just got back from the food market and I’m shaking my head.
The food ration cards are pretty basic — you get so many stamps for meat, so many for milk, so many for fruits and veggies, etc. You can use them at the grocery store, the farmer’s market, or at the government food distribution centers. Those of us with pre-paid CSAs have managed to wrangle an exemption, happily. Of course, enough people have left the city that the CSA folks usually have left over meat or eggs or veggies or whatnot and can sell it (at a nice profit!) to people who line up waiting.
Now, here’s the thing.
I arrived this morning at a food distribution center with some other folks from the community kitchens. (Free, no ration cards necessary.) There are two different bays. We were at bay 1, where they hand out large quantities of raw goods there — 50 lb. bags of rice, beans, grain, flour, sugar, oil. A whole pile of red clover seeds, which is weird but we picked some up for sprouts. Huge primal cuts of pork and lamb.
In bay 2, there’s the food that you might have bought at the supermarket two years ago: boxes of Cheerios and packaged cheese already sliced and Pepperidge Farm white bread and orange juice in cartons and jars of tomato sauce and whatnot.
Now, for those of you not struggling with the ration cards, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. One box of Cheerios gets checked off your card with a stamp. One 50 lb. bag of rice gets the same stamp.
Usually, if I’m going to the food centers (this one is in the armory down Highland Ave.), I go at the ass-crack of dawn because we’ve got to get breakfast on the table. Usually it’s just a handful of us from the community food centers mucking around in Bay 1 with our lists and our heavy-duty bike trailers. Today, for a variety of reasons that don’t bear mentioning, we wound up going late.
And, once again, it was mostly just us mucking around in Bay 1. We had the Food Center ration cards and were hauling giant piles of grain for porridge and jars of molasses (fewer stamps than sugar) and beans and whatnot. There were only two other groups — large families obviously pooling their ration cards and speaking (I think) Vietnamese and something Mike assured me was Lebanese.
Bay 2, however, was mobbed. There was a line out the door, people shoving and arguing. There wasn’t enough tomato sauce to go around, announced the nice man doing the handing out, and there was a hue and cry from the waiting crowds. I was stunned. Jarred tomato sauce? In AUGUST? New England really isn’t the land of tomatoes, but in August we’ve got them coming out our ears. The folks at the farmer’s markets are practically giving them away, even at inflated prices.
After I finished the food center’s buying, I did some private shopping. Brown rice, lentils, giant jugs of oil, even a case of cream (I’m making butter and freezing it, now that electricity is up reliably). A scary big bag of red beans. Even some of that red clover — I’ve never done sprouting before, but it can’t be that hard. Gil does it.
I walked away with enough food to feed my family for months. For about ten stamps, a week’s worth on my card.
The nice people next door were complaining about a shortage of coffee and Lactaid milk. (Two stamps, fully 20 percent of their ration.)