Monday, July 11, 2011

Land of plenty

I’m reading a book of letters between Margaret Laurence and her close friend Adele Wiseman. I love reading collected letters, especially when both sides of the correspondence are available. A couple years ago I read the correspondence between Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. They weren’t published in the same book, so I was juggling various volumes, some English, some French, using the dates on the letters to try and match up the conversation. Read alongside with their biographies, autobiographies and other writings, it was a great immersion into two brilliant minds.

But I digress. What actually prompted me to write about the Laurence/Wisemen correspondence tonight is not the letters as a whole, or even the women behind them, but rather something which came up in passing in one of Laurence’s letters.

She was writing to her friend from London, England in June of 1950. Wiseman was about to move out to England and Laurence was advising her on what to pack. “Food is pretty good here now,” she writes, “with tinned meats, biscuits, jellies, rice, syrup, fruit juices, etc., now off the ration and quite easy to get.” She does add a post script though: “find out if you can bring some sugar – the ration is very small (1/2 lb per person per wk).”

This mention of rations got me wondering how such a concept would fly these days. I can’t imagine our government, in 2011, being able to impose rations on how much, or on what, people could spend.

A restriction on capital markets would fly in the face of all the economic recovery plans that seem based on getting people shopping again. And even if there were rations imposed, given the global world we now live in, people would just go order their sugar or canned goods on-line. Internet business would sky-rocket. Our postal system might even flourish.

In this day and age, restraint is not something which the government or even society in general encourages. One of the biggest challenges faced by people promoting the 100-mile diet or advocating for local foods is that consumers want everything anytime.

We live in the land of plenty as if it will last forever.

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