Just the other day at the grocery when I was in line behind someone trying to use food stamps to buy a 12-pack of extra-caffeine Pepsi (which apparently is perfectly legal) and a pack of Marlboros (which so far isn’t), I got to thinking about government food programs. Just like the road to hell, I think government-subsidized food programs were paved with good intentions. There are lots of folks toiling away in low-paying, no-benefit jobs and these people deserve some assistance. Extra-caffeine cola is probably not the most sound nutritional choice, but maybe the person needed help staying awake for their second low-paying no-benefit job. The system is probably both abused (by some) and a life saver (for others).
About 200 years ago, during my high school years, the big government food program involved distribution of surplus cheese. Our dairy industry had a lot of cheese so Uncle Sam bought it and then needed to get rid of it, preferably quickly. Do you remember hearing about the secret (OK, not-so-secret) missile silos in South Dakota? It seems possible the government filled those silos with this cheese because it was everywhere (the cheese, not the government, although now that I think about it …). Our poor little rural school got its fair or unfair share of it, depending upon if you were expected to eat it. Based on its density, taste and melting point, this cheese was a logical thing to store in a missile silo because if it had fallen on you it would have done about as much damage as a medium-range ICBM.
Our cafeteria cooks were hard working women who did a really amazing job. They were of the generation that eked out a hardscrabble existence through the Great Depression years. If someone was going to just hand them some free cheese, by golly, they were going to take it. As a consequence, a great deal of the cheese was used to make enormous baking sheets full of pizza. No one else in our tiny burg had ever heard of pizza so it wasn’t until some of us left town for the big city that we realized pizza did not necessarily mean 1-inch of soggy dough topped by 1-inch of impenetrable cheese, served up in a 2-foot-by-3-foot badly scarred aluminum pan.
At one time our government also distributed peanut butter. Now, peanut butter is one of the top two foods in the universe. The other is chocolate. If anyone ever wanted to make a fortune, they would find a way to combine peanut butter and chocolate, maybe form it into small fluted cups, and sell it in bright orange packaging. But government peanut butter resembles actual peanut butter in the same way reality television resembles reality — in name only.
I once was on a two-week fishing trip with three guys, one of whose contribution to our food reserves was a one-gallon can of peanut butter. Very few food items that come in one-gallon cans are noted for their fine culinary distinctions and this peanut butter didn’t come close. In an effort to make it go farther, although why anyone would want even more of this stuff is beyond me, the peanut butter had been combined with another food product. Due to its, shall we say, interesting texture, it was difficult to discern what this second product was — maybe vegetable oil, maybe lard, maybe, oh I don’t know, missile silo cheese. There is only one way to ruin peanut butter and the person who dreamed up this concoction discovered it. Nothing will inspire you to try hard — real hard — to catch fish as the prospect of eating lard-laden peanut butter if you fail.
During the exhaustive research for this article, I read on the Internet — so you know it has to be true — that the government also used to distribute butter. Butter, for those of you who remember it from our pre-Zocor days, is made from milk provided by those same over-industrious dairy farmers. They must have been drinking extra-caffeine Pepsi.
Marla Boone resides in Covington and writes for the Troy Daily News and Piqua Daily Call.