Sunday, September 25, 2016

Snap, Crackle, Pop, There Goes Your Food Budget (Again)

Supposing, too much to assume
Saying nothing but speaking volumes
Silence broken with shattering sounds
Books for no one, where are they bound
I can see the blind who are leading the blind
Always somewhere somebody's leaving behind
Tiny traces, evidence for us to find
Just a moment only an outline
No substance, no shred of belief
Sweeping seconds and the smoke from burning leaves
Suddenly they're carried away
Written on, written off and tossed away
I can hear the words that are spoken to me
From a void of invisibility
What they say is all they are trying to mean
What is left is all that remains to be seen

--Grant Hart ("Remains To Be Seen")

Last week, I caught a show on PBS that I hadn't seen before: "Art In The Twentieth Century." This episode focused on four artists from Mexico, a country we mainly hear about lately in two big negative contexts....either for a) illegal aliens, or b) cartels cutting peoples' heads off. But these images didn't flicker across my screen. The creativity on display really struck me, as did the social energy surrounding the featured artists' work. People talked to them freely and stopped to check out whatever they were doing, if the act of creation was happening publicly.

One segment showed Pedro Reyes biking around the neighborhood, trying to drum up interest in his hamburgers -- only these came with crickets, not meat, on a bun. The artist's name escapes me right now, but he said that the idea was to challenge our reliance on meat for protein: hence, insects as a substitute. (As for yours truly, this particular Jughead will pass on that offer Rest assured, Pedro, it's nothing personal.) Still, he had no trouble getting people to check out his wares, and buy a burger or two, as well. Ha! I'd love to see one those uptight rich boors here start tucking into one....and see their faces crease in horror, once the realization dawns on them: oh, my God, that crunching sound, it ain't bacon, it'''s....crickets!

Minerva Cuevas's segment also caught my attention. She enjoys re-purposing corporate ads and logos with a sinister political twist, such as a Del Monte can -- hence, underneath those familiar green leaves, you'll see a slogan like "PURE MURDER," referring to the havoc that she blames them for wreaking on Guatemalan peasants, for example. That work was among the many featured in a recent exhibit, "FEAST/FAMINE", whose title takes aim at unfettered capitalism (a feast for the few, leaving everyone else get the idea). To complete the effect, the middle of the gallery featured a bucket of chocolate rigged to drop on the floor every 3.6 seconds (to remind visitors that's when one person around the world is dying from starvation).

I enjoyed it....if that's the right word....but she said something else that struck me. According to Cuevas, much of her art is dedicated to exposing what she sees as the "institutionalized violence" that bureaucracies perpetuate against every day men and women.

I'll second that observation. After six months of  stability, our food allowance has -- once again -- been cut to the bare bone, from $108 to a whopping $16 per month. What made this particular instance all the more aggravating is that one of my longtime writing outlets closed up shop last month....which means I either made the same (or less) money than usual.  So I duly called up my caseworker and asked her to explain this apparent disconnect to me.

"Well," she responded, "let's go over your budget..."  With that prompt, she launched into an extended explanation (:"Well, we take a percentage of this, subtract it from that," and so on). Our state, it seems, had once again cut the maximum allowable deductions for housing from $533 to $400-and-something-or-other. Then it dawns on me: all this "Chinee arithmetric," as jazz musicians used to call it, is designed to keep you from much of anything. Or anything at all, once the brass tacks are counted.

That's the game, plain and simple. Nothing to do with any of those nagging "isms" that those CNN talking heads yammer about constantly. There's a bigger truth at work here. Whether it's the overall division of wages in our society, or situations like this one, the plain fact is -- they don't want you to have it (FILL IN: extra food, money, or resource of choice). Period.

I don't fault my caseworker. She's only a cog in a mindless juggernaut, one that she has no say in running. She seems decent enough, and I actually get her on the first call, which is a pleasant departure from her predecessors. But I can't get away from one cold, hard fact. The collateral damage that this mindless juggernaut wreaks has torn a gaping hole in an already tattered budget that much wider. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and I can smell it burning in my kitchen cupboard. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Hurry, Hurry,
Get Your Cricket Burgers Before Sundown):
Minerva Cuevas Website:

New York Post: Cricket Burgers
A Surprise Hit In NYC

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