Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Lot of Little Strawberries

It's Memorial Day weekend here in the United States, but in case you're in another country and you aren't familiar with this holiday, here's a very brief history: Memorial Day was established after the end of the Civil War as a day to honor those who died in military service to the United States. Originally a somber day of remembrance during which people traditionally visited cemeteries and memorials, it has since become a day of storewide sales at auto dealerships, department stores, and home improvement centers.

Okay, that's the end of our history lesson. If you read my blog last week, you probably noticed that I didn't write anything that week. But if I had written anything, it probably would have been about how everything seems to be getting bigger.

I saw a documentary called Maxed Out on Showtime last week. It was about how more and more people have huge credit card debts, including a lot of college students with no source of income and who probably shouldn't have been given credit cards in the first place. But it turns out that banks love giving credit cards to people who can't possibly pay off the monthly balance, because they don't make any money unless their customers are paying interest. And the worse your credit rating is, the higher your interest rate will be. In some cases it can go as high as 28%.

Of course, banks don't just make money on credit card interest -- they also make money on mortgage interest. And as it turns out, according to one banker, the most profitable segment of the mortgage business is in sub-prime loans.

Okay, banks are evil -- they engage in all sorts of predatory lending practices -- we all know that. Of course, that doesn't mean the people who let themselves get into debt aren't somehow responsible for their situation. On the other hand, if you're poor and you can't afford groceries and you get a pre-approved credit card offer in the mail, you'll probably accept the offer so you can feed your kids. You'll go deeper and deeper into debt, of course, and the bank will hound you until your dying day, but at least your kids won't starve. It used to be that you could declare bankruptcy, but the Bush administration passed some legislation (written entirely by MBNA, a bank) making it more difficult for individuals to declare bankruptcy.

According to Bush, the legislation was necessary because of the relatively minuscule percentage of people who fraudulently file for bankruptcy. This was such a clear-cut case of corporate lobbyists subverting what's left of our democracy that I won't even comment on it. I'll just mention that just about every president from Ronald Reagan onward has "borrowed" money from our Social Security reserves to help pay the interest on our national debt. And I put the word "borrowed" in quotes because there's no way we'll ever be able to pay it back. We basically stole the money from Social Security so we could give it to all the countries we owe money to.

Now here's the point I wanted to make. In the documentary, they interviewed some woman who was talking about the planned community she lived in. She was saying how wonderful such communities are from an investment standpoint (provided the bank doesn't foreclose on you after your teaser interest rate expires and your variable interest rate goes through the roof), but she also mentioned that people are demanding bigger and bigger houses. For example, people want kitchens with two stoves and two dishwashers, and probably two refrigerators as well. As a matter of fact, she was saying that some houses in her development are so big that they have two laundry rooms -- one on each floor.

Because my early adulthood took place during a time when the book "Small is Beautiful" was somewhat popular and the phrase "less is more" was bandied about a lot, having such a huge house seems like pointless excess to me. Of course I'm just one person, so I probably don't really need two laundry rooms.

Anyway, if you have a chance, watch Maxed Out. I thought it was very illuminating, but I wasn't planning on writing about it on this blog. As a matter of fact, I watched it one day and pretty much forgot about it the next. It wasn't until a day or two later that I started thinking about it again.

The thought didn't just arbitrarily pop into my head, by the way. I was doing some grocery shopping and I happened to see some fresh organic strawberries. They smelled so good that I decided to buy a container. As you know, whenever you buy fresh strawberries, you should examine them very closely to see if any are bruised or covered with mold. You also don't want to get any that are overripe or underripe, although that seems to be pretty much impossible these days.

So as I was looking at one strawberry container after another, it struck me that most of the strawberries were absolutely huge -- many times the size of normal strawberries -- and I wondered how they got to be so big. Were they the result of some sort of freak genetic accident, or are strawberry growers deliberately growing them bigger? I suspect it's the latter, which leads me only to wonder why. Maybe the growers are victim to the misguided notion that bigger is better, or maybe they're just serving the needs of a strawberry-buying public that has fallen victim to the same bizarre notion. Maybe normal strawberries simply look too small resting on the countertop of an oversized multi-dishwasher kitchen.

As for me, I don't like such huge strawberries. They taste just as good, but I still think they're too big. And since the containers they come in are a fixed size, the bigger the strawberries, the fewer you get. It's just a matter of personal taste, of course, and maybe no one else shares my opinion, but I'd rather have a lot of little strawberries than a few big ones.