In the Time of COVID. Day 61
May 18, 2020.
You Are What You Eat: Seattle 1971
It is commonly understood that the most vulnerable population subject to COVID in America are people in economically disadvantaged urban and rural settings, better known as “poor folk”. The affluent really are clueless when it comes to knowledge about “food deserts”. Poor folk live in urban neighborhoods and rural communities where the availability of wholesome food is scarce. It is where Dollar Stores obliterate Mom and Pop groceries and the only available foods are high fat, high sugar, and high salt prepackaged “foods”. Those very same “poor folk” are more subject to diabetes and obesity and hypertension. They tend to be minorities, though there are millions of poor, fat, white folk, as well. These are the most likely victims of COVID. These folk have the highest mortality rates by far. That brings to mind my first experience with a food desert.
It was Apple picking time in the Okanagan Valley, 1971. A van full of us guys from Magnolia Flats headed east for Tonasket for the harvest. I got to sit in the front passenger seat because I had a high fever, like a flu or something. I wrapped myself in a blanket and draped it over the heater under the dash. It was a 50 mile an hour sweat lodge. I needed the money like everyone else. I’d kick that bug or be damned.
We were driving east, over State Route 20, The North Cascade Highway. It is a beautiful wilderness route through rugged mountains with precipitous drop offs. The pass is usually closed for the winter due to excessive snow pack. We came to a pull out by a meadow. People needed to pee. We all piled out. I was still feeling queasy so I didn’t join the group down by the stream. The guys found a growth of Amanita Muscaria. That is a non-lethal mushroom that is red with white flecks on top. It, however, makes the eater hallucinate and vomit. These fools came up from the stream with Cheshire grins, holding those pancake size mushrooms and munching them like cookies.
I had to take over driving while the guys rolled around in back, hooting and laughing and eventually vomiting all over themselves. I had the flu and I was the designated driver. Hippies did some strange shit, back in the day.
We pulled into Tonasket and we followed the signs to ‘pickers wanted’. We turn off at an orchard and were issued picker shacks. The guys were coming down off their high and washed the vomit off themselves with a garden hose. They really didn’t stand out, though. Apple pickers are a motley crew.
The next day we started picking and by night fall as I closed my eyes I could still see dozens of red spots below my eye lids. In the two weeks we picked we made pretty good money, pooled it to equal shares and even pooled money for food.
I remember going into the major store in Tonasket. I was looking for veggies. I couldn’t find any. I asked the checker “Where are the fruits and vegetables?” She said “The last freezer box on the left wall or isle three can goods.” Welcome to “Food Desert”.
We wasted some of the money on wine and beer but everyone had a good fat wallet after picking. We drove back to the Flats. No stopping for mushrooms that time.
In 1971 a revolutionary diet book was published called “You Are What You Eat” by Victor H. Lindlahr. It became a cult favorite of the counter culture. The phrase entered American vernacular and is common even today. The premise of that manifesto was eat well, eat organic, eat vegetarian, lay off the fats, salt, meats and sugars. Others had written of this idea but Lindlahr put it all together. The book was a wild success.
By late Fall 1971, a group of hippies rented a vacant lunch counter at the corner of 20th and Dravis not far from the Flats. They crashed in the apartment above the cafe. They called it “You Are What You Eat.” It served vegetarian soups, breads, casseroles, rices and stir fries. It had a great selection of teas and home made pies.
I walked in and asked for a job waiting tables. The first few attempts they turned me down but as their business picked up they needed help. That time when I asked they said “sure…. but ah, we can’t pay you. We can give you a meal every shift, anything on the menu. You can keep all your tips and sometimes you can take leftovers home.” As I said before, everything seemed to be under the table. I worked the busy nights Thursday through Saturday. I got by.
I know that doesn’t sound like much. I hadn’t come up in the world, but if I hadn’t had that experience, I never would have gotten the job That changed my economic life for the next year and a half.