Monday, March 24, 2008

[Scroll down for the link set to the Newark Advocate series on the Jail Ministry program]

Notes From My Knapsack 3-30-08
Jeff Gill

Keeping Out of the Trash Heap

In our current economy, most of us are used to seeing senior citizens working at fast food joints.

The first time I saw a grey head wearing a uniform cap and name badged polo shirt asking “do you want fries with that” it was a bit jarring, but I’ve gotten used to it.

Trainers at those fast food joints have told me that there’s an obstacle seniors have to get past in order to be effective, lasting employees in a place like that.

It isn’t the pace, which grandma usually maintains better than her youthful co-workers. Older counter workers may need to sit down from time to time, but not as often as teenagers try to slip into a chair while on the clock.

The equipment holds few terrors for them, since the challenge of computer readout is small change compared to work they did forty years ago (now that thing woulda torn your arm off!) and the many different devices they’ve mastered over the decades.

And they know how to make change. I’ll say no more.

What seniors have trouble adjusting to in the modern fast food workplace is . . . waste. Waste is built into the system in so many ways: pots dumped after twenty minutes, sandwiches tossed in the trash after forty, bags and pouches replaced with quarts of product (orange juice, shake mix, sauce) still visibly sloshing around in the bottom.

“Some of these old timers just can’t take it,” a guy told me (chain and name deleted to protect both the innocent and the guilty). “They want to scrape stuff out or set stuff back, and I tell ‘em it’s company policy and health code rules, and they can’t even take it home, and some just have to quit because it makes them sick to throw out so much stuff they think is good food.”

In most cases, it is good food, but the packaging or the pace just doesn’t allow for frugality of the sort they grew up with. It’s cheaper to toss it, and make more.

I was thinking about this the other day as I was cooking and baking for Easter Sunday, and scraping with a spatula right down to the clean bowl, with a vigor not my own. My long-deceased grandmother was leaning over behind me, watching to make sure I wasted as little as possible.

She wouldn’t have survived one shift at a fast food business.

She might have liked Bill McKibben, though. Author of the recent book “Deep Economy,” he’s also written “Hope: Human and Wild,” and “The Age of Missing Information.” He will be up on the Denison campus in Granville on Wed., April 2, speaking at 8:00 pm in Herrick Hall (the funny round building past Talbot Science Hall).

“Deep Economy” is subtitled “The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future.” McKibben makes the practical, ethical, and spiritual case that we can’t build our economy on the value of waste and the imperatives of “more” for much longer. He’s got some questions for us to wrestle with about the meaning of life and what really makes for quality – quality of life, of lives in community, and for a future worth beginning right now.

Is it possible that “more” no longer equals “better”? Could less be best, and small beautiful after all? And what do we need to say and do as a community to make that better future?

It may start with a spatula, and a clean bowl, not to mention cooking a bit more at home, with food that comes a little closer down the road to your counter-top.

See you next week at Herrick Hall!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he makes skewed versions of global recipes with local products, and they aren’t often inedible. If they are, there’s always fast food . . . send him your recipe, righteously twisted, at

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