Looking forward to it.

Looking Forward to It

The consumer climate we experience today is anticipation’s worst enemy.

Our whole world screams of abundance; anything we want is available at the click of a button and shows up the following day, providing immediate gratification to each of our slightest whims.

When we’re eating, we barely even think about it.  Much loved food items are identified, and then watered down by processors until they’re easily replicable on a gigantic scale, immediately making them obtainable 24/7/365.  Family retreats have become an epicenter for lots of eating; rarely have I spoken to anyone returning from an all-inclusive resort or from a week aboard a cruise who does not first mention twenty-four-hour, all you can eat buffets and multiple included meals as a highlight of the whole excursion.  They’re not really responding to the goodness of the food, the reaction is borne from the outstanding abundance of it.  There’s a difference.

Tourist towns on the coast are peppered with billboards inviting visitors to bottomless seafood buffets.  You can get as much as you can possibly stuff down at any moment you choose on any street in town.  Is it special if everyone has instant access? 

There’s no limit to my personal amusement when I see fast food restaurants advertising restricted availability of sandwiches at select locations, when even a cursory examination of our surroundings reveals unlimited quantities of the meal at every location across the country for months at a time.  If such a scenario is what people associate with limited availability, then I believe we’ve identified the root of society’s greed epidemic.

Perhaps my favorite writer of all time is cartoonist Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes.  Calvin’s dad serves as a character full of counter-balancing quips to Calvin’s youthful ignorance, and frequently I’m reminded of a strip in which father reminds son that, in most cases, the anticipation of something is often better than actually having it.

I wonder what people anticipate these days?  Nothing, really.  Special food?  Forget it.  You can’t anticipate something that’s continuously available.  You can’t appreciate it, either.  When ‘specialty’ has become synonymous with a marginally better quality variation of the same thing we’re already used to, some part of…what?...hope?...is lost.  A society that refuses to anticipate is a society that will eventually eliminate the goodness of everything.  Gratification is also lost in the presence of immediate indulgence.

Seasonality and short productions of outstanding products are something I enjoy immensely, because I like having something to look forward to.  Lots of times just a little bit of something good is all you need; having a lot of it would eliminate the enjoyment. 

For example, this year I planted a very old, jet-black variety of flour corn that I can’t wait to try.  My plot looks hilariously inadequate, especially when compared to the thousands of acres hammered into surrounding properties by commodity-driven grain jockeys.  I bet, though, that I’m looking forward to my harvest much more than the guy scowling through the windshield of a fancy tractor, for my crop, though small, is unique.  Keaton Stants has Fox Farms hand-milled buckwheat flour available in brief stints at the Beef Barn, and it’s extraordinary when it’s in stock; most of the time, though, it’s not, because the stuff is milled on a micro-scale.  I’m definitely anticipating the first bite of our seasonal grassfed beef this year, and I can’t wait to see the weird varieties of tomatoes Little Sprouts Produce is growing.  We have a tiny amount of quinoa seed to go in the ground before summer, and we’re planning to harvest and sell the grain.  It won’t be like Aldi where the shelf is stocked continuously; a few bags will be the total yield.  Quantities less than unlimited make the stuff special.  Are you catching my drift here?

Small business is the anti-abundance, and I mean that in a good way.  We all need to be careful as we toe the line between maintaining our identity and responding to increasingly loud demands from a public blindly accustomed to Amazon and Wal-Mart.  Within the pages of entrepreneurial magazines scattered throughout Yinzburgh BBQ in Pittsburgh are increasing numbers of articles penned by young men and women who are trying to keep their businesses relevant as multinational conglomerates cash in on the convenience factor to siphon away potential customers.  At home, we’re regularly bombarded with requests to ship beef across the country, and supply this restaurant or that one, save all of this cut for one person, and produce more, more, more.  Why?  Because anyone can get any cut they want, any time they want, without leaving home, and they can purchase an associated label that tells them anything they want to hear to feel good about the steak that was just shipped in from Uruguay.  Why the heck can’t they get that same experience from Clarion?  I get sarcastic about the ordeal, but the pressure to do more, faster is crushing.  Of course we want to expand our business, but to do so at the expense of our integrity is unacceptable.

Do you think the consumer masses will ever trade convenience for patience and authenticity?  That’s the million dollar question: is local more important than expediency, or do people like the thought of local but not the true meaning of it?  I change my answer to that question daily.

What do you look forward to?