Sept 29, 2021–In the panoply of sentient life on earth, it wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t have candy bars. Or ice cream. Or sodas or pop-tarts.
Breakfast cereals. Hamburgers. French fries.
Coffee didn’t come to Europe until the 1500s.
That means even Julius Caesar or King Tut, who could have had anything in the world brought to them, never experienced the bliss of an Oreo Blizzard or a Snickers.
It was only in my parents’ lifetimes that the rabble could enjoy many kinds of fruit maybe once a year–pineapples, oranges, grapes, bananas. Now we expect them to be in the store every day, sweet, clean, and bruise free.
What else do we take for granted? Flight, cars, trains, internal combustion engines, electricity, and indoor toilets?
How about paper clips and staplers? Bob Cratchett had no way to hold reports together.
Roller ball pens? White paper, cheap and handy? Pencils with erasers?
Before each of these existed, no person could have imagined them.
Like my songwriter friend states, no one can believe something will exist until it does. This goes for songs, or novels, movies, and unforgettable plays. Someone, somewhere, sometime, sat down with the idea of coming up with something that no one else could imagine. Who could have predicted Toaster Strudels or Milk Duds? Yet we have them at our fingertips, literally, on every trip to the grocery store. And the pace of available options is accelerating.
Here are some amazing statistics. As late as the 1990s, the average grocery store carried 7,000 different items. By 2014, the average grew to more than 42,000. Today stores stock as many as 60,000 items, with a Kroger listed at 70,000.
We Americans take this bounty for granted. I remember my first trip to an American grocery store after returning from two years in South America. In our campo, the mercado had 6 aisles. There were bins of rice, potatoes, some canned goods and seasonings. There was meat, but only for the first two weeks of each month. When I say “rice,” I mean “rice.” There were no brand names, boxed ready-to-eat meals, or Uncle Ben’s. You scooped it into a bag and weighed it.
After that experience, when I first stopped at a Houston Kroger to buy a pack of gum, I was literally paralyzed. I stood in front of shelves higher than my head and wider than my arms, filled with every brand, flavor, size, color, and manifestation of “gum” ever created. I had a panic attack at the thought I was going to have to make endless decisions on every trip to buy even basic commodities.
Oh, how quickly we come to accept and even expect these endless choices. The other day, I finally used the Curbside Service at our local grocery store. I am hooked. You can make out your list online, pay by credit card, then drive by and let someone load it into your car that same day. It could only be better if they followed you home and carried it into your pantry.
No sultan, emperor, or Elks Club Exalted Ruler was able to use that service even a decade ago.
So next time you bite into a Hershey bar, take a moment to really appreciate it. And remember–mankind has always enjoyed fermented beverages.