by Reid Fitzsimons
Back in the early to mid-70s, flowing in on the social/political/economic tides of what recently preceded it, there was a TV ad I recall these 40-odd years later. Some casually dressed middle-aged white guy was sharing his angst and anger over the state of breakfast cereal, something like, “Do you know what most cereal tastes like these days? I’ll tell you what- CARDBOARD!” His feigned outrage was almost palpable. The post-Earth Day product he was hyping was a granola cereal, which was becoming quite the thing at the time. Every once in a while, when I see Bernie Sanders, I think of this ad.
“You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants when children are hungry in this country,” Sanders said during CNBC interview in late May 2015 in the early days of his run at the Democratic nomination. This intellectually callow statement appropriately garnered some scornful commentary, but I enjoy the image of some Sanders contemporary, a baby-boomer 60s radical who pleasured himself with dope a little longer than he should have, thinking “Like, wow man, that’s so profound, like rich people putting money in their arm pits when, like, kids are starving, it’s like a bummer.” Like many people, I’m not sure what the proper number of spray deodorants in society should be but I do worry a little about a potential president who suggests he has such knowledge. I also question the hungry children component of his declaration.
Many things in life can be divided into facts versus feelings, objective versus subjective. The website of an organization called No Kid Hungry states, “NO CHILD SHOULD GROW UP HUNGRY IN AMERICA. But 1 in 5 children struggles with hunger (I’ve also heard 1 in 4).” It may sound insensitive, but their two key words- struggles and hunger- are subjective. In surfing through the websites of several similar tax-exempt organizations I’m unable to find an actual definition of “hungry” and “hunger.” What I do find are frequent references to “food insecurity,” which seems to be a somewhat nebulous phrase of bureaucratic origin, one of many in the lexicon of the poverty industry.
For better or worse, I have never been in an area of famine or starvation associated with war, natural disaster, or malicious governmental policy. I am, however, well experienced in one of the poorest areas of the world (East Africa) and in some of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere (Guatemala and Honduras), and thankfully in only a few specific instances have I seen overt starvation and malnutrition. Along with my wife, we’ve served poor children in Honduras many thousands of meals, though this sounds more impressive than it is: once a system is in place it’s not terribly difficult or expensive to put out nutritious meals en masse. Serve breakfast and lunch five days a week to a range of 25-70 kids everyday and the numbers add up pretty fast. It is satisfying work. I’m sure a lot of these kids were hungry, and sometimes they even said “tengo hambre,” but hunger is more of an emotional fundraising keyword than one that is definable. Only Republicans, conservatives, and other devotees of Beelzebub find inner peace in the face of hungry children.
Actually I prefer children to exist in the state of not being hungry and I don’t know anyone who would say otherwise, though I suspect the advent of the next generation IPhone is more concerning to most Americans by a significantly higher degree. Cynicism can be a useful tool in separating reality from fantasy, and groups such as No Kid Hungry probably do perform important work. With that said, data from charitynavigator.org (2013) lists the founder and CEO of No Kid Hungry, William Shore, as receiving $267,383 in annual compensation, his wife Debbie, listed as co-founder, $200,918, and their president another $353,396. There is nothing to suggest No Kid Hungry is anything other than a legitimate non-profit organization and apparently well regarded. To quote Our President, Barak Obama, "When you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody." Note his statement didn’t preclude spreading wealth upward.
Moving on, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, like Bernie Sanders, were baby boomers from the NY City area who found their way to Vermont and eventually transformed it from stolid conservative to the People’s Republic of Vermont. They are best known as the liberal progressive founders of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, a high quality ice cream with an extra high percentage of fat, inherently unhealthy and criminally expensive. Needless to say, they became very rich (one of those net worth websites lists them at around 150 million each)- I suspect Ben and Jerry’s is not the official ice cream of the impoverished. In late December 2015 Ben and Jerry sent out an e-mail as follows: “We’ve known Bernie Sanders for 30 years. And for over 30 years, Bernie’s been fighting for workers’ rights, veterans, students, and senior citizens…As we travel the country campaigning for Bernie, we hear a lot of people saying, ‘I love Bernie, but I am not sure he can win.’ But poll after poll shows Bernie is the most electable Democrat.”
The Ben and Jerry’s website lists something like 60 different flavors. Is the irony self-evident here? Two entrepreneurs created an unhealthy but tasty product, charged exorbitant prices, marketed their product using cutesy names (Chunky Monkey, Cherry Garcia), and amassed a fortune. Notice their socialist political comrade Bernie Sanders did not declare, “You don’t necessarily need a choice of 60 flavors of ice cream, and that’s from only one of many brands, when children are hungry in this country.”
Ben and Jerry sold their brand to international mega-conglomerate Unilever in 2000 for $325,000,000. Besides being the world’s largest producer of ice cream (something like 7 billion dollars in annual sales) they are also the makers of several families of deodorants, including Axe, Suave, Shield, and Sure.
Bernie Sanders is a likeable, perpetually outraged blowhard who probably truly believes at some psychological level that (selected) Big Corporations and Rich People are evil and exist primarily to screw the feckless, helpless masses. His association with his hypocritical mega-rich corporate buddies Ben and Jerry demonstrates, however, he is full of crap and has absolutely no integrity. Nevertheless, zero integrity is exponentially more than his comrade fellow candidate Hillary possesses, so from the Democratic standpoint, I’m in for Bernie 2016!