Food for thought

During the fall, food banks all across America remind people that hunger never goes away. Around the holidays they will see an increase in donations because people feel more charitable then but hunger is a twelve month a year problem.

I was fortunate enough to have a food bank in Lockport at my disposal when I couldn’t work due to a medical condition. It wasn’t like shopping at Wegmans as they had limited products including some day old baked goods available.

Even though there were some things we didn’t like, I took everything they offered me. My wife would then find creative ways of cooking these and we ate all of them. It is amazing just what you will eat when you are hungry.

I relied on food banks for sustenance 50 years ago when I was in the service. Our neighbors showed us how to apply for a monthly allocation of surplus food that the state would give to low income people. Then, every month we would have a food exchange in the common area of the housing complex where we lived to swap whatever food we didn’t want for food that we did.

I also remember during the Blizzard of ’77 that I took a part temporary job at a local supermarket due to the fact I could not get to my job in Buffalo. I used to dig thru the “Garbage Room” finding perfectly fine food that was not saleable. A tomato with a spot, a dented can or a broken carrot.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture states that between 30-40 percent of the food in the United States is wasted. Large amounts of produce that is grown in the United States is left in the field due to economic reasons. It is also fed to livestock or transported from the fields to a landfill.

I have done “Gleaning” where you go thru a farmer’s field after the harvest. A man I worked with grew a field of “Butter Sugar” corn one year. At the end of the season, after the price dropped, he gave me the field. Told me to take what I wanted for free. My father in law and I went and picked the corn and brought it to my house where my wife and mother in law blanched it, cut it off the cob and packaged the kernels in zip lock plastic bags for freezing. We had 100 bags of corn and it lasted us a full year and a half.

In my humble opinion, the appeal of perfect produce probably started in the 1940s as people adapted to refrigeration. Suddenly, you could get a pineapple in Wisconsin in February. Clarence Birdseye helped hasten the preservation of foods with his quick freezing methods and the days of going to the grocery store every day were dying out. Suddenly stores were ending up with unsaleable products that had to be thrown away.

Americans waste a large quantity of food. According to a report by The Guardian.com approximately half of all produce in the United States is tossed out, around 60 million tons worth $160 billion every rear. The Environmental Protection Agency has discovered that thrown away food is also the largest component in American landfills.

Wasting food represents many problems for our country. With all of the households in the United States that struggle to put food on the table. That much waste could be used to feed hungry Americans.  Reducing our food waste by 15 percent would help feed 25 million Americans every year. Food waste is also a primary source of waste going into landfills and is also the one of the largest causes of methane in the United States.

When I worked for Nabisco, forty years ago, they used to donate damaged packages of cookies and crackers until some of the donations ended up being “returned” to stores for a refund. Allegedly they also had to defend themselves against a few lawsuits related to the donated food. They stopped donating food to charity for these reasons and just destroyed the product with imperfect packaging.  Some people ruin it for everybody.

The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act was passed in 1996.  This act protects businesses from lawsuits when they make a contribution of food to a charity. This protects them from litigation except for cases involving extreme negligence.

I worked with a person who knew a salesman/driver for a dairy. He would bring in “expired” yogurt for me. It was perfectly fine, it was just past the “Best if used by” date and unsaleable. It was delicious.

There are many reasons why so much food is thrown out in the U.S. Part of the reason is that food is less expensive and more abundant in the United States than almost anywhere else in the world. But the big reason Americans waste food appears to be the national obsession with the aesthetic condition of their food. Food that goes past their “Best if used by” date gets thrown out or grocery stores throw out unattractive produce or dented cans that shoppers will not buy. Other reasons include damage in transit and stores ordering more than they can sell.

We have to stop throwing out perfectly good food.

Age is Just a Number

Previously printed in the Niagara Falls Gazette

By Norbert Rug, an internationally published writer and blogger from Lockport.

I have decided to age gracefully. Sure, I have a few health problems. I need hearing aids to hear, glasses to see, I use a cane to walk, I have peripheral neuropathy and cancer. But these are just pot holes in the road of my life.

We have all dealt with our own personal pot holes. Aging gracefully to me means continually reinventing myself as I pass through landmark ages like my 60s, 70s and hopefully my 80s.

Aging gracefully to me means finding out new things that I enjoy, learning to adapt to change, learning a new skill, staying socially and physically active, and feeling I am connected to my community and loved ones. It wasn’t until my 60s that I discovered my love for writing. This helps me feel connected. I can still drive (although my wife frowns on it), work on my computers, go to dinner or do Sudoku puzzles. I feel keeping my brain alive helps keep me younger.

Today I’m 71 years old, and to some of you, I might be too old for some things and I probably am. I don’t think I will do any skydiving or race car driving soon and Papa don’t do running. I always tell Donna that I have a twenty five year old mind inside a seventy one year old body. The truth is I don’t care very much about age.

I am going to celebrate this day because I’m alive and that is the most important thing. “Upright and taking nourishment” is what I tell people. Being alive to me means that I can still have another chance to do what I love and to be happy. Age does not control my feelings, I am the one who is in charge and I know that my happiness is something that nothing or no one can control unless I let them.

I’m doing what I want, what I love and I will always do so for as long as I can despite my age. My age means absolutely nothing to me. My dreams, my love for life and goals are what keep me alive, and even if one day I reach 100 years old, I will be just as alive as I am right now. Age will only matter to me the day I stop learning and enjoying life. This will be the day where I may as well be dead.

The important thing in our lives is to understand that our age is not what matters. What matters the most in our lives is our attitude, commitment and perseverance. Donna calls my perseverance stubbornness but I am not about to argue word verbiage with her. Of course our age signifies the passage of time, so we may have more problems as we age. The key to living our lives to the fullest is doing what we decide is important. If we believe that everything is possible then maybe it is. We should never let age interfere with what we want to do.

Unfortunately, for many of us, aging also brings anxiety about taking care of ourselves later in life. We think about losing our spouse, about dementia and Alzheimer’s. Many of these fears often stem from popular culture, Television shows or movies but I have yet to yell at the neighborhood kids to “Get off my lawn” like Clint Eastwood in the movie Gran Torino.

Let’s give less importance to our age and more to our mind and attitude. We cannot achieve things and live a happier life if we don’t believe in ourselves. Old age just means that you are still alive and you can keep being happy, dreaming, enjoying life, having fun, laughing, smiling and living your life to the fullest!

Coping with change is problematic, no matter what age you are. The specific challenge for aging adults is the large number of changes that start to occur. These might including children or grandchildren moving away and not visiting as often. I have grandchildren that live, work and attend school out of town.

Changes might be the loss of parents, friends, and other loved ones. I have lost both of my parents and a couple of friends over the years. Retiring might also be one of the changes you experience along with declining health and even the loss of independence. It is very natural to suffer these losses. But if you balance these things with positive things, you just might have the formula for aging gracefully.

There are many fallacies about aging. The fact of the matter is that you are much stronger and more resilient than you may recognize.

The late John F. Kennedy said, “It is not enough to add years to your life, one must add new life to your years.”

I looked at the bottom of my foot the other day and could not find an expiration date.

Bullying

October is National anti-bullying month. As a red head I was bullied when I was a child. Even today I can still hear the chants “Red head, red head fire in the wood shed”. This is the only one that was yelled at me that can be printed in a family newspaper. One involved the anatomy of a male dog and another involved my parents and a rusty pipe.

No wonder I was a loner.

While I was growing up in Buffalo, there was a family across the street that had 4 or 5 bazillion kids, or so it seemed. I remember them jumping me, punching me and sitting on me so they could pound my hands into the dirt. It always concluded with the threat that if I told anyone the next time it would be worse.

I was constantly tripped, pushed and kicked by the bullies in school but I suffered in silence because I knew if I reported them, retaliation was going to be quick and harsh.

In elementary school, I did manage to retaliate against one bully and gain some respect though. When we were sitting at our desks, he would reach across the aisle with his leg when the teacher wasn’t looking and kick me. This would cause the classroom to laugh.

One day I had enough and waited until he extended his leg, ready to torment me again when I grabbed his foot and gave it a yank. He ended up siting on the floor. When the teacher turned around and asked him what had happened, he stood up and said he just fell out of his seat. The laughter was the loudest I had ever heard. It seems he was bullying many of my classmates and they appreciated someone getting even. He never did it again and him and his “bully buddies” left me alone. Elementary school went pretty good after that.

We moved to the north towns in time for junior high school where I developed a small circle of friends. By the time I got to high school the bullying reached its apex. My books would get knocked out of my arms and I would get body checked into the lockers. I started carrying my books in a duffle bag so my stuff would not get scattered all over the place.  The school administrators would always look the other way because the perpetrators were primarily members of the football team. They were untouchable and they didn’t want to have to discipline them with suspensions. I was the victim and that, like designated seating, seemed to be my place in the school pecking order.”

I rode the bus to school. Seeing as I lived so far from the school the bus was virtually empty when I got on it so I would sit in the back. One day, on the way to school, I was “pantsed” by a couple of the motor-heads to the delight of all the other riders. On my way off the bus, the driver told me I had to sit in the front seat from now on. I now realize he was trying to protect me but back then I felt like I was the one being punished. Nothing ever happened to them.

One of my major tormenters was the son of Russian parents (or so he said). Finally enough was enough. One day we happened to be in study hall together in the school auditorium where he was messing with me. The person in charge saw this and moved them to the front row, but I knew that after the study hall the bullying would continue. Time to devise a plan.

I got the restroom pass and headed to my locker. Once there, I grabbed an old notebook and filled it with a bunch of loose papers. When I came back, I walked in front of him and “tripped” throwing the notebook in the air. Of course the notebook and papers flew everywhere. The teacher looked at him and me and asked what happened. He replied he didn’t know and I said I didn’t know, I tripped over something. The teacher made him pick up all the papers and I had no more problems with him.

I had started to work at a local company and once again I was the brunt of abuse. One day I was in the bathroom and a person started lobbing balls of wet paper towels over the wall at me. Time to make a statement again. There was a spray can of germicidal spray so I grabbed it. I sprayed it under the partition and lit it with my lighter. A three foot flame came out towards toward him. No more problems. I had gained the respect I deserved.

Today’s lesson is this. You never want to be the type of person that gets yanked out of their chair, gets blamed for tripping someone or has fire coming towards them. Let’s make sure nobody has to remember that October is Anti-Bullying Month.

Norb is an independent journalist from Lockport.

Celebrating a half century of true love

As appearing in the Niagara Gazette and the Lockport Union Sun and Journal

8/11/2019

Last Friday, my wife Donna and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary.

A half-century ago, we were a pair of young, clueless kids. We went out into the world with everything we owned in the back of a Volkswagon “beetle” and drove 500 miles from home to establish a life of our own in Newport, Rhode Island. If it weren’t for wedding presents, we wouldn’t have had enough money for gas to get to Newport, which was my ship’s home port while I was in the Navy.

We first moved into a fleabag motel. Living there depleted our funds quickly so we scoured want ads in the local papers, looking for a cheap apartment. We didn’t have much money but we had our love to keep us going.

Then a shipboard buddy told us about some inexpensive apartments in Fall River, Massachusetts, just across the state line. We moved into this welfare development where your rent was based on your income. I was earning $64 a month back then. Our rent was $32 a month. Fortunately our rent included the heat and electricity. After I paid the rent, I had $8 a week left over for our phone bill, food, gasoline and auto insurance. Heaven forbid my car would break down. All the money we had left from our wedding went into cheap, pressed wood furniture. We still have some of that furniture today.

We were living without the benefit of family nearby so we had no safety net and we had to do whatever it took on our own to survive. We learned more about self-dependence than we had ever known. It made us reliant on each other.

I was proud of Donna the first time I went to sea. She didn’t go home to her parents. The apartment we shared was now home to her, and with the help of a few friends who were close to us, she was able to stay in our place. I am thankful to our next door neighbors, Millie and her family, for helping Donna out. Tony, Millie’s youngest, would spend more time at our house than his own keeping Donna company.

One of my friends, Cole, a bosun’s mate and mountain of a man, would check in on her to see if she was OK during my absences and if she needed anything.

The neighbors would share their food with us and showed us how to apply for a monthly allotment of surplus food that the state gave to low income people. Every month we would have a food exchange in the common area of the complex. We would meet up with whatever free food we didn’t want and swap it for food we did.

It was during this time we had two of our children. How crazy were we to do this? I don’t know. We figured, “How expensive would it be to have children?” Of course, this was in the days of cloth diapers, rubber pants and diaper pails.

As I look back on those times, I have to wonder just how we made it. Foolish as we were, we managed to survive. We were from the generation that believed when you made a promise, you kept it.

I think often about how much in love we were. How our marriage was made stronger by having to make it on our own in the early years. How we couldn’t run home to our parents when we had differences of opinion. How I learned the four phrases that helped keep us together: “Yes dear,” “You are right,” “I understand,” and most importantly, “I love you.”

Now, 50 years later, I think about all the problems we overcame together, standing back to back with our guns drawn, ready to take on whatever came at us.

I now send my wife a cheesy text every morning, professing my love for her to make her smile and to let her know that I am thinking about her. I also try to keep fresh flowers in the house just because. She is the best thing that ever happened to me and I love her with all my soul.

The first time I saw her, my heart whispered “That’s the one.” Imagining my life without her is impossible and I am so lucky to be able to spend my life with her.

Norb Rug is a writer from Lockport. His email is nrug@juno.com where he welcomes comments

Bear Ridge Solar

Cypress Creek Renewables is proposing to construct a project called “Bear Ridge Solar” to install solar panels in Cambria and Pendleton. I have no problem with people using their property for legal reasons.

Solar energy gives us clean power from the sun and it’s use is growing in both the United States and globally. The cost to put in solar energy has decreased by over 70 percent since 2010. In the past decade, solar power has had an average annual growth rate of over 60 percent. Many businesses and households that switch to solar energy save money.

While without a doubt solar energy might be a very important solution for a lot of the world’s energy problems, it’s not a cure all without problems. Studies have shown that solar energy has a significant environmental disadvantage.

The effect that solar farms may possibly have on plants and animals be capable of sending ripples through the entire ecosystem. The environment could become less livable for plants and wildlife that thrive in local conditions.

Utility size solar panels can take up a lot of space. I understand the Bear Ridge Solar project will take up 900 acres and I think it might result in environmental degradation. Solar farms could also obstruct local vegetation growth. Think about all those farms that let their land go fallow so the naturally occurring plant life can be harvested for hay.

However, a deeper perception of the environmental effect of solar installation could educate farmers on microclimate changes and how they could make better use of the land under panels. Farmers may need to think about selecting crops that can survive in the lower ground temperatures and shade created by the solar panels.

Solar farms that blanket a large volume of land are apt to impact the local fauna and flora, particularly birds. The loss of habit for birds include nesting sites, nest building materials, food sources like bugs and places to hide due to habitat loss. Solar panels aren’t able to share the land they occupy for other uses like wind energy does.

Solar panels for domestic use usually don’t require very much land. In fact many of these installations are on roof tops and don’t use any land whatsoever. However, at the industrial level, the large amount of space required for the installation of panels needed to produce energy is a challenge.

 Also, a great many people feel that utility scale solar panels will create a visual disruption for the local communities. I believe the song goes “Oh beautiful for spacious skies and amber waves of grain” not “the glint of solar panels.”

However, it is not just plant them and hook them up. There are emissions associated with different stages of the solar cell lifecycle. It is very important to know the solar panel production process. It begins with the mining and subsequent processing of the raw materials. Quartz, copper, silver and aluminum ores are mined from the earth utilizing trucks, tools and heavy equipment. These ores are then transported by trucks or rail to processing facilities.

All of this requires fossil fuels or electricity. Quartz for instance undergoes processing with hazardous chemicals in high-temperature furnaces to produce electronic grade silicon. Creating solar photovoltaic panels is a very water intensive process. Even though the solar cells themselves don’t use water to generate electricity, the manufacturing process requires a quite a bit of water.

Off-grid Photo Voltaic systems frequently have throwaway batteries that can store energy when the sun shines so people can use it at night. These batteries will damage the environment if they aren’t disposed of properly because they might leak toxins such as lead and sulfuric acid.

Furthermore, quite a few solar cells contain small quantities of the toxic metal cadmium. The batteries that are required to store the electricity generated by photo cells can contain a myriad of other dangerous substances like heavy metals and other dangerous substances. If the manufacturers don’t strictly adhere to the laws and regulations regarding these chemicals, they can create significant health risks, especially to the workers.

As solar technology improves, manufacturers may be able to move away from these potentially dangerous substances, but for now, they mar the otherwise impressive ecological benefits solar power offers.

Solar energy has some other problems. First, no matter how clear the skies, a solar panel won’t produce electricity at night, so a solar energy system needs to have some method of storing energy. And if there is bad weather for an extended time, a solar energy system will provide little output, which means you need to have backup energy generation alternatives available. 

Moreover, when solar panels aren’t disposed of as they should be, these chemicals can be an environmental threat. Often, panels end up in e-waste dumps in developing countries such as India, China and Ghana where these toxic chemicals might create devastating health effects for residents of nearby communities. Solar panels are said to create 300 times more toxic waste per unit of energy than nuclear power plants do and we all know how nuclear power works out. Just think about Chernobyl or The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan.

Sure Solar may be the way to go but I think we need to find this out from someone that ISN’T going to benefit from this.

Norb is a freelance journalist from Lockport.

LOVIN SPOONFUL: Dee’s Sugar Shack

stainless steel spoon
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Donna and I had a day off so we took a ride to Sugar Shack, 460 West Ave, Lockport, for breakfast.

This is another one of the diners located in Lockport. Dee’s is open seven days a week for breakfast and lunch only with the exception of Thursday and Friday when they also serve dinner. We hadn’t been there in years and for the life of me I don’t know why.

First thing I noticed was the cleanliness of the place, very, very clean. It looked like they had just done a deep clean minutes before we walked in the door. I was impressed. It looked like we could eat off the floor. The specials were written on a chalkboard that you could see as soon as you came in. Also listed were the “Pies made to order” that they sell and they all sounded delicious. We grabbed a booth and our server was right there with menus and to take our drink order. I felt sorry for her as she seemed to be the only server but fortunately for her there weren’t many patrons in the place.

I had a Pepsi (2.19) and Donna ordered water with lemon. When the server came back with our drinks, Donna ordered a bowl of soup of the day, beef vegetable (3.75) and I asked for 2 eggs over easy, home fries, no salt and white toast (4.50). I also ordered grape jelly, my favorite.  The server came back and said the home fries are preseasoned and that I could substitute the hash browns if I wanted to limit my salt. This was refreshing, never has a server offered me a reduced salt option to me. I said sure, even though I don’t usually like hash browns, but I did have to watch my diet.

I was surprised at how fast the meals arrived. Our food was at our table in record time. When she delivered our meals asked for hot sauce which she promptly got for me. Donna’s soup was delicious. It had a beef bouillon taste to the broth and plenty of noodles and vegetables. The beef was a ground beef and that indicated to me the soup was probably homemade. A bit salty for my liking but tasty nevertheless. I’ve been on a reduced salt diet for a few weeks now and I can taste it in foods where I couldn’t previously.

My breakfast eggs were cooked perfectly. The eggs had a smooth flowing yolk with a nice firm white. The hash browns were very flavorful for a salt reduced product. They were hash brown patties rather than a pile of loose grated potatoes. Obviously these weren’t home made. The toast was nicely toasted and came with one serving of the requested grape jelly and one serving of mixed fruit jelly. I figured this was going to happen because when she was taking our order, she skipped writing this down.

Other than that, the service was flawless and I appreciated the fact the server took the time to help me with my special request. We left the place quite satisfied and decided we would put Dee’s back into the breakfast rotation. Neither one of us needed lunch that day as we were still full from our breakfast.

460 West Ave
Lockport , New York
(716) 433-9538

Hours:
Monday – Wednesday 6 AM to 2 PM
Thursday 6 AM to 7 PM
Friday 6 AM to 8 PM
Saturday and Sunday 7 AM to 2 PM

I give them nine of ten spoons but only because I didn’t get all grape jelly, like I had asked and the soup was a bit salty.

Norb is a restaurant reviewer for the Niagara Gazette and the Union Sun and Journal, Night and Day supplement.