Standing in line with Miles for a soft pretzel at Marine World yesterday, found myself staring at big sign hawking a giant plastic bucket emblazoned with the MW logo, which one could fill with a choice of popcorn or cotton candy for a mere $7 (“Buck Refills all day!”) and thinking of Michael Pollan.
In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan describes the tricky relationship between capitalism and the food industry. You can always sell people more shoes or CDs – we just make space to accommodate them. But humans have a built-in limit to how much food we can consume. Food makers who have to satisfy shareholders’ demands on the bottom line to sell more [widgets/chalupas/corn products] every year have a tough job.
The tension between nature-limited appetites and capitalism’s need to expand, always expand, explains two things: 1) The obesity epidemic, and 2) The relentless introduction of absurd new food combinations in the drive to manufacture desire. Fast food joints re-conjure new variations on the same old limited palette of ingredients. Taco Bell sells little beyond tortillas, cheese, beans, and beef, yet manages somehow to find new ways to recombine them into Mongo Chalupas and Super Beefeater’s BurrTacos year after year. Fruit Loops Cereal Straws are drinking straws made of Fruit Loops material, lined with powdered sugar. Each suck of milk from the bowl brings a mouthful of sugared milk. When done, eat the straw. You see where I’m going with this.
The giant bucket is not a recombinant food creation – what could be more elemental than popcorn or cotton candy? The giant bucket represents the other kind of attempt to sell more food – gi-normous portions (is there a 128-ounce Coke portion available yet? If not, give it time). But it does represent an unbelievable markup on one of the cheapest food items you could possibly manufacture, with the possible exception of bottled water.
We resisted the giant bucket and enjoyed our pretzel, but the entire day at Marine World felt like equal parts pleasure and pain, this weird collision between enjoying the marvels of the deep blue sea (the people mover that carried us along the inside of a glass tube through a tank filled with sharks and sting rays was an experience of rare beauty) vs. a miasma of the most crass and offensive commercialism, not to mention the depressing weight of massive crowds, overpriced everything, and long lines for just about anything, was confusing.
Next time we either head for the tidepools ourselves or bring our own lunch (though park rules explicitly forbid this – wonder why?)