Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Installment 1.2

Previous installment

Lucinda and Walter Yang-Gomez often took walks in the evening. Their route varied. Sometimes they conversed in English. Other times they conversed in Hmong. Gomez never joined them.  Delores Gomez lived in Santa Barbara county and received a check every month for the fiction of being married to Lucinda and Walter.  It was an arrangement that suited all parties very well.

Being "married" to a Latina was a necessity for career advancement due to the reality of the hyper-sensitive, Cali, identity politics.  Being "married" to a member of a favored group conferred advantage and the "archaic" rules restricting marriage to two parties had been eradicated.

“Lucinda” and “Walter” were not their given names. They went by those names as a concession to people who struggled with foreign names. “Lucinda” and “Walter” were close enough.

Today they were all lovey-dovey. They snuggled as they walked. They spoke softly into each other’s ear and they spoke in Hmong.

In some neighborhoods it would not have been safe to be as self-absorbed as Lucinda and Walter seemed to be. But Lucinda and Walter were a normal part of the social ecosystem.

Furthermore, Lucinda and Walter were both Hmong. Hmong are a mountain people like Scotch-Irish, Basque, Sikh and Gurka, and the Montagnards. Word gets around: Don’t trifle with mountain people. It is not healthy.

“If I remember,” Walter said, “you did not study Agriculture or join the department to have a career. You did it to make a difference.”

Lucinda nodded her head in agreement.

“What would it take, at this point, to make a difference?” Walter asked.

Lucinda thought for a minute. “Another three hundred Calories a day would make all the difference in the world.”

Walter asked, “Why another three hundred calories a day?  Why is that the magic number?”

“Because Californians are losing 25 pounds a year.”  Lucinda said. “That is one pound every two weeks or about 3500 Calories every 14 days. That works out to a shortfall of 250 Calories a day…about as much as a Snickers bar.”

Walter had a sparkling wit. He asked, “Do you have any Snickers bar trees?  If not, what is the next best choice.”

“Corn. Maize. Nothing makes more edible calories per acre than corn.” Lucinda answered. “And everybody in California eats it. It is a Hispanic staple.”

Walter asked, “If it is that easy, then why doesn’t the government just dictate that farmers plant more corn?”

Lucinda rolled her eyes. “Bona-Brown has a bunch of old movie stars giving him nutritional advice. They convinced him that “carbs” are the root of all evil. Consequently, we are directed to plant ‘leafy, green vegetables to cleanse the toxins from the common man’s body.’”

“I tried to get more maize planted but was shot out of the saddle. It just is not going to happen.” Lucinda said.

Walter pondered this new information for a bit. “Tell me one thing. Is sweet corn considered a vegetable or a ‘carb’?”

Lucinda thought for a moment. “It is considered a vegetable because it is processed into frozen, mixed vegetables.”

Walter asked, “When your department buys seed, how does it ensure that the proper varieties are planted to produce sweet corn?”

“A list of acceptable hybrids is compiled and a request-for-quote goes out. The low cost bidder gets the business. All pretty standard stuff.” Lucinda answered.

“Is the seed for field corn more expensive than for sweet corn?” Walter asked.

“No. Actually, field corn seed is one-third the cost of sweet corn on a per-seed basis.” Lucinda responded.

“So,” Walter said, “simply putting the ‘code’ for a field corn on the list of acceptable hybrids for sweet corn almost guarantees that the department will buy and distribute the field corn, right?”

“It is not quite that simple.” Lucinda said. “It has to be a special kind of field corn. It needs to be ‘floury’ and it needs to be white.”

“The other issue is that the seeds look very different. Sweet corn seeds are tiny and shriveled. Field corn is big and plump. Every farmer knows the difference just by looking at the seeds.” Lucinda continued.

“What if you bought it from a different country, say Argentina, and told anybody who asked that it was a new hybrid seed technology. Would they believe you?” Walter asked.

“Yes. That happens all the time.” Lucinda said.

They strolled a little farther. They walked around the fountains in the park and watch the moms pushing baby strollers and the old men walking their dogs.  Old black men were playing chess with old Jewish men.

“How much would you need to plant to provide 55 million Californians another 300 Calories a day?” Walter asked.

Lucinda waved her hand at their fellow pedestrians. “We don’t need to feed 55 million. Many of us are doing just fine. Call it 40 million, say the entire SD-LA metropolitan area. Give me a minute to do some math in my head.”

“We need to plant about 500 square miles of cropland a year to corn.” Lucinda said a half minute later.

“Is that hard?” Walter asked.

“Yes and no.” Lucinda said. “We plant about 9000 square miles a year but two-thirds of those are collective farms. The only way to keep it a secret would be to spread it around, to have it grown by the private farmers who are left.”

“If I am keeping up with the math, that means you need to have about 20% of the private farmers plant ‘sweet corn’.” Walter said.

Lucinda’s face became pensive. “You know there is no way we can escape detection.” she commented. “It is just too big, too much to hide forever.”

“Our parents and grandparents fled the communists in Laos. We will do the same when we must.” Walter said. “Some people might starve if you plant 500 square miles of corn. Many people, maybe millions will surely die if you do not. And if the worst thing happens, we are just two more dead people.”

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