Mall of America
I've been feeling guilty about the Mall of America.
It's my fault. In fact, most of my family is to blame.
The whole thing: 4 million square feet, 520 stores, maybe even the amusement park. It's full of people buying...stuff. Hordes of tourists fly in from all over the world, stay in hotels across the street from the concrete behemoth, live off room service, buy their way into exhausted frenzies and then fly home and tell the folks that they've seen Minnesota. I hate the place -- I feel myself get mean as soon as I walk through the door.
Don't laugh. It might be your fault, too.
Here's the deal. A hundred years ago, Americans spent 43% of their income on food, 14% on clothing and most of what was left on shelter.
Today, people spend 13% of their income on food and only 4% on clothing. That means there's an extra 40% to spend on...stuff. Buying stuff has become our national pastime. Thousands of magazines and television shows advise us all about what stuff to buy. We send a couple hundred billion dollars a year to China in exchange for stuff, most of which we don't need.
As farmers, this is all our fault. If we weren't so darned efficient, there wouldn't be nearly as much extra money out there to be wasted on giant Vietnamese urns or hydro massages. Everybody would still be spending 40% of their money on fruits, meat and vegetables instead of spending 13% of their money on deep fried chocolate chip cookie balls and chili cheese fries.
It gets worse. A hundred years ago, half the people in America were actively working on farms. Now that's been reduced to around two percent. That means 48% of the people in America who used to be baling hay and cultivating corn are now walking around malls buying Cinnabons and $180.00 sneakers. Instead of getting up at 5:00 to milk cows and weed the garden, they're getting up at 5:00 to drive six miles to a health club to ride a stationary bicycle. Is this making sense to you? And it's entirely our fault -- the trade deficit, the wave of obesity, health issues and the criminal abuse of Spandex by people who need to spend more time shoveling grain. It's a lot to have on your conscience.
I'm not quite sure how to put things right. If a bunch of people from the city wanted to move out to our place, live in a drafty shack and farm by hand and horse, I guess it would be alright. I just don't really want to help. Okay, I'd be willing to sit on the porch and give advice, but I certainly don't want to pitch bundles or check corn. (If you don't know what those terms mean, this column isn't for you).
I suppose the transformation of American agriculture wasn't all bad. After all, if the two percent of the people now raising food weren't freeing up time for the 46% who used to help, there would be a lot fewer cryptozoologists and pet psychologists.
The Mall of America, though, that was just wrong. I'm really sorry.
Copyright 2007 Brent Olson