“In this town, they know the cost of everything but the value of nothing,” Cong. Tim Walz told rural residents gathered at the National Rural Assembly in Washington, D.C.">
"In this town, they know the cost of everything but the value of nothing," Cong. Tim Walz told rural residents gathered at the National Rural Assembly in Washington, D.C.
You can still get a good old bologna and cheese sandwich from Priddy’s General Store in Danbury, North Carolina, served here with a bottle of Cheerwine.
It’s all about food
Back in the old days, just down the road in Langdon was the Langdon School. A little farther on was the Langdon Garage, and just past that, the Langdon General Store.
All three places were at the center of the community. The Langdon School was where Langdon kids went to get educated. It was also where the Langdon Friendly 4-H met. Langdon Garage was where people went to get their cars fixed, or maybe just to watch the action.
But the Langdon General Store was where people went when they were hungry.
For the nominal price of 25 cents, patrons of the Langdon General Store could buy a bologna sandwich. This was a good bologna sandwich, back when they actually put more meat than fat in bologna. Some said it was just ground up meat from Bologna bulls, but when Ethel or Bob sliced it off of the big roll and slapped it between 2 pieces of white bread, it seemed like a feast. Most folks washed their bologna down with a 10-cent Coke from the cooler. If you drank it there, Bob didn’t charge them the 2-cent deposit on the bottle.
The first time I tried liverwurst, it came from the Langdon Store, likewise my first Hershey bar.
Everything back then seemed to be about family, community, or food.
I couldn’t help but think of these things when I attended the National Rural Assembly in Washington DC in June. Everything there seemed to be about community…and food.
The assembly was hosted by some big names, like the Kellogg Foundation (a guy who made his fortune selling food), the Ford Foundation (cars), and the Annie E. Casey Foundation (the company that runs the brown delivery trucks). We talked about the Rural Compact and what we hoped it would do for rural America, healthcare and jobs. We thought about bringing real food production back to the country in a way that is different than what today’s corporate giants envision.
And we ate really well.
The attendees were treated to some very good food. Most of it was supplied to us during the meetings, at the Marriott on Pennsylvania Avenue and just a few blocks away at the Mayflower.
But in the evening when we had free time my family and I went out on the town to eat. We don’t get to the city very often, so this trip was both a vacation and an education.
Café Promenade at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Photo: Renaissance Mayflower Hotel
On our first night in Washington, Linda, Ryan, and I ate at the Café Du Parc, on the sidewalk outside the Willard hotel. It’s just around the corner from the Marriott. Ryan had Poulet Simplement (that’s French for “plain chicken”). On the second night we had the seafood buffet at Phillips on the waterfront. We each gained 5 pounds there. On our final night Linda and I walked a few blocks to Benny Van’s Steakhouse. It was our 40th anniversary on the 16th, and we had a gift certificate from our children. That was our most expensive meal. Some friends came along, and the total bill with tip was only a fraction of the total national debt.
The whole experience seemed surreal, to attend meetings all day long that dealt with poverty and lack of development in rural America, and then in the evening visit restaurants, surrounded by tourists and men in business suits eating a single meal that cost more than an entire weeks grocery budget for most people back home. The food was good, even great, and exotic by Langdon standards…a far cry from bologna on white for a quarter.
We were in the 200-year-old Capitol carved from swampland at great cost, surrounded by granite and marble buildings where they routinely tear things down only to rebuild them bigger and better, where there doesn’t seem to be enough zeros to describe the amount of money spent each day, a place where a single meal for one person can cost $100, to discuss poverty ignored and people forgotten.
That seems one of the strangest things about our nation, the wealth that surrounds our government even as people in other parts of the country can’t get the health care they need, a good job, or even a bologna sandwich.
Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, at the National Rural Assembly.
Photo: Marty Newell
The whole point of meeting in Washington wasn’t about luxury or status, but to gain some notoriety among our leaders. Two of them came to talk to us on the final day, Congressman Tim Walz from Minnesota and Senator Blanche Lincoln from Arkansas, both from states that deal intimately with rural poverty as they search for ways to encourage rural development. In Tim Walz’s words, “In this town, they know the cost of everything but the value of nothing.” He called it “the politics of false choices.” Blanche Lincoln said that we need to give rural people the “ability and the tools to be the fabric of the strength of this nation.”
Politically speaking, that’s no bologna.
But where I come from, a little bologna ain’t all bad.