Monday, March 31, 2008

Rose-Colored Reality

I was thinking this morning, after a disturbing dream last night, that I actually remember milk delivery.

I'm not all that old--not quite forty, yet, though it's looming--but I remember a silver container on my parents' front porch where a couple of times a week a milkman would place a few glass bottles of milk. Years later when we lived in a small city surrounded by farmland we had milk delivery again: once a week someone would deliver whatever Mom had ordered on the previous week's list--milk, eggs, yogurt, even cheese, I think. Sure, Mom could also get these items at the store, but if the weekly delivery saved even one trip to the store a week it was well worth it.

My disturbing dream last night? Shopping and shopping at a huge grocery store, bigger than any I'd ever seen, and reaching the front to find that in the single refrigerated case where milk was stored only three gallons of milk remained--and two of them were warm, while the third was icy and looked spoiled. I was paying for the rest of the groceries and wondering how I would ever buy milk--and flour; my dream-self suddenly realized she was also out of flour, and there was none to be found in the stores--and when I woke up it took a minute before I realized I wasn't actually out of either item.

So as I lay there, thinking about my dream, I remembered milk delivery. And that made me remember the glass bottles, too--it makes me feel old to admit this, but I remember the first time I saw plastic milk gallons, and how ugly and big and heavy and wrong they seemed.

Plastic was easier to ship long distances, of course, which made it possible for supermarkets to get the best prices by buying milk far beyond the immediate area. Supermarkets also sold milk cheaper than the dairies that delivered, so soon the milkman wasn't around any more, either.

Was it just the cheaper prices that made the milkman all but disappear? Or was it also the fact that there was no one at home to answer the door and bring the milk inside before it could spoil?

What happened to the butcher, and the greengrocer, too? Supermarket, again? Convenience and ever-cheaper prices over the connection to a person who knew what cuts of meat you liked, or who went out of his way to carry the freshest local produce? We're a generation or two away from that world, but how amazingly different it seems from our fast-paced Super Big Box Store approach to grocery shopping.

But that approach may eventually have to go.

My dream centered around milk in plastic bottles, and flour. Wheat prices are skyrocketing as demand exceeds supply--demand caused by the fact that our local farmers sell that wheat all over the world. Milk prices are getting higher and higher, too--and those plastic, petroleum-based bottles can't be helping the situation any, as rising fuel costs impact the overall price of consumer goods.

Maybe one day in the future we'll buy our milk in glass bottles from local farmers, and get flour from locally-grown wheat, too, because it will be cheaper than sending everything halfway around the world and back again before we can use it. Maybe those parts of the country where not much is grown will be the only places where you have to pay a premium for food; maybe the rest of us will get our meat from a local butcher and buy locally-raised produce at a farmer's market or an actual grocer's shop.

Maybe our country will have to realize that the Super Big Box Store was a temporary madness that gripped us all, giving us lower and lower prices at an international cost we couldn't forever afford.

And maybe we'll even be able to get our milk delivered again.

A girl can dream.


Anonymous said...

I live in metro-NYC area and I had milk delivery for about 10 years. I finally stopped it this year because we just weren't going through all the milk during the week. It was wonderful, especially when the children were babies and I didn't have to run to the store at all hours to get milk, eggs and yogurt. All these services still exist in densely populated areas.

Danette said...


Wendy in VA (now in MD) said...

We get milk (in glass bottles), eggs, meat (chicken & beef), bread, butter, and honey delivered weekly from a local dairy. It is more expensive, but we gladly cut back in other areas to afford it. I like supporting local farmers, I like the convenience, it's lots healthier, and it tastes *much* better than regular supermarket fare.

Check You might have a local farmer who'd gladly bring you yummy, fresh milk in a glass bottle. :)

Red Cardigan said...

Thanks for the link, Wendy! Alas, the only local farm that sells milk sells--goat's milk. I don't think they deliver. :)

matthew archbold said...

I remember the milkman. And I'm up for pleading temporary insanity for the entire culture.

Wendy in VA (now in MD) said...

Bummer. I know many who love goat's milk, and I've tried to like it, but... bleh.

freddy said...

Okay, Red, I'm not that much older than you ;) but I actually remember shopping with my grandmother in a tiny, creaky wood-floored dry-goods store that had in addition to densely packed shelves a counter at the back where you could sit and have your goods brought and bagged. And then on to the butcher's!
Sam's just ain't the same.

Andrea said...

I also have amazing milk delivery from a local farm in glass bottles. I do live near an agricultural area of Colorado, so that helps.
I am so thankful for the opportunity to buy from this dairy farm, and I am counting days until the farmers market opens and I can buy locally grown produce and meat.
I hate going to Wal-Mart and buying that stuff. I completely get your dream. So disturbing.