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Hot dogs, mulligan stew, biscuits & gravy

The year was 1933. The country was in the Great Depression: huge unemployment, soup lines, banking crisis, despair, gloom and doom. Franklin Roosevelt had just been elected because, as he said "Lack of leadership in Washington has brought our country face to face with serious questions of unemployment and financial depression." Many assumed he had more charm than backbone. On March 4, Roosevelt was inaugurated. He said that, "A generation of self-seekers on the mad chase of evanescent profits had disproved the theory that the business cycle was self-correcting." He continued, "The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization." Then Roosevelt had a hot dog lunch at the White House, went to the Inaugural Parade and started his first hundred days on the job.

What was the Great Depression like? Here is a scene from Studs Terkel's book "Hard Times, an Oral History of the Great Depression": "This neighbor woman lost her husband, and, of course, he was owing in the bank. So the auctioneers came out there, and she served lunch, and she stood weeping in the windows. 'There goes our last cow...' And the horses. She called 'em by names. It just pretty near broke our hearts. They didn't give her a chance to take care of her bills. They never gave her an offer. They just came and cleared it out. She just stood there crying."

So if President Roosevelt ate hot dogs, what did the rest of America eat? Louis Banks was a hobo, riding the rails. He was interviewed and said, "Black and white, it didn't make any difference who you were, 'cause everybody was poor. All friendly, sleep in a jungle. We used to take a big pot and cook food, cabbage, meat and beans all together." They were all in the same stew it seems.

Emma Tiller said, when the hungry came to the door, "We would gather stuff out in the field, pull corn roastin' ears, and put 'em in a cloth bag because a paper bag would tear. When they got hungry, they could stop and build a fire and roast this corn. We did that ourselves, we loved it like that. And give them salt and stuff we figured would last 'em until he gets to the next place."

Peggy Terry had read about all the cuff links President Roosevelt had. She said, "I'll never forget, I was sitting on an old tire out in the front yard and we were poor and hungry. I was sitting out there in the hot sun, there weren't any trees. And I was wondering why it is that one man can have all those cuff links when we couldn't even have enough to eat. When we lived on gravy and biscuits. That's the first time I remember ever wondering why."

But if you lived in California, sometimes you could get a job on a Saturday shining shoes for 2¢ or 3¢ and after about three pairs of shoes, there was a diner in Brawley where you could get a hamburger for 7¢. But they didn't serve Mexicans.

Farmers couldn't get a decent price for their produce. Corn and small grains were being burned because they were cheaper than coal. But some farmers were able to live on their own production -- the ones who had gardens, chickens and eggs.

Our current recession will never reach the depths of the Great Depression, although the daily news of layoffs is so depressing. But during the Depression, as it is today, it was good to remember there are over 19,000 varieties of beans. Not all are fit for human consumption, but thousands are. Beans are full of protein, fiber, energy, vitamins A, B & C and carbohydrates and can be used as a substitute for meat.

There it is, hot dogs, cabbage stew, roast corn, beans, gravy and biscuits, chickens and eggs, whatever was available.

When the poor and hungry of the world are desperate and need a place to go, they come to America if they can possibly get here. That's why my family came. When folks in America get poor and hungry, they know there is no better place in the world to go. They stay here. We've made it through tougher times than this, and we'll make it through this one. We are survivors.