I've been flipping through this morning's Daily News -- looking for my paper's crusade to save the jobs of dozens of salt-of-the-earth Philadelphians about to lose their jobs in this era of 10 percent unemployment, when people without a highly specialized high-tech or knowledge-based skill, or of a certain age (i.e., over 50) may never be able to work ever again. I know some of these folks who work at my nearby Acme -- one of five Acme supermarkets about to shut down. So it's a minor inconvenience for shoppers like me, but a life-changing experience for the checkers, the stockers, the cleaners, and all the other hard-working folks employed there. The reasons their jobs are, as the expression goes, "no longer viable" are complex, but the lion's share of the blame belongs where it usually does, with dumb corporate management, blitzed by Wegman's on the strong side and Pathmark on the weak side.
I'll bet there's a strong overlap between Acme workers and Daily News readers, but -- like I said -- I can't find the passionate campaign to keep the supermarkets open. It must have run in the same place in the paper as our memorable campaign to block Dow from shutting the iconic Rohm & Haas plant that once dominated Bridesburg, or our clip and save petition that tried and failed to keep open that Express Scripts pharmaceutical shop open, up in Bensalem.
I did. however, find this -- hiding in plain sight on the front page:
And don't get me started on the pies. Golden, crust-encased oblongs of fat and sugar, shaped to fit the palm, no fork needed.
I'll admit it had been a while since I'd eaten a Tastykake. But if I'd known the company's days were numbered, I would've eaten the goodies for breakfast, lunch and dinner during the company's last disastrous quarter.
Anything to save this century-old Philly friend from going the way of so many other local, beloved institutions whose names are embroidered in memory - like Wanamaker, Buten, Budd, Lit and Schmidt.
We can't let another cherished company die on our watch. We must Save Our Snacks!
I want to be as clear as I can here: I'm not criticizing Ronnie Polaneczky for this column, or this crusade, if you will. For one thing, it's well-written and laugh-out loud funny, with some good and offbeat suggestions for saving Tasty Baking (which, it should be noted, is struggling after it did exactly the things that the Daily News and Philadelphia would want it to do -- hiring a quintessential Philly guy in Charlie Pizzi to run the firm and building a new plant inside the city limits). To the contrary, I'm on board! If I had any loose change, I might even be eating some Butterscotch Krimpets right now as I write this. (If you're familiar with my health and diet history, you'd guess correctly that I've "sampled" their products before.)
However, when Christians confess our sins, do we not also include the things left undone? Why all the sudden front-page love for saving the Tastykake jobs, when the Chinese water torture drip-drip-drip erosion of living-wage factory jobs has been the story of the last century in Philadelphia, and one that has been covered so poorly by the local media? Does anyone even know what happened to the poor schmoes who lost their chemical plant jobs in Bridesburg? -- I can hardly find a word about it online after Dow's pro-forma news release announcing the shutdown in the summer of 2009. Where did they go, and what will happen when scores of Acme employees join them on that long, grey unemployment line?
I think the biggest problem is that over 100 years Philadelphia has gone from a city of producers to a city of consuimers. As the city grew from 1850-1950, Philadelphia became a quilt of neighborhoods -- precisely because those neighborhoods were built around factories that were a source of both jobs and social conhesion. Some of those plants made well-known consumer goods -- remember Stetson Hats (I don't. but...) -- but a lot of them made what you would call "widgets." In other words, nothing like peanut-butter cupcakes, but rather gears and valves and chemicals that made them work -- things that weren't "cute" but where the very spine of what for a time was the greatest industrial power the world has ever known. Philadelphians identified with what they made, not with what we stuffed down our gullets. Pulling so many of those plants from so many Philly neighborhoods was to yank the very Jenga block that held it all together -- again and again and again.
The problem in Philadelphia isn't a dearth of snacks -- spend a couple hours trying to squeeze through the aisles at the Linc on Saturday if you don't believe me -- but a dearth of the jobs for people who make snacks, or Stetson hats, or who man the cash register at your neighborhood Acme. Meanwhile, the loss of all those Philadelphia factory jobs making widgets happened way too silently.
But Tastykakes are different! They are a familiar shelf item in a city of food shoppers, and an item of intense childhood nostalgia for the city's Baby Boomers as we enter middle-age and beyond. It's a palpable thing for upper middle-class suburban consumers who couldn't find Bridesburg with a GPS and Mapquest. Tastykakes are also an integral part of Philadelphia's weird high-fat mantra that We Are What We Eat -- cheesesteaks, soft pretzels, and scrapple, right? We can't imagine a consumer landscape without Butterscotch Krimpets, and this is why we fight, even as the vast majority of our other middle-class jobs vanish without a yelp.
But all means, let's Save Our Snacks (but really the people who work in Philadelphia for Tasty Baking.)
Then lets Save All Our Other Jobs. Before it's too late.