Expounding on a Pound

July 10th, 2011 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

MHcanI suspect two forces worked on the adults keeping Cub and Boy Scouts crafty and busy. First, the cultural and religious idea that idle hands are the devils tools was one of seemingly countless clichés the WWII generation loved. Second, we were to imitate what our parents thought was manly.

Honestly, the second had good side-effects. Those included having to understand how things work to make stuff. In turn, as adults that leads to being able to fix, make do, and make multiple applications for objects. I fear we boomers have slacked off on that, parents and teachers alike. Far too many Gen-X and Y sorts live in a Mac-fantasy world where things are just supposed to work. When they don’t, as is often the case, even with Apple products, they are at a loss — the curse of the gentle Eloi.

When I open a can of coffee, I sometimes transport to the church basements where we Cubs made pinhole cameras. Those worked most easily using the classic 1-pound low can (like the one in the screen capture of a 50s commercial). For reasons inspiring the following rant, that’s no longer true.

Kodak still puts out instructions for such cameras, as here. That dulls my point. You can still do it. Of course, with digital cameras per se as well as in most cell phones, and next to no photo labs accessible to most of us, that may be moot. Although, I bet boomers acting as Scoutmasters and Den Mothers may crawl into the WABAC machine to get their lads involved. At least the adults will think the project worthwhile.

The modern instructions, however, require a 2-pound can. That’s not to use bigger film, but because short of an antique store or online auction, you can’t find a low 1-pounder. While not all of the WWII era coffee cans were the squat ones, I think about half were. Nowadays, coffee is in bags or the tall cans, neither at all suited to the cameras.

Moreover, coffee is a devils tool in itself, one of deceit. The incredible, shrinking foodstuff would not have made a good horror movie, even in the 50s and 60s where we churned out hundreds (Mole People, Giant Claw, It and They Came from Outer Space, Killer Shrews and such, of course including the Incredible Shrinking Man). Yet, it is a weekly horror at the grocery, one so commonly visited on us that we are inured.

Each of us likely has particular issues here. There is less cereal in each box and fewer chips in the bag, even when the package stays the same size — contents may settle, snort! It is not as obvious when the package is in ounces and fractions.

However, when you grew up with a pound, in the pre-metric world, the miniaturization is all the plainer.

We tend to buy Latino or Italian espresso coffees. They reflect the downsizing along with the WASPy U.S. cans of watery, lighter brews. Cans are tall and increasingly thin. Vacuum bricks seem to have been left out in the rain to shrink. Typical cans have gone from a pound to 14 ounces to 12 to 10, and bricks are now typically 8 or 8.5 ounces.

For awhile, whether it was cereals or coffee, the companies maintained the package price…while the contents shrank, shrank and shrank. Now with global economic pressures, growing demands and production problems, they are pumping up the prices for their deflated goods.

That’s likely to continue. Perhaps it would be the single trend that could finally stop the supersizing of everything caloric that we ingest. We might be priced out of obesity.

The majority of Americans likely never made a pinhole camera. They likely have never seen a low 1-pound can of coffee either. So the makers and vendors don’t constantly remind them of what they’re not getting — they never had it. There’s another opening for another cliché of how you can’t miss what you never had.


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