On My Soupbox

And for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of that country know them to be sharp and violent, and subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search an unknown coast…

--William Bradford, 1620, Of Plymouth Plantation

It's winter: Minnesota Heartland 11-Bean Soup weather. I make the sturdy soup (which has chicken, tomatoes and sausage in it, in addition to all those beans) a couple of times each year, usually in January or February. Today I'm empathizing with my fellow Americans currently being pummeled by record low temps, ice and snow. Surely big bowls of 11-Bean Soup would cheer them up. I just looked at online photos of Chicago. Oh my. I can't imagine. Here, less than an hour from the Golden Gate Bridge, the sky's piercingly bright and clear. Redwood branches gently sway. Bare cherry trees stand stiff, limbs seemingly dead, awaiting spring. At dawn white frost glazes the suburban rooftops. The chill lingers until mid-day.

I read a bit of William Bradford's journal today, which may seem more suited to Thanksgiving than now, a week and a half before Valentine's Day. But I'd been looking for a winter-themed epigraph. And when I came across Bradford's writing about the Mayflower and landing at the tip of Cape Cod I felt this rush of kinship. The same way I feel kinship with Chicagoans. We are linked in this country by our citizenship. And so too, in varying degrees, we are linked to the term "pilgrim." My grandparents on both sides came from other countries (Yugoslavia and Sicily). They packed up whatever they could into their suitcases and traveled, adventurous pilgrims that they were, across the oceans to live in a foreign land. They made a go of it. Built businesses. Worked as craftsmen, did whatever they could to survive and, eventually, thrive. But why bring this up now?

Faceless multitudes who came before us sacrificed tremendously on our behalf to make this country our home. Writes Bradford: "Being thus passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before in their preparation…they had now no friends to welcome them nor inns to entertain or refresh their weatherbeaten bodies; no houses or much less towns to repair to, to seek for succor."

These pilgrims, and those who followed for centuries after, built this country and left it for us to guard and protect. I can't picture them doing all that just so American apparel, toys, electronics, you-name-it corporations could abandon workers here in favor of cheap labor in other countries. It seems sacrilegious to me. It's like turning their backs on our own history and theirs. I read somewhere that we are setting out on a "new frontier," as a country. Is this new frontier anywhere-but-here? Is it a place where borders are porous and loyalties are confused? That Levi's (LS& Co), an American company dating back to the late 1800s, should no longer own a single factory here in the United States seems downright disrespectful toward its founders. It seems selfish and shortsighted. The same could be said of all the apparel companies operating in other places (listen up, Gap), abandoning altogether manufacturing here. It's one thing to manufacture here as well as other countries. But other countries and not here? Hmm. That's just wrong. This is from Levi's (LS&Co) website:

"We are the embodiment of the energy and events of our time, inspiring people from all walks of life with a pioneering spirit. Generations have worn Levi’s® jeans, turning them into a symbol of freedom and self-expression in the face of adversity, challenge and social change. Our customers forged a new territory called the American West. They fought in wars for peace. They instigated counterculture revolutions. They tore down the Berlin Wall. Reverent, irreverent — they took a stand."

So let me get this straight. Levi's customers "forged a new territory called the American West," and as a tribute to that heritage Levi's fled the American West…? Here's a bit of consumer irreverence, Levi's: How about rebuilding some factories here in the American West? Since you used to operate factories right here in San Francisco, how about getting back to that, maybe helping shore up California's sagging economy? How about taking a stand for this country, your country? Invest in jobs for people right here in the USA. We pilgrims need you. And remember your roots. What would your founder, Levi Strauss, another pilgrim who traveled to this country from his native Bavaria, want you to do?

Okay, off the soapbox (my Dad was the same way) and on to soup-making. I just called Frontier Soups in Waukegan, Illinois to chat with them about the company. Due to the snowstorm, they'll be shut down until tomorrow. But take a look at this soup. Yum. Just the thing those weary pilgrims could've used during that "sharp and violent winter." Have a hot, steaming bowl of it in their honor.