Americans are hungry. We work more hours per week than our counterparts in Europe and we eat more, too. Charlottesville has over 370 restaurants and a grocery store for every palate. We have no staple food, culturally; the cornucopia is our defining principle. Stay hungry out there, a pee wee football coach might say. Eat his lunch.
While the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank can attest that members of our society still can’t afford the food they need, hunger increasingly has become a metaphor in our world of material bounty, a Calvinist tut-tut fewer and fewer of us can attach to personal experience. Reminder: Hunger is an elemental force, and, like cold and evil, death’s cousin. As Knut Hamsun’s eponymous existential novel and a Franz Kafka short story testify, metaphor cannot transmute substance.
I crossed paths with two young men over the weekend. One worked at C-VILLE as an intern and the other as a freelancer. Depending on how you look at the numbers, which are pretty fuzzy, half of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed. Like an encounter with the ghosts of job market present and yet to come, somehow the two interactions stuck with me. I remembered, distantly, the hunger I felt in my 20s. The one fella, perusing a record collection with a well-dressed young woman on his elbow, seemed bemused when I asked what he was doing, and he ran off a list of low-paying service sector jobs before adding, with a rueful smile, that he was “you know, serving the community.”
The other fella, who makes ends meet doing farm labor and whatever other heavy work is at hand, wrote me a story pitch concerning his generation’s fruitless quest for meaningful employment that contained the following sentences: “Faced with the sickening realization that there are no seats left at the table, like so many bastard orphans, we have been cast into the streets. And out here in the gutters, like a pack of enraged wolves, nursing our wounds, slowly, day by day, we are learning to fend for ourselves. However meager or bountiful the meal may turn out to be, we’re out to make our own feast.”
Which brings me to this week’s cover story on Relay Foods, a business built by hungry entrepreneurs to satisfy our discerning tastes that has put to work a new generation of employees, starving for the opportunity to build a career.