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Hot plates in cars, gross candy, hemp in food equal a crazy world
Either I am getting old or the world is going crazy. Since it can’t be the former, it must be the latter, right? This week I came across three items that seriously make me question the sanity of a large number of people.

The first is what more and more people are doing in their cars. I am a firm believer that automobiles are primarily for transportation: getting from one place to another. I do acknowledge they do have other uses, such as impressing guys, romancing women, and as a place to listen to loud music.

Today, however, cars are being used as second homes. In a way, this seems only fitting since some of them cost as much as a house. Yet it seems strange to me that more and more drivers are using their vehicles to watch movies, conduct business, and cook and store food.

According to the U.S. Census Department, the average American spends more than 100 hours per year in their car just commuting to and from work. Add to this weekend errands, family vacations, and holiday trips to the in-laws and you can see people are spending a lot of time behind the wheel.

Cell phones, computers, and DVD players are now commonplace in most cars, and increasingly people are installing a kitchen and pantry in the car. Government figures indicate that half of all drivers regularly eat in their cars. As a result, carmakers are designing autos with food consumption in mind. The Volvo XC 90 SUV boasts of 18 beverage holders: nine for cups and nine more that hold bottles of water. The Honda Pilot has an armrest with a special place to put dipping sauces from fast food outlets. Range Rovers have gone the cup holder one better with cup holders that can keep drinks cool or heat them up.

Vehicles of all shapes, sizes, and price ranges are being turned into mobile dining rooms and kitchens. Several companies offer products that will run off the cigarette lighter or power port in your car. Refrigerators, hot plates, even coffeemakers now can be installed in your vehicle. My question is: if people are eating, drinking, cooking, and watching movies in their cars, who is driving?

The second thing that has convinced me the world is going off its rocker is the latest trend in the candy business. Candy, for me and I suspect most reasonable people, is something sweet and delicious, something made with sugar, chocolate, caramel, nuts, and a variety of good tasting things. That is not what passes for candy today. According to the National Confectioners Association, the hottest selling candy is gross candy.

“The more it looks like a bug, or body fluid, or something you would find at the bottom of a garbage can the better it sells,” said a candy company executive.

The popularity of the Harry Potter’s “Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans” has spawned an entire new line of disgusting flavors and tastes. Flavors such as dirt, earthworm, earwax, vomit, and booger have replaced raspberry red, goofy grape, and orange orange. According to my son, these new gross flavors are “very realistic.”

What we are seeing here is a fundamental change in what people think about food. It used to be that food that looked pleasing and tasted pleasant was considered good. Today something must look despicable and cause gagging and retching in order to be considered good. Who knows, maybe this will lead to a new market for cattle and hog entrails.

Finally, there is the newest health food craze: hemp. Yes, sales of food products containing hemp are skyrocketing according to the Hemp Industries Assoc. (HIA). The San Francisco based organization says retail sales of food products containing hemp seed jumped 50 percent in the past year. Last year sales of hemp body care products totaled about $40 million, a 15 percent jump from the previous year.

As a result of these “high” numbers, hemp acreage has increased to just a toke over 24,000 acres, all of it in Canada. This is because it is illegal to grow hemp here in the U.S.

“Hemp is the only crop legal to import into the U.S. yet illegal to grow,” said Eric Steenstra, president of the Vote Hemp group. He claims that Canadian farmers are making a profit of $250 per acre on hemp.

I don’t know what medicinal properties hemp is suppose to possess. When I asked people who were using the products all they would say was, “Yeh, man, it is really good stuff.” Hemp is also finding a new market in what is called “tree free paper.” This is paper for those environmentalists who don’t want to cut down trees.

So on any given day in America, people will shower with hemp, cook and eat breakfast while driving to work in their car, and pack a rotten egg flavored treat in their kid’s lunch. Yes, the world is going crazy.

This opinion piece was published in the November 9, 2005 issue of Farm World.