Monday, September 3, 2007

Over A (Chinese) Cracker Barrel

We're back.

I've been in Chicago for four days, great city, perfect weather. But it's always good to get home, too.

After so many days north of the Mason-Dixon line, Mr. Beale needed a dose of grits, country ham, biscuits and gravy. We headed to Cracker Barrel, apparently along with the rest of Nashville--the place was packed. While waiting for our table I had plenty of time to look around the shelves jammed full of cheap tchotkes. Everything I saw was made in China. The Jack-O-Lantern cookie jar, "hand-painted" Thanksgiving turkey figurines, autumn leaf-shaped plates, Halloween costumes, toys--all of it was made in China.

How ironic that a corporation so closely connected to "old-time" Americana is making millions hawking Chinese-made, American-themed tchotkes. Even the clothes are made in Mexico or India. In fact, the only American-made items I could find were bath products.

Of course this isn't news to anyone, certainly not me. We all know cheap crap comes from China, and Cracker Barrel is cheap crap central. But for some reason it startled me this morning. For the first time I really noticed the contrast between fake "old-timey"-themed items like Thanksgiving turkey platters stamped with "Made In China," while authentic Americana like old Orange Nehi advertisements hung from the walls. It was a reminder to me of what we've lost. A reminder that what we have now is a cheap Chinese-made facsimile, repackaged by some giant corporation and sold to us for $4.99.

And I'd also like to ask Cracker Barrel: would it kill you people to find someone in America to make these turkey-shaped serving platters and cookie jars? Maybe people would pay an extra buck for them if they were made in America--hey, you could use the fact that they don't have lead paint or weren't doused in battery acid as a selling point. I mean, really.

I don't have a lot of respect for a corporation that profits from fake "Americana" while doing everything it can to kill off the real thing. Selling nostalgia is such a loser's game. It's a surefire way to lose your soul.

Is there someone, anyone, anywhere in the USA who will mass-produce pumpkin salt and pepper shakers? Maybe they can't sell them for $4.99. Maybe they'd need to sell them for $6.99. Would you pay two dollars for something made in America? I would, and I bet I'm not the only one, either.

Come on, Cracker Barrel. Invest in America. Invest in the country and culture you use to hawk your cheap Chinese-made goods. Give it a try. Aren't we worth it?