Until our society comes to it’s senses, insanity will abound . . . all in an effort to side-step the possibility of financial fallout or social faux pas. While thankfully what I witnessed last week at Pink’s hot dog stand in Hollywood wasn’t life-threatening in nature, it was ridiculously wasteful – all because of society’s perception of litigation. Oh yeah, that and germs.

We were happily standing in the historically famous, possibly hours-long line for some of tinsel town’s most sought-after chili dogs. The hustling crew endlessly cranked out specialty dog after specialty dog, continuously dropped fries into grease vats  and restocked the dog toppings en masse. Not long after our arrival into the line, one of the harried workers tossed two gallon-sized containers of chopped tomatoes onto the side counter and turned her back for two seconds in an effort to multi-task.

A semi-scraggly guy came around the corner just at that moment with a plastic ounce sized container, dipped it into the tomatoes and walked away. I should mention this man appeared to be neither homeless nor dirty; he just wasn’t as . . . shall we say . . . upscale in appearance as the majority of people who frequent Melrose Avenue.

Someone called out, “Hey! That guy just dipped his hand in the tomatoes!” He did not, for the record, dip his actual hand into anything.

Ten seconds later, the same worker who’d put the containers on the counter dumped both of them into the trashcan with a loud thud. This kind of mindlessly wasteful behavior appals me. I said to Matt, “I can’t believe they just dumped that stuff out . . . ”

Opinions are like assholes; everyone has one. People on either side of us in line indeed had their own opinions and did not hesitate to share them with me. The guy in front of us said with a chuckle, “Well, you know they gotta throw that stuff out or else they could get sued for serving it after that guy messed with it.”

“But you and I both know that his actions didn’t contaminate two gallons of perfectly fine tomatoes,” I said. The man in front of us sort of guffawed and turned back to his newspaper. And of course, I understand that they had to actually toss the stuff in the can in front of the crowd just so all eyes could confirm that the offending tomatoes were properly disposed of.

The couple behind me (who I believe were the same ones who alerted the staff to the actions of the tomato-contaminator) began to chat. The man said, “You just never know what germs people carry.”

“On their . . . ahem . . .  mouth area. On their hands. Who knows where that cup has been . . . ” said his over-perfumed lady friend.

Seriously?! People . . . I hate to mention it, but c’mon,  we live in the richest, most wasteful country on the entire planet. And because an establishment has to factor in the possibility of lawsuits from germophobic patrons, we help create and contribute to a culture of waste. It saddens and sickens me to the core.

I was raised by elderly people who remember the Great Depression. The media today tells us that we are now facing a possible depression of even greater enormity. The increase in food prices is alarming. Throwing away two gallons of tomatoes may not sound like a big deal to a group of people who don’t know what it’s like to be hungry, but in my mind, it is a big deal and it’s indicative of a much bigger problem.

One of my best friends tells a story about his aunt who found half a donut in the street when she was a child during the Great Depression. She picked up the half donut out of the dirty cobblestone street, took it home and shared it with her six family members, who all remember that half-eaten donut as a very special treat.

I hope that spoiled rotten Americans don’t have to scrounge the streets for food necessities ever again. I’ve certainly never had to do it, even though my family did spend several winters with no heat and little more than government cheese and rice to eat. As this article explains, don’t believe for one minute that America is immune to food shortages, because just the opposite is true – if anything, we are susceptible to them. Certainly there can be a happy medium. That includes re-educating the masses about perceptions about germs, wastefulness and litigation, because I assure you the kind of seemingly innocent event I witnessed last week happens quite often all over the developed world.

I hate to cry out cliches about starving children, so I won’t, because we’ve all heard them ad nausem, but with the problems our world faces right now with food shortages and inflated prices (just ask any Zimbabwean how much a loaf of bread costs) and foodstuffs being used as agrofuels, we’d all better start realizing just how important every little bit of precious food is increasingly becoming. By the way, it costs a $10 billion Zimbabwe note (worth less than $20USD) for a loaf of bread.

The canary is singing in the coalmine of our backyard, but we’re too plugged into our I-pods to even notice. If our ancestors were here to witness commonplace acts of American wastefulness, the faux pas would be on our society. I hope we don’t have to worry about something as basic as where we’re going to get our next meal. And maybe, just maybe if we all have an about-face in our perceptions of what is acceptable, we won’t have to worry. But if we do, at least it will be a sobering lesson for all of us spoiled rotten Americans. I’m not so sure that those lessons would be a bad thing.

Do I blame the busy worker at Pinks? No. I blame our perception of what is acceptable. Did I continue to stand in the line that day? Certainly not. I wandered on in search of my next meal elsewhere on the streets of America.