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Can there be that many people making fruitcakes, cheese?

Would that some magic could have my banker see me as the mail order merchandisers apparently do: a person of unlimited means, discernment, and taste.

Each year toward the end of August, when Christmas catalogs start stuffing our mailbox, I, in a combination of sloth and perversity, just stack 'em against the file cabinet in my office at home. Then sometime around Christmas, I count them and toss them in the garbage.

Last year, there were 413.

This year, barely into December, I whiled away a horridly cold Saturday afternoon doing a preliminary count. 479. Stack nearly 5 feet high. Didn't include another 100-plus addressed to my wife.

Lord knows how many trees and gallons of petrochemical-based inks were sacrificed, not to mention design, printing, and mailing costs and postal persons' aching backs, in order to send all those catalogs, which will just end up in a landfill.

Can there really be that many companies making fruitcakes? Are there really that many people who actually give fruitcakes?

If I had a worst enemy, I might send him a fruitcake. It would be fitting punishment.

I did not even eat my mother's homemade fruitcake, which everyone swore was out of this world (though I never saw them actually eat any).

And citrus. My catalog collection must contain at least two dozen offering oranges, tangelos, tangerines, grapefruit, etc., at what calculates to more than $2 each when shipping is added.

One could only hope that for $2-plus they would be better than the tasteless, juiceless, pithy excuses one gets in the supermarket at 3 for $1. Maybe supermarket citrus is the rejects from Christmas packages.

Chocolate. I love chocolate (dark chocolate — none of that milk chocolate abomination). For $125, plus shipping/handling, one chocolatier will send me a box of 48 “handcrafted pieces with a clarity and brilliance of flavor that make every bite a memory to be savored.” At roughly 3 bucks per piece, I expect I indeed would remember it.

And judging by the catalogs, everyone possessing more than one cow, goat, sheep, water buffalo, or any other milk-producing animal on the planet must be cranking out cheese for the mailorder trade. Who eats all that cheese at those stratospheric prices?

Probably 20 percent of the catalogs offer nuts: pecans, walnuts, pistachios, macadamias; another 20 percent, steaks, hams, sausages — cows and pigs everywhere must be quaking at the thought. For $289.95 plus shipping one company will be glad to send me 6 14-oz. prime beef filets. At nearly $60 per pound, maybe I'll spring for a dozen.

Then there are all the clothing, electronic, home, and gadget catalogs. A leather recliner that puts 20 massage programs at your fingertips? $3,995 and it's yours (free shipping!). A $1,360 Italian designer windbreaker? Gee, why not one for each day of the week?

The irony in all this is that over the years I've purchased items from a scant handful of these catalogs or from their Web sites. After which my name is sold, and sold, and sold.

I fully expect ere Christmas arrives that the catalog total will top 500.

How absurd.

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