June 7, 2021
When I got up yesterday, I noticed two squirrels holding court over the squirrel feeder in my back yard. What surprised me was that they had paid little attention to the feeder for the last year. Now they were both squabbling over the contents. One even entered the hole on the side of the feeder (something they had never done before) to make sure it got the best there was to offer. Then they drove off a blue Jay who tried to horn his way in to get at the seed. I have mentioned that while I do not begrudge the squirrels their fair share, I still consider them feeding off the public trough I set up for the birds to enjoy.
When I looked up “Feeding off the public trough” online, it defined this as using government funds to enrich oneself. The phrase generally refers to activities which are legal, but which are morally shameful. Someone who feeds at the public trough is fattening themselves at the expense of the public. The term seems to come in vogue during the Gilded Age in late 19th century America. At the time, the country was wealthier and more industrialized than ever before. Historian Eric Foner said, these “riches more often derived from manipulating stock prices, driving out competitors, and feeding at the public trough, than from entrepreneurial genius.” The phrase is universally understood to be negative.
Working for the State of Utah was one of my dream jobs. I was able to do research and write papers I delivered at conferences. On the weekends I often took my son Alex along as we researched historic or archeological sites across the state. One day as we drove, Alex was sitting in the back of the car when he said, “Dad, when I grow up, I want to do what you do.” After a ten second pause, he asked the appropriate question. “Dad, what do you do?” I told him I was a petty bureaucrat who fed at the public trough. There was another pause, and then I heard, “I think I want to be a paleontologist.” Although he never became one, I think he chose wisely.
Thoughts: I found it interesting that when I saw my squirrel activity, I associated them with a pig trough. When we see cartoons of politicians they are often depicted eating out of a trough. Pigs are omnivores (like humans), which means they eat both animals and plants. In the wild, they are foragers and will eat roots, grass, nuts, fruits, leaves, flowers, tubers, and particular kinds of large and small insects. There are reported cases of people collapsing in a domestic pig pen and being eaten. The pig eating habits site I looked up had more information on what pigs should not eat. If you give it to them, they will eat it even if it is bad for them. Here again, pigs are like people. One theory is that eating the wrong thing is what started the pandemic. Perhaps we should be more careful. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.