Sorting through the flotsam and jetsam as we charge assertively into the new year:

  • It was possible, perhaps for the first time in history, to toast the year's turnover with a libation made with, taa-daa, soybeans. That's right, a new vodka on the market is distilled from soy extracts and grain.

    Sovereign Brands of Chicago introduced their new 3 Vodka late last year in Florida and Illinois, with availability elsewhere starting in January. The 750-milliliter designer bottle, which has a large, stylized red 3 splashed across the front, will retail for about 25 bucks, which puts it in the category with better-known premium brands.

    Nobody'll say how much soy is used in making the vodka or which grain it's blended with. They say only that their chief aim for the 80-proof liquor was “smoothness,” and that incorporation of soy extracts allowed them to best achieve that goal. Given all the health benefits attributed to soy, who's to say you won't be doing the old bod a favor by latching onto a bottle of 3?

  • If you thought and thought of the country that would least likely be engaged in a tomato war with the United States, which would you say?

    Hah, bet it wasn't Canada. In another of the ironies that is today's world market, California tomato growers have been up in arms because our neighbors to the north have been flooding the U.S. market with their product (if one can, under the most charitable circumstances, consider any supermarket tomato more edible than cardboard).

    Who'd have thought you could even grow tomatoes that far north? But it seems the Canadians have gone into hothouse tomato production in a big way, and where better to try and unload 'em than in the United States? They were offering them to U.S. produce sellers for as little as $3 a flat, compared to the $14 California growers were asking for theirs. Charges of commodity dumping are now being evaluated by the United States.

  • While most Americans have “overwhelmingly positive views” of rural life, seeing it as “a repository of strong values and religious faith, close-knit communities, hard work, and self-sufficiency,” they also feel rural areas “face serious economic hardships and threats to their way of life.”

    The in-depth poll, conducted for the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, concluded that rural life (1) represents traditional American values, but is behind the times; (2) is more relaxed and slower than city life, but harder and more grueling; (3) is friendly, but intolerant of outsiders and their differences; and (4) is richer in community life, but epitomized by individuals struggling independently to make ends meet.

    Lack of financial resources and other opportunities, inadequate health care, and education shortcomings topped respondents' list of problems facing rural America. Almost half of those surveyed who live in rural areas said they have considered moving because of low pay and sparse opportunity for advancement.

    But, most participants saw rural areas as “a treasure chest of American values,” said Rick Foster, vice president for programming for the Kellogg Foundation. “If we depopulate rural America through out-migration, what happens to these values?”