Belgium In Our Thoughts

Jim Prevor - The Fruits of Thought

I ‬often wonder what happened to Mrs‭. ‬Hermanns‭. ‬Her company is lost Jim Prevor - The Fruits of Thoughtin memory‭, ‬but when this author cut his eye-teeth in the produce industry‭, ‬one of the shippers I took care of was a Mrs‭. ‬Hermanns from Belgium‭. ‬She shipped us Belgian endive on consignment‭.‬

We were the only company she worked with on consignment‭. ‬As a young man‭, ‬I did all I could to build demand‭. ‬I remember working in my kitchen in a small New York apartment braising Belgian endive so I could reach out to chefs with usage ideas‭. ‬It was a tough battle to build demand for this comparatively specialized and expensive product‭, ‬and we had a competitive dilemma‭. ‬Seymour Schnell of H‭. ‬Schnell‭ ‬&‭ ‬Co‭. ‬‮—‬‭ ‬who‭, ‬it was whispered‭, ‬was the richest man in the New York produce market‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬had sufficient business to bring in 20-foot containers of Belgian endive by sea‭, ‬while we only could receive smaller volume via air shipments‭.‬

I have often wondered if she was still in business‭. ‬Is she retired‭? ‬Back in those pre-email days when even international travel‭ ‬and phone calls were expensive‭, ‬we worked together for years without ever meeting‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬not even a phone call that I can recall‭. ‬It‭ ‬was countless Telex messages going back and forth‭. ‬We have long since lost touch‭, ‬yet I liked to imagine her enjoying a nice retirement‭; ‬perhaps her children took on the business‭, ‬and in some small way‭, ‬our efforts to sell her endive helped secure her future‭.‬

It was months ago we planned our report on the Belgian produce industry and the possibilities for U.S‭. ‬retailers and distributers in handling Belgian produce‭, ‬which you will find on pages 88‭ ‬and 89‭. ‬Mira Slott‭, ‬special projects editor at Produce‭ ‬Business‭ ‬and‭, ‬traveled with Gill McShane‭, ‬managing editor at‭‭, ‬to build stronger editorial relationships and gain a greater understanding of the diversity and professionalism of the Belgian‭ ‬trade‭. ‬The articles we ran are in many ways celebrations of good people‭, ‬good produce and an openness to trade with opportunities to grow an industry and feed the world in a healthy and delicious manner‭.‬

As we go to press‭, ‬though‭, ‬horrid terrorist attacks have hit Belgium‭. ‬The Mabru wholesale market‭ (‬the Hunts Point Produce Market‭ ‬of Brussels‭) ‬was temporarily closed for security reasons‭, ‬along with much of the city and country after attacks at both the Maelbeek metro station near central Brussels and Zaventem international airport‭. ‬The metro explosion occurred right next door to the offices of Freshfel‭, ‬the European produce trade association‭. ‬The Thon hotel‭, ‬where I’ve stayed to attend Freshfel events‭, ‬was converted to an emergency triage/first aid center‭. ‬The top Freshfel executives and staff were locked in their offices‭, ‬thankfully all unscathed‭, ‬but also unable to leave as the city was placed on lockdown‭.‬

Our thought that there is opportunity in the Belgian produce industry was, initially, just a thought. Now, trying to support the beleaguered country is a moral obligation.

The news reports strike this author as bordering on bizarre‭. USA Today ‬ran a headline‭, ‬“Terrorist Attacks in Brussels Send Shock Waves Around the World‭.‬”‭ ‬Yet‭, ‬to us‭, ‬the clarifying insight of these attacks is that they are not shocking at all‭: ‬We don’t know every detail‭, ‬but it is clear there is a jihadist element‭, ‬spawned from ISIS and the anarchy of the Syrian Civil War‭, ‬that is intent on attacking the West and already has a deep network in Europe‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬especially in Belgium and France‭. ‬Two Belgian brothers who are responsible for the terrorist attacks in Belgium also had clear ties to the Paris attacks this past November‭. ‬A third man‭, ‬believed to be the second suicide bomber at the airport‭, ‬was exchanging text messages with the gunmen at the Bataclan theatre when the attacks in Paris were being executed‭.‬

We can‭, ‬of course‭, ‬critique the Belgian police and security authorities‭, ‬as well as broader European institutions‭. ‬Turkey claims‭ ‬it deported one of the brothers to Europe and informed authorities he was dangerous and had ties to terrorist groups‭. ‬It appears a lot of work that should have been done‭, ‬clearly‭, ‬was not‭.‬

There are larger issues‭, ‬though‭. ‬It is not clear ‬governments in Europe and North America understand this is a kind of war‭, ‬and‭ ‬the restrictions we put on normal police activity simply won’t suffice to keep the peace against this enemy‭. ‬It appears‭, ‬despite the Turkish report‭, ‬Ibrahim El Bakraoui was not arrested or‭ ‬pursued‭, ‬because he had no known history of terrorist attacks‭.

That is good for police work‭, ‬but not war‭. ‬Soldiers are the enemy‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬not because they have done anything to us‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬but simply because they are part of an enemy force‭. ‬Many dreams‭, ‬such as the Schengen Agreement for free movement of people with passports and border checks‭, ‬must be deferred‭.‬

More broadly‭, ‬governments must be honest with their people that they cannot be protected solely by playing defense‭. ‬Groups‭, ‬like‭ ‬ISIS‭, ‬have to be deprived of resources such as land to operate on‭, ‬oil to sell and much more‭. ‬This may take great sacrifice in‭ ‬blood and treasure‭, ‬and an active effort to wage war on ISIS will surely involve boots on the ground in the Middle East‭.‬

But if we are not prepared to defend our own civilization‭, ‬who will‭? ‬If we are not prepared to do what we must to ensure the safety‭ ‬of our people‭, ‬who will‭?‬

Our thought that there is opportunity in the Belgian produce industry was‭, ‬initially‭, ‬just a thought‭. ‬Now‭, ‬trying to support the‭ ‬beleaguered country is a moral obligation‭, ‬and we encourage all to seek ways to help‭. ‬We certainly will do so with our resources‭.‬

We had many wake-up calls‭. ‬Now‭, ‬let’s hope our governments wake up‭. ‬As for Mrs‭. ‬Hermanns‭, ‬I pray she is alive and well‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬braising some endives for dinner‭.‬