NOW THAT THE FIRST heady days of Solidarity are over and winter is approaching, a little-noted development is occurring in Poland: People are starting to ask just what Solidarity has done for them and what it is likely to do in the future.

They ask because the real economic crisis did not set in until this year, and the Poles see the birth of Solidarity and the onset of massive food shortages as something more than a coincidence. In a country where three people have four opinions on every subject, "where the food is" is the only issue that enjoys anything like a consensus.

"It's being sent east, to keep the Russian people fed and happy, and being sent west, to pay off the debt," says a college professor in Wroclaw, echoing the response everyone gives to the food question. And he has evidence.

Every summer he and his wife work as dishwashers in West Berlin, where they earn in six weeks more than they earn in an entire year in Wroclaw. It disgusts him that a Ph.D has to wash dishes to earn most of his living, but he's grateful for the chance to come home in September with a car full of soap, detergent, shoes, shampoo, razor blades, underwear, vitamins, and toilet paper -- all of which have been effectively unavailable in Poland for a year -- and food, which is strictly rationed and of poor quality.

In West Berlin foodstore, he says, are stacks of Polish hams and sausages. Most Poles haven't seen a ham in six months or more, and even when sausages are available they aren't the famous kielbasa the Germans are eating; they are mostly fat and gristle.

No one is able to prove that the food is also being sent east, but everyone is sure of it, and rumors of food trains creeping eastward abound.

"Look at this," said a priest riding a train through the countryside between Lublin and Czestochowa. "Cows, geese, fruit trees, fields... the weather this summer was good and the autumn is mild. We're not at war. So why should food be rationed and so hard to get?"

The answer, many Poles feel, is Solidarity -- the Poles are being punished for infidelity to the Communist Party. As usual, the Poles even have a historical precedent to cite.

"The Russians did this once before, you know," says the Wroclaw professor, opening a German history book smuggled in from Berlin. "In 1932 and 1933 the Ukraine began a freedom movement, and the Russians starved them to crush the rebellion before it started. That's what they're doing here."

"If the Polish people rejected Solidarity tomorrow, there would be food in the stores next week," says a social worker in Gdansk. Then she leaned forward and added with a wink, "But we won't do it."

The Poles won't reject Solidarity tomorrow, but there is talk, mostly among the more educated and more cynical Poles, that it does not have to be a flat rejection and it does not have to be tomorrow, but that the cracks are already showing in Solidarity's solidarity.

Ask around in February, some say, when there are no apples or cabbages (still cheap and available) and every meal comes out of a can. How much time or energy are people going to have for their union when they have to stand in the freezing cold, sometimes straight through the night, to buy fat and bones for the next day's supper?

No matter how bad it gets, though, the Poles are not likely to come around to the party line just because food is short. Hatred of the Russians runs too deep in Poland for that. But the food shortages are exhausting the Poles, laying fertile ground for the growing disillusionment with Solidarity itself, and particularly with its leadership.

For example, among many Poles Lech Walesa is not taken very seriously anymore, and many people felt that the most recent union congress would have been a good opportunity for a change.

"He was an excellent symbol for the first year," says a mine designer from Lublin, one the educated class that is most dissatisfied with Walesa. "He's a worker, an electrician, with six kids and a wife, who speaks like a common man. This was important, because we needed Solidarity to be a workers' movement to avoid another Prague Spring here. But now we have our union, and it's time for the real brains behind Walesa to come forward and get down to work."

"It's never a man like Walesa who starts such a thing (as Solidarity) -- not even Marx or Lenin," remarks an old woman tending her husband's grave in Warsaw's huge Jewish cemetery. "There are always intellectuals controlling such men. To give him the Nobel Peace Prize is ridiculous, pure politics, just another shot in the war between capitalism and communism."

Walesa speaks a little bit too much like the common man for some Poles. An engineer in Poznan, watching Walesa on television as he spoke at the Solidarity congress, snapped off the sound in disgust. "It's shameful," she said. "He doesn't even speak Polish correctly, and he's the man speaking for Solidarity."

Walesa is only the point man for the rising dissatisfiaction with the independent union. The most common and deep-seated complaint is, oddly enough, that it risks becoming too powerful.

Standing in front of the Lublin Solidarity headquarters, surrounded by banners and posters and a crowd listening to union announcements over a loudspeaker, the mine designer says, "I think this is a little frightening. Everyone stands and listens, and believes, and there are all these posters everywhere. I'm a member of Solidarity and I believe in it. I like what I'm hearing on this loudspeaker. But everyone thinks Solidarity will save Poland, just like everyone thought the Communist Party would save Russia in 1916. This looks a little bit too much like that."

The social worker in Gdansk, a devout Solidarity member, drew a similar analogy. "Marx wrote a beautiful theory, but he didn't know what would happen,"she say. "Each kind of authority is immoral. Solidarity commands 10 million people now, which is a lot of authority. And I worry about what it will do with all that power."

The cynical old woman in the Warsaw cemetary adds bluntly, "You know, Walesa hasn't worked as an electrician in a year. He flies all over the world, and you can believe me, he's a lot richer now than he used to be. They all are. Power corrupts, my young friend, and the Solidarity leaders are no different from anyone else."

Walesa's leadership has always carried a reputation for being slightly dictatorial, which many Poles were willing to accept as the price of establishing a legal union against monumental odds. But now that the Poles have their union, they are beginning to chafe against its demagoguery.

"I'll give you an example," says the Wroclaw professor. "The head of my department used to keep a small garden behind the administration building, where he grew vegetables for himself and his family. Well, the university Solidarity chapter decided that this wasn't fair, that his having a garden was too selfish and that they could better use the space as a parking lot for everyone. So they tore up the garden, but then never leveled the place or cleared it to make it usable for parking. Nobody can park there, but at least no one has a selfish garden. It's like something out of 'Doctor Zhivago.'"

One student in Gdansk goes so far as to say, "I think we're at the point now where we're going to have to start thinking about an opposition party to Solidarity."

Neither the scarcity of food nor the skepticism of Solidarity's moral future alone would be capable of threatening the union. But the two combined could prove very dangerous. For centuries Polish social life revolved around entertaining friends with huge meals. A year ago, the country was remarkable for the friendliness strangers extended toward each other. Little remains of that now.

There is not enough food to entertain grandly, but even more telling are the fistfights on the queues, the black marketeering, the massive emigration, even the Poles' refusal to double up in the few available taxis. They would rather wait alone at the taxi stand for an hour than share.

"Socialism is destroying the social spirit in Poland," one student remarks ironically. Whatever the cause, the atmosphere in Poland is decreasingly conducive to a community spirit, to a union, to solidarity.

This, added to questions about the union's monolithic qualities, is starting to make the Poles extremely sensitive to what they see as Solidarity's mistakes. The union's open letter to the other members of the Warsaw Pact, calling for similar unions in those countries, made many Poles furious -- union and party members alike. "Provocation," says a shopkeeper in Lublin. "It's the kind of thing we might be ready to do in 10 years. They're getting a little bit too big for themselves up there."

On Oct. 5 Solidarity formally protested the announced 100 percent rise in tobacco prices after earlier assuring the government that it would not do so. The professor in Wroclaw was white with rage. "You can't say something once and then go back on it. I have a lot of feeling for Solidarity, but they have to behave properly. Solidarity is trying to take the government into its own hand, which will mean the end of socialism here, and that is going to mean war with the Soviet Union. I don't like socialism, but I don't want war."

His wife adds, "I can accept price increases for cigarettes. We can live without them. But we can't live without meat, cheese, milk, butter... children need that."

The professor continues: "The workers know that if we strike we don't eat. So we're willing to strike only when we feel it's absolutely necessary. When Solidarity makes a mistake like this, it makes us wonder about its judgment on what is necessary to strike for. I wouldn't strike over cigarette prices, and I hope the union doesn't ask me to. Because once we lose our willingness to strike, Solidarity loses its power. All Solidarity needs to do is call for a general strike just once and have the workers not respond. Then it's finished."