Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

I have to laugh. Every news station is running stories on the new frugality. I have seen segments on gardening, barter, coupon shopping, buying used clothing, you name it, it’s being covered. One would think that the idea of living within one’s means is a totally new concept.

Years ago, I used to subscribe to the Tightwad Gazette, a 4 page newsletter devoted to tightwaddery. Maybe it’s a rural thing. Everyone I know thinks of getting something for nothing as a lifestyle choice. I know one or two people who have always spent like there was no tomorrow ( there was and it’s today) but we felt sorry for those poor souls, the way we would if we learned that he was bit simple. To bad but these things happen.

One thing I have noticed is that there is still an emphasis on getting essentially the same lifestyle (food, clothing, car) as before but not spending as much money. They are still not getting it. We can’t have the same lifestyle. We will need to eat differently, more locally, fewer calories, less meat, dress differently, practical, warm, durable, live in different houses, smaller, more efficient, closer to where we work, drive differently, shared autos, fewer miles, drive until the car becomes so old it is almost car vapor. That old life is over for most of us. The new frugality is the new reality. It is not a phase or a fad or a hobby. Get used to it.


One of the more enduring pictures of the depression is that of bread lines. I fear that we are beginning to see a different incantation of modern day bread lines. Food stamps applications have soared and what are food stamps but invisible soup kitchens and bread lines. Private donors are handing out food in places like Elkhart where unemployment has reached 20%. My husband volunteers at our food pantry where donations are down but usage is up. The demand for subsidized lunches and breakfast at my daughter’s high school has surged to the point that they can no longer afford to offer a hot breakfast and have switched to a selection of cold, presweetened cereals and milk.

We all need to think about food security, not in the abstract, isn’t it awful what is happening in other places and to other people, but in the sense of personal security. What will you do if food becomes too expensive for your budget?

I looked over several years of checkbook ledgers last night, pulling out what I spent for food. The numbers are difficult to figure as, at times, I have had a houseful of teenage boys to feed and other times when it has been just me, Bruce and the three girls. Still. I think I have a pretty good idea of where my food money has gone and why we seem to be eating a lot better for a lot less money today.

I rarely go grocery shopping any more and I almost never shop for the ingredients for a meal.  Rather, I shop to restock my pantry. One week, I will put in a co-op order for dried fruit and nuts and maybe a fifty pound sack of grain. Another week, I might buy a bulk order of chicken. I take a trip to a big box store 6 times a year and get things like sugar and case lots of the fruits that I can’t get locally. I hit a buy one get two free sale to restock my juice supply. If I didn’t get to the market for a month, I might have to pick up local milk or cheese and maybe a bit of fresh produce at the the general store here in town but I could manage quite well  even if I couldn’t get there as I have a large supply of dried milk and all the supplies for making cheese. My goal is to use at least 2 jars of something I preserved last summer every day. Last night, we ate a ham and scalloped potato casserole. The potatoes and onions were from our garden and the ham was local. The milk was local and the salt from storage. We also had canned applesauce (ours) and bread and butter pickles (ours). I made canned green beans which no one likes but they ate them because they could smell the rhubarb/blueberry crisp in the oven.

Not everyone has the space to grow as much as we do but I think we shortchange our ability to grow something. There is a terrific web site called path to freedom you should check out if you think you can’t grow food in you back yard.

Put out the word that you are interested in growing and foraging more food. I got 50 pounds of peaches last year from a woman who was swamped with them just through word of mouth. We are still eating those peaches and will have them until the new crop comes in. If the crop fails, I have cases of canned peaches in storage to hold me over until the next harvest.

Food has been rationed by price for many years. If you had money, you could afford fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and good bread. Poor people ate peanut butter, white pasta, and kool-aid. I see food rationing by price as something that will get a lot worse. Prepare for that time by figuring how and where to grow food. Learn how to preserve it and cook it. Plan to enjoy it during the lean times that are already here.