I’m running an informal book club devoted to All the Money in the World here on the blog. You can join at any time; there are links to previous weeks at the bottom of the post.
Chapter 7 is called “The Chicken Mystique.” I think the idea for this chapter had been brewing in my head since I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle a few years ago (I reread it this spring). I think I found that book — in which Kingsolver recounts a year of feeding her family locally grown food — fascinating for the same reason I found the Boxcar Children fascinating, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder books fascinating. I like the idea of self-sufficiency, and of being connected to something from start to finish. Marx wrote about the alienation people experience from being a cog in the machine; part of the appeal of gardening or chicken raising is seeing a whole project through. I also find the idea of cashless living appealing: foraging, gardening, tinkering, and so forth. As a writer, you never count on being well-paid. I learned years ago how to live on very little money if I needed to. Even now, loading groceries out of my cart at the check-out register, I can tell you within about a dollar what the total will be. And then there is the green aspect. Growing your own food is likely better for the earth than the agricultural shenanigans involved in bringing corn products in various forms into our supermarkets.
But I realized that the “Chicken mystique” is another one of those false choices that skew the debate on various topics. Specialization is still the magic that makes our economic world go ’round. If you like edible gardening or chicken raising, great. But if you want to live a green life and don’t want to support the industrial food system, there are other options, like buying from farmers directly, or through certain food supply networks or even from stores where you can talk with the manager about where he sources his goods. Appealing as I find the whole cashless living concept, I also know that time spent foraging is time not spent writing about people who do such things. And I’m much better at the latter.
Kingsolver partially addresses this critique in her book, by the way, which I realized upon re-reading it. She noted that people do things in addition to work, and that from-scratch cooking (and I assume gardening, too) can be one of those things. She’s right that many people waste a lot of time, and claiming to have “no time” to cook is a total crock if you’re also, say, watching Jersey Shore. But I’ve been studying my own time a lot over the past few years, and I’ve realized that growing my own vegetables and raising chickens and much from-scratch cooking does not rise to the level of top priority in the way that my core competencies do. Between the three children, the books, the other writing, the running and (until recently) the singing, I’m not really wasting much time. I don’t want to take time away from those things to spend more time on food chores. Kingsolver, after all, had a book contract to write about her small scale farming. She was still focusing on her core competencies too.
Anyway, on to this week’s questions: what frugal practices do you find worthwhile or not worthwhile? Do you dabble in any cashless activities, like swapping, bartering, or edible gardening? Why did you make that decision?
Links to previous weeks:
photo courtesy flickr user floodllama