I have $20.
In all of the world, I have only $20. And if you count up what I owe, I have much less than that.
I have no credit card debt.
I have two Bachelor’s degrees and most of a Master’s. I am firmly middle class. I am literate. I have at least average intelligence. I’ve always been drug free and loving it. I possess fairly decent self-care skills.
Through a series of appalling events, I have come to a point in my life that I don’t know exactly how to keep a roof over my head alone. Much of this comes from how expensive it is to live life alone, and I have done that for nine years.
Much to my deep gratitude, a friend is letting me live in her lovely suburban home while I get my crap together and figure out how to go on.
If this is a mid-life crisis, then it is not the fun kind. The fun kind involves illicit sex or fast cars, right?
This experience is just my story.
I have many, many friends who are college educated; most with Master’s degrees and some finishing doctoral work that are in the same position. Among other things we have what is called “food insecurity.”
Because as I write this essay, the government is shut down, I cannot provide the USDA’s definition of food insecurity. The definition I liked best came from the Texas Food Bank Network: “a financial juggling act, where sometimes the food ball gets dropped.”
And we who are food insecure hide it.
When my deep need was uncovered on a large scale, every person around me said, “Why didn’t you ask me/us for help? We would have helped you.” And I felt so stupid. I felt shamed.
Until one of the friends closest to my heart told me her dark truth, the one no one says: she has been food insecure, too. And when it was discovered, she was asked the same question: “Why didn’t you ask for help?”
But when we are food insecure, we do not actually know that is what is going on. We do not define ourselves that way. We think that we can just stretch to our next paycheck. Eating only potatoes this week will be fine; it will be okay.
It will be okay soon.
And sometimes it gets okay, and sometimes it doesn’t.
Why don’t we equate gardening with food consumption; growing food because we actually need it?
Why did we cede our rights to food and community to corporations?
Why do we not have more community gardens?
Why do we not barter anymore?
Why do we only labor to work for the national economy and not our own home economies?
Because the truth is this: some of us forty-somethings grew up with groovy parents that never lost sight of real food, natural materials and clean energy. Others woke up and became enlightened enough to turn this direction out of a concern for animal rights or ecological responsibility.
But I believe another wave is coming; perhaps, it has already arrived. Those of us who thoughtlessly consumed as we were told to until somehow we were put into true need. My hope is that those of you already on the bandwagon will have grace for us latecomers who have pretty crappy souls. Please forgive us. We really believed our TVs.
While we face economic downturns (either real or contrived by politicians), I fear that we are in a much more fragile place to handle it than those who weathered the Great Depression.
We are two or three generations removed from most people knowing how to feed themselves from the land that their family lives on.
A few years ago, I ran across a series of youtube videos called “Great Depression Cooking,” and I thought they were delightful and quaint. Now, I think that they are true wisdom that our generation is too far removed from.
American novelist Wendell Berry is a prophet, and I am learning his lessons too late. Almost all of our whole nation refuses to learn.
“And even today, against overpowering odds and prohibitive costs, one does not have to go far in any part of the country to hear voiced the old hopes that stirred millions of immigrants, freed slaves, westward movers, young couples starting out: a little farm, a little shop, a little store—some kind of place and enterprise of one’s own, within and by which one’s family could achieve a proper measure of independence, not only of economy, but of satisfaction, thought, and character.”
~ Wendell Berry
Environmentalist Bill McKibben credits Berry with being the father of the modern day farmer’s market. The farmer’s market is the fastest growing component of our food economy for a decade, and it is exactly this kind of thing that we need more of.
Even more than that, we need to begin where we are. Planting widely varied gardens for sustenance in our little suburban backyards. Raising chickens or goats, or supporting those who do by buying (or bartering for) eggs or milk. Making clothes. Tutoring children and getting eggs or kale for barter.
For a concrete start, that is how to eat as cleanly as possible on a squeak-tight budget.
Though I kept it secret for a week, I finally told my roommate last night that I have $20. And she will take care of me, in her way; and, I will take care of her in mine.
Until food insecurity ends, let us work to love each other.
To love each other through community. And food. And gardening. And learning how to create interdependent home economies.
Some are idealists, and were born to be Children of the Revolution. Others, like me, are forced into it by need, a literal gnawing in the belly.
Keeping secret will kill us all.
I don’t know how this works; and I know I am late to the game.
Are you in?
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Assistant Ed: Jes Wright / Ed: Catherine Monkman