Choosing Self-Sufficiency in A Consumer Society

Choosing Self-Sufficiency in A Consumer Society

Adjusting to my new job has been an interesting process. Even though it was only a couple of months I’d had a completely free and open schedule, in that short period of time I seemed to have forgotten the basics of time management. Until recently I’d found myself scrambling over the past few months to keep up, get everything done, and stay in shape whilst simultaneously ensuring I was performing at peak efficiency for my new boss.

Yet, through all of that, I adamantly continued the practices I’d begun earlier this year of taking time out of my day to pick up raw milk from the farm and using it to make fresh cheese & butter, as well as continuing to make things like my own soaps and lotions. I’m also re-learning how to sew on a 50-year old sewing machine that I inherited from my aunt.

A good deal of the time when I tell strangers about these little homemaking projects of mine, I get a blank or confused stare followed by the question:

“Why?”

Actually, I get this question in response to a lot of the things I do or profess my interest in. A greater percentage of people can identify with the drive to grow my own food. At least, in terms of a garden…that percentage drops when I add chickens. And if I speak of killing said chickens? Now an expression of disgust entering the picture.

In fact, when I tell most people that I participated in dispatching some chickens at an old friend’s ranch, simply because I wanted the experience, I wanted that connection with my food…well, that blank stare returns, and now we’re coming back around to:

“Why?”

More specifically, they want to know why I would go to all the trouble of making things, growing things, or killing things when I can make my way to a local store and buy the same items, sometimes for a relatively cheap price.

Of course, it’s no secret we live in a heavily consumer-driven society. Everything today is about buying, or buying power.

But first off, let’s talk about that word “cheap.” That ground beef on sale at the grocery store or the mass of inexpensive things living in your local Walmart…in fact, basically most things that you can purchase for a low price…it turns out they aren’t so cheap after all. It’s just that you are not the person or people who end up paying the cost, which is usually offset to out-of-sight, out-of-mind places like poorer countries, the environment, and future generations.

The lengthy conversation on what exactly those costs consist of, however, is for another place and another time.

Still, as a result of those artificially low prices, many people are not properly acquainted with the true cost of food and, when faced with it at a farmer’s market, scoff at the concept that a pint of strawberries could cost $6 or that a whole chicken can run at $8 or $9 a pound.

Perhaps if some of those people had ever taken part in the process of removing the head from a (still-flailing) chicken, cleaning out the insides, and painstakingly pulling off each feather, they might consider that chicken meat more valuable. It’s when those rows of cleaned birds line up in grocery store after grocery store, processed en masse by underpaid workers in god knows what kind of conditions (for the birds or the humans), it becomes easier to believe those birds are a right versus a privilege, easier to forget their origin.

Personally I’ll say, “no thanks” to that kind of voluntary ignorance. I’d rather kill the bird myself, or pay the local farmer what he deserves to do the deed.

Along these lines, one of my favorite books, The Dirty Life by Kristen Kimball, struck home for me with a quote from the writer’s husband:

“He saw that cheap goods cost somebody, somewhere plenty, but by the time they reached the big-box shelves thousands of miles away, those costs were invisible. He became uncomfortable with processes he could not see, impacts he could not measure.”

This, this is why I choose to get as close to my food as I can. Very simply, I want the connection to my food. I want to know every step of where it came from because that is my best ticket to ensuring that I’m putting quality fuel into this amazing machine of mine that I run on a daily basis.

Well that, and to be quite honest it just tastes so much better.

But I also feel that these skills & processes are part of a very basic set necessary to the human existence that we have lost. So much of what just about everyone learned as a basic life skill 100 years ago is all but disappearing from present day knowledge banks.

Because the other piece in the equation of my choice is this….what happens when the system fails? As a society, we are so incredibly dependent on large-scale entities and processes that we cannot see and have no concept of to keep us alive & supplied that, should that structure ever fail (which at its current level of severe imbalance is one step away from a given) what’s next? Our dependence on factors such as fossil fuels, refrigeration, technology, and overall economic stability to keep us fed and generally taken care of is complete.

Think a system failure could never happen? Think again. In February of this year Venezuela ran out of food, and now their government is on the verge of collapse. There are a number of other countries struggling significantly, economically speaking, and the global economy is displaying its own troubling symptoms, such as the plunges in Euro value earlier this year.

I can be incredibly daunting to take on changing practices and a way of life that you’ve been following your entire life. I know this because I did it once. Hell, I’m still in the process of doing it - it’s a long process. But just like anything else, it’s all about steps. And it can start with the smallest of steps.

For those who are so inclined, one of the easiest and simplest ways to make a significant change to your eating lifestyle is to start making it as local as you can. A book by entitled Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver chronicles one family’s year of living on only those things they could obtain within 100 miles of their county. Sound impossible? Far from starving or deprivation, that family found that they thrived, and it changed their relationship with food forever.

With the internet at your fingertips there are numerous ways to increase your self-sufficiency by finding local food and raw milk, as well as local farmer’s markets. Shop the edges of your local supermarket and try to stay out of the processed foods residing in the center aisles as much as you can. The process is like rolling a boulder down a hill; once you get through that tough first shove, it’ll start picking up speed and become ever easier until that boulder is rolling of its own accord.

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