Thursday, October 29, 2009

Stop the insanity!

I'm borrowing today's title from a 1993 anti-weight-loss book about weight loss, an industry that has always been about extremes. I'm sad to see there is a segment of sustainability heading in that direction. According to Publisher's Lunch, we will soon be able to read
W. Hodding Carter's WITHIN OUR MEANS, in which the author and his family of six aims to live on their actual yearly income instead of the more than three times that amount they have been, growing their own food, raising chickens and goats, hunting and fishing, converting their car so that it runs on French fry oil, chopping wood to fuel a stove and giving up luxuries like coffee, wine and processed foods . . . .

Of course, we all know that we only have two choices -- a life of total excess or complete deprivation, where we can't even have a cup of coffee. Seriously . . .

Okay, in case you want to know more about the author, here is his announcement to the world from February about his great plan to spend a year living within his budget. I am not at all against living within your means, but it doesn't have to be about deprivation and killing your own supper. People living in the suburbs and cities are perfectly capable of living within their means. It actually costs us more to raise our own chicken and turkey than it would to buy it at the store, especially when they're having those loss-leader sales for 59 cent a pound turkey in November. Last time I ran the numbers several years ago, it was costing us about $3 a pound for our turkey -- but we're not doing it to be thrifty.

It is also not cheaper to have chickens for eggs. You really can't compete with factory egg production. Carter says the kids will be able to sell extra eggs and keep the profit. If he sticks with that plan, it's going to be a long time before those kids see any money. Pullets cost about $2 each X 25 = $50 + $15 shipping = $65. Feed is around $10-15 a bag, and the chickens will go through six to ten bags (depending on how much access the chickens have to the outdoors) before they even lay their first egg. And if they got their pullets in the spring, they won't get many eggs at all that first year. Again, we don't have chickens because it's cheap; we have them because I won't eat factory-farmed eggs. Even before we moved out here, we bought eggs from a small farm near us where the chickens ran around freely.

So, I've read a few of his posts. He writes well, of course. He is blogging for Gourmet. His posts are interesting. I'm just annoyed at the way this is presented. And why are so many people being presented as celebrities and experts after doing something for one year? And why does it have to be so extreme? Someone just told me about No Impact Man, the book and the movie. Colin Beavan decides to live a life of total deprivation in New York City, dragging his wife and toddler along for the ride. According to the film's website:
It means eating vegetarian, buying only local food, and turning off the refrigerator. It also means no elevators, no television, no cars, busses, or airplanes, no toxic cleaning products, no electricity, no material consumption, and no garbage.
I am completely in favor of reducing the amount of energy we use. We keep the thermostat at 63 F in the winter to save energy, not because my husband loves the feel of my icicle nose against his cheek. But a lot of these extreme actions are meaningless. Fine, he turns off his refrigerator, but I'm sure he's buying some foods that have been in someone's refrigerator. And my refrigerator is the thing that allows us to not eat out as much as most Americans. It doesn't take any additional energy to make bigger servings at dinner, and then I can save the leftovers for my husband and daughter to take to work and school the next day. If you don't have electric lights, you're using oil lamps and candles, and I have a hard time believing that's better -- especially if you're not vigilant enough to get non-toxic candles and oil.

But I digress. My point is that no one takes these things seriously, which is sad. We all lose, because people look at this type of thing as a publicity stunt. It's just a gimmick to make money, write a book, or produce a movie. It's not the way real people live. They've lost the opportunity to educate people about important issues. These two men are being paid to live an outrageous life for one year. It has nothing to do with promoting sustainability or frugality, and it has everything to do with the voyeurism to which Americans seem to be addicted. Someone in publishing once told me that books follow television, so it shouldn't be surprising that after a decade-long diet of reality TV shows, we're seeing books in the same genre. Supersize Me had some great information in it, but I knew very few people who would even consider watching it. Most people just said it was stupid and unrealistic. No doubt people will respond to these two books the same way, even though they probably have some good information hidden beneath the manure and the glitter.

8 comments:

SkippyMom said...

I didn't pop over to his blog, but I might - Here is the thing - if living within our paycheck means not having credit card debt [we don't - zero/zilch] and being able to pay our bills every month [we are] then we are doing what he asks. And we still get to save a bit each month.

You are right that this is a promotion for a book or a movie and as I type this with the TV on in the background GMA is promoting a segment about a woman who can feed her family for A PENNY a week. This should be good. Sigh.

Abiga/Karen said...

As the trends go so go the money making schemes/ideas. I bet there are many people in the US that live on what they earn (and maybe also produce a lot of their own healthy food) but there have been no books or movies promoted about them. My parents lived within their means in the city of Chicago when I was growing up. We had everything we needed, ate good meals, had a summer garden, and took many vacations all over the US without ever going into debt. My mom now lives a comfortable life at 84 and helps take care of others too. Blessings.

Deborah said...

Thanks for that tip on GMA, SkippyMom. I went over to their website, and somehow the woman does it with coupons. I went through a coupon period about 12 years ago, and it was the worst period of our life as far as WHAT we ate, because coupons are for processed food about 99% of the time.

Abiga/Karen, your parents sound exactly like my inlaws, but they're in Peoria and in their 70s.

CONEFLOWER said...

Hi Deborah. You make some wonderful points and I understand your disappointment. I feel the same way. We live within our means also and sometimes we can put a little aside. It's no big deal. Millions are doing it. We are thrilled that we are able to also.

What's this guy up to anyway, "trying" to live within his income budget instead of spending 3 times as much. How can anyone survive that?

Oh well....

melanie said...

People follow those ninnies because they WANT to see them suffer and fail, and thereby justify a more "extravagant" lifestyle where people don't have to change their habits or think critically about the future...
Living within your means used to be the ONLY way people did things...until we invented credit...then we lost our heads, like addicts on crack. And like most addicts, justification and support for the habit became all consuming...

Hodding said...

While it's hard to read critical responses to one's own writing (and life), I agree with a good bit of what you wrote. I hated the way my life-changing decision was packaged this past year. I let people promote what my family and I were doing--what we had to do--in a manner that I didn't approve of mainly because I didn't stop to look at what they were saying. Also, I initially mostly didn't care how they promoted me as long as they were paying me to write about something I was going to do, whether they paid me or not. I hope that makes sense; what I'm trying to say is that we are being frugal, living more intelligently, NOT for a year, as has been misstated, but forever. I should have paid more attention to how Gourmet (and my publisher) was pushing my family's lifestyle change. We love the way we live now, wouldn't trade it for a best-selling-writer's life and have certainly made very many public mistakes. However, I'm not sure what you were talking about concerning our mini hen-farm. I'm sure we did things wrong but I do know they seem to be very contented chickens. We're surrounded by hungry fox, many coyotes, roaming dogs, etc. and so we, like most people who raise free-range hens, have lost a few. However, we made some safety adjustments and haven't lost any since. In fact, we've hatched more chickens and, now that they're laying, have almost too many eggs (And we certainly have three too many roosters--according to our neighbors.). I love those dark yolks. I love that we've provided a large, now-safe, living environment for our hens, knowing that those awful egg factories are out there. Our children, since they care for the hens, get to sell the eggs to friends and neighbors...

Hodding said...

...Even without this positive hen experience, I know we're on the right track, though, because of an argument one of 13-year-old twins had with her 12-year-old sister the other day in the grocery store. It was a heated, long discussion (that luckily DID not lead to fisticuffs) about which food was cheaper. They went back and forth, both intent on making sure the other made sure she looked not at the price but at the item's price-per-pound. One of them even dragged the other back to the aisle where they'd found the food to make her point. It was reassuring and unexpectedly heart-warming. They have learned the importance of careful shopping THIRTY years earlier than I did and even better, they think it's fun to find the best price--and love making sure they are not outwitted by the supermarket tricksters. So, people can criticize me all they want (and there are many good reasons to do so) but I am so happy about how we live now and do hope to share our changes with whoever might eventually read my book that Algonquin will publish next fall. I think there will be things for others to learn but I have even higher goals: I'm hoping that our fumbling, earnest and uncritical efforts will be a small rock--or better yet, an All-American baseball--flung with all my might at the cynically erected barrier that's been standing between us and our better selves for so many years now. I know that's aiming pretty high for someone who has permanently changed his life for just a gimmick (or whatever my life is being labeled; I don't blame people who criticize me who have only seen the ridiculous promotional material for my now-deceased blog and/or my future book. I'm annoyed by that stuff too) but you never know. Even if what I write ends up reaching very few, it won't really matter, since I know the changes we've made have positively affected our kids, my wife and me--and supposedly the thousands who who read my current blog. PS--I'm glad you're enjoying your eggs even if they are costing you still. Thanks to the number we have (now 30), we broke even sometime last summer. While I love having fresh, free-range eggs, I don't think I could justify keeping the hens if they were putting us in the red like yours do you. Given our financial circumstances, we couldn't afford that luxury. I wonder what kind of birds you were talking about that don't lay much their first year? Ours started laying one-a-day by the time they were 5 months old. Maybe I just got lucky and built a coop that made them feel good. I'd be happy to sell fertilized eggs to anyone who is interested--although there's probably some serious, interstate commerce license that I'd have to get first.

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

Hello Hodding, and welcome to my blog! I'm glad to hear that you love your new life and have no intention of going back to your previous habits.

As for the chickens, if you're comparing cost to organic eggs at the store, we're saving money, because they're around $3.50 a dozen here. However, you can buy conventional eggs in the store for 79-89 cents a dozen, and if you figure in all the costs of keeping chickens, it's going to exceed that cost per dozen. I'm including purchase price of day-old chicks ($2 each avg), cost of electricity for brooder(about $1 a day here), all feed eaten (even when not laying), etc. We raise our chickens naturally, meaning that we don't artificially light our hen house, which means that they stop laying from mid-December to sometime in March because we don't get enough sunlight during those months for them to lay. So, most people who get chicks in March only see about three to four months of eggs in the fall that first year. The egg-a-day laying does not happen year-round. You can find charts all over the Internet that show you how many eggs you can expect in a year from different breeds, and it's usually in the 150-250 range (per hen).

It sounds like your children are learning a lot, and I'm sure your book will have some valuable information in it. I hope that it will be promoted so that people will actually be drawn to it, rather than responding that it's too extreme to even crack the cover. I've been told that publishers are drawn to extreme stories now, which is unfortunate, because people view those books as entertainment rather than education. It sounds like the goal for your book might have changed since you started? Perhaps a better way to promote it would be as your FIRST year of living within your means.

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