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.