Tuesday, May 12, 2009
When I was in college, I spent one summer working at a dude ranch (yes--that’s right--a dude ranch, complete with cowboys, horses, and a bubbling brook running through the property) as a waitress for ranch guests. The family that owned and operated the ranch had lived there for multiple generations, and the oldest member--an elderly woman in her nineties named Tillie--still came down to the kitchen from time to time to visit. And to make sure that none of the food was going to waste. I would watch her collect the leftover bread and recommend to the cooks how they could reuse it for another meal. Or see her scrape the unused ranch dressing out of the serving bowls to put back into the storage container (much to the cook’s--and the FDA’s--chagrin). She couldn’t help herself. After growing up during the Depression, she was used to making every ingredient and household item stretch to the last inch.
Although admittedly a bit sketchy when it came to operating a commercial kitchen, I had to admire her resourcefulness and ingenuity. And naturally I reflected on how far we had come since her days managing the ranch, with our disposable paper cups and plates, ketchup packets, and soda cans.
No Nostalgia Needed
No one wants to wax poetically about the Depression, or seriously propose a return to those hard times. Instead, we much rather prefer to climb out of this recession as quickly as possible before it does any permanent damage and we, ourselves, start licking the plates clean and saving the leftover salad dressing. But one thing worth noting is the example set by the generation that knew all to well what it was to have the bottom fall out of the economy. The ladies of that time were the first Recessionistas, and they were clever indeed. They remind us that:
* disposable living is not something to esteem if it translates to meaningless consumerism and waste. “Waste not, want not” could stand a revival, minus possible compromises to health and safety, of course, and sluggish economies are good opportunities to practice the mantra.
* resourcefulness leads to resilience. There are few from that generation that are not revered for their persevering spirit. Their steady discipline of artfully appreciating and utilizing the resources around them helped sustain their ability to stay hopeful, productive, and even prosperous during hard times.
* and the best defense to calamity begins at home. We joke now about their quirky habits of saving things like newspapers and cardboard for “just in case,” but they know that when difficulty arises, it is good to have supplies on hand and to not trust absolutely in the back-up plans of commerce or government. We are fortunate to have a few safety nets that they did not, like FDIC insurance and credit cards. But we would do well to remember that even well meaning systems can fail to fill in the gaps that only a home can fill.
I, of course, want nothing more than to avoid walking in the shoes they walked in during the Depression. But I also want to acknowledge the important example they set, and the lessons we can learn from them as we walk through our own economic turmoil.
I might even reuse the heels of my bread to add some crisp to tonight’s chicken. Tillie would be proud.
Previous Recessionista Posts:
Thinking Outside the Box
Three Contingency Plans