Beans, or Keeping Faith in Tough Times

Saying it’s tough right now may be the understatement of the year. Every day I am reminded of stories my grandparents told of the Great Depression. It’s rough out there. Everyone I know is struggling in some way.

My friend, Cara Schulz, and I were discussing how dismal the economy is the other night. We were expressing our worry and feelings of helplessness. What brought it up was Cara’s post on G+ that has garnered a lot of attention. Here is an excerpt:

I’ve been reducing meat and dairy in our household for my husband’s health concerns. We’ve switched to using beans and lentils and rice as a base for out diet. When I first started doing this, about a year ago, the canned and dried bean part of the aisles were deserted. The shelves were always full, but not many were buying. It’s been slowly changing, but what I saw today left me deeply worried. The canned beans were almost gone from the shelves. The aisle was crowded with people eying over the beans, hesitating, and then grabbing cans to put into their nearly empty cart. Same thing with the dried beans.

One younger lady looked so lost, staring and staring at the cans and bags, that I asked her if she was a fan of beans (ice breaker). She wasn’t. Had not much idea what to do with them. But money was so tight and the costs of all staples and gas and utilities had left them with $20 to spend for food for the week.

I told her, “We can do this. I can show you what to buy and give you some ideas on how to make it. Very simple and you’ll enjoy your meals.” And that’s what I did. Dried beans, split peas, lentils went into her bag. Bullion cubes. (Don’t judge) Garlic bulbs. Rice. A few cans of vegetables. Potatoes and that was it. She had some staples like salt and oil at home so that was good. While I was talking to her, showing her what to buy and writing down a few recipes on the back of a scrap of paper I had in my pocket, I noticed others listening in. As soon as she was on her way, they were asking me if I could help them, too.

I looked at 3 ladies and 1 guy, standing there, looking ashamed. Fucking ashamed. And I was very, very angry. Yeah, this is how it is, now. A very old lady that was looking at the dried peas turned around and said she’d help the guy if I would help the women. So that’s what we did.

Beans. It’s one of those foods that stick in my mind as a “poverty food.” Corn bread, homemade biscuits, veggie stew, and iced tea weren’t merely Southern delicacies, but the foods of tough times. In my adult life being able to afford pizza delivery was a sign of wealth. Making biscuits was a sign of poverty, because if I’m working full-time I shouldn’t have the time to bake.

I’ve been thinking about Cara’s post and how my own shopping habits have changed over the past few months. I’ve bought less meat. The meat I’ve bought has stretched farther, being immediately frozen in small portions to add flavor and protein to stews. I’ve invested in staples: flour, sugar, oil, butter, eggs. I spent a lot of money on discount spices because I knew I was going to be eating pretty bland for awhile.

Recently, in order to make my groceries stretch, I bought ramen. It was twice the price from the last time I bought it. Maybe $2 for twelve packs of cheap soup isn’t a bad deal, but the day I bought it that extra dollar made a big difference. But how can I complain? If I have a job and the ability to buy ramen, I’m actually doing pretty good.

Maybe making it through this year means making peace with beans. Maybe it means learning how to cook all over again. Maybe it means learning to garden. Maybe it means pooling resources with friends and family. Maybe it means asking for help, going to the food bank, donating to the food bank, creating opportunities to help others, putting unused items on Freecycle, teaching others how to cook and doing our best to make the most of a difficult situation.

I’m making a big change. I can’t afford to live alone anymore, and I truly love my apartment. So instead of getting myself into deep financial difficulty by trying to live a life I can’t afford, I’m moving in with friends who have some extra space and could use the extra cash. I’m not going to deny I feel a lot of shame over this. I’m about to turn 30 and this feels like a failure on my part. Surely I should be past this point in my life? It’s hard to see this as a matter of the economy when it affects my personal pride so deeply.

Yet, I also see hope in this opportunity. I get to be part of a real shared household. I get to cook a real family dinner, instead of a single serving of mac ‘n’ cheese. I have both time and a friend with whom to work on buying bulk, shopping sales and cooking good on the cheap. Living with them means all of our money will go a little farther and we’ll breathe a little easier.

2012 is going to be an amazing year but it’s certainly not going to be an easy one. To make it through this year we have to help each other, and we have to learn to live differently. We have to learn not merely to live with beans, but to appreciate them.

And you can’t get more Pagan than that.

I know I’m going to be revisiting Amy Dacyzyn’s Tightwad Gazette (and if you don’t know her you should) and reading up on preparedness blogs this year. So expect some of that in the future.

If you’re in the Atlanta area and you need help, one good resource is Divine Resourcing. Julia Nelson is an awesome lady, they accept donations from many faiths, and they helped me when I was unemployed without ever asking me about my faith. They are good people, and if you need help please reach out to them. If you’re in the area and can afford to buy extra toilet paper, detergent or beans/rice/canned goods to donate, please consider them.

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