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Friday, June 26, 2009

Austerity Parties

By Kate
Living The Frugal Life


Originally uploaded by Inkyhack

I left home two years before I graduated from high school. So I know what it's like to have no money and to live on a shoestring budget without any safety net. Fortunately, I can look back and say that on the whole it was a positive experience. I took on a lot of responsibility for myself at an early age, and nothing disastrous came of it.

One of the things I remember fondly from those years was a recurring event that some of my friends would host. These friends were all older than me, but I was drawn to bohemian types, so they didn't have much money either. About once a month they'd host what they called austerity parties. This was back in the late 80s, in a large liberal university town, so it was partly an ironic joke and partly dead serious.

These parties took place in cramped little apartments, or sometimes in parks. There were never enough chairs, so people sat wherever they could. The atmosphere of cheap fun was invariably festive, and of course it was always potluck. Some guests even dressed up in Hooverville attire, or brought their contributions in large tin cans. I remember bean dishes, collard greens, bread pudding, boiled potatoes with butter, and lots of vegetable dishes from various cultures. The friend of mine who often hosted it was vegetarian, but some dishes showed up with small amounts of meat in them. If there was wine, it was in a jug. The food was surprisingly good for the most part.

After everyone had eaten enough, someone usually broke out Monopoly, or some other board game. Someone else would bring out a guitar or put on some Italian opera. Others just carried on talking and socializing. Conversation was rich and lively. Some people who came obviously had no need to cut corners, but they had no pretenses and enjoyed the celebration of frugality anyway. Everyone had a blast, and always wanted to know where and when the next austerity party was going to be held. I remember once that it was someone's birthday, and when a friend had asked what she wanted as a gift, she had answered. But the gift giver wasn't sure whether she'd said she wanted some "Plato," or some "Play-Doh." She was intellectual enough to read Plato, but also creative enough that she might really have wanted Play-Doh. So she got to unwrap a slim used volume of Plato, and homemade batches of Play-Doh in several colors. Everyone roared with laughter, and to be honest, I can't remember which gift was the one she had really wanted.

I've been thinking back over those austerity parties in recent times. I wonder if the magic of them was that most of us really were living on tiny budgets, but determined to enjoy life anyway. Instead of trying to hide the fact that we were poor, we decided to embrace it and have fun with other people in the same situation, or with those who were willing to meet us at the economic level we could afford. I'm really grateful that I fell in with such a crowd at that age. If I had socialized with people who prioritized appearances and the display of whatever wealth they had, I might have ended up with a good deal of debt early in life. I deeply admired these people and their ability to have fun doing something so outrageous as celebrating their own poverty. Of course, this was strictly financial poverty, not an intellectual or cultural impoverishment. It seemed terribly sophisticated and counter-cultural to me at the time. I found such a lifestyle and an attitude quite novel, but worth imitating.

I suppose I've been thinking back on those austerity parties lately because of the economic situation we are in at a national and even global level. Perhaps such a defiant celebration in the face of recession and growing poverty has something to offer us now. It is difficult to be optimistic when the news seems so unrelentingly bad. But communal festivity is good for the spirit. There is comfort in the company of others who are in the same situation, in seeing them unbowed and celebrating. If frugality is the new black, then perhaps the austerity party should be revived.

What dish would you bring to an austerity party potluck? Would you dress up as a hobo? What would make it a fun evening for you and your family?

14 comments:

Laryssa Herbert said...

That sounds like a lot of fun!

Annette said...

It does sound like alot of fun. What I would bring would depend on what is coming out of the garden. Right now it would be a salad of regular lettuce, lambsquarters, dandelion, plantain, with some lavendar petals thrown in for color and sunflower seeds with oil & vinegar dressing. As for attire, that would be my favorite blue jeans with the ratty cuffs or a skirt and t-shirt. We will have to host one of these soon!

Margaret said...

This definitely sounds like a fun party. I would make pasta with marinara if I had ripe tomatoes in the garden but any other time of year, probably a casserole of some type. Some bottles of my homemade wines and jeans or shorts and a t-shirt would be my most comfortable clothing choice.

Pat aka Posh said...

What a neat idea.. I'd probably bring what we like to call Hunter Stew.. named that because we hunt through the pantry and garden for what ever we can find.. toss it in a pot and make stew/soup with it.
I'd be wearing my old old jean shorts and teeshirt.

MystikMomma said...

Enjoyed the post! The idea of getting people together for good home cooked food, lively conversation is always a great idea! I would bring a dessert to start and then work my way to a macaroni salad, potato salad and then possibly a meat type dish. I would be dressed comfy!

Jenn said...

I love this idea, and would probably bring a spicy couscous dish with beans and lots of veggies, and I would definitely dress up.

I also like the idea of a "stone soup party" - everyone brings one ingredient for a soup dish and it all gets put together in one place. It's a bit more limited than a potluck, but lots of fun as well.

Jan Hatchett said...

I would say that I am not likely to dress any more like a hobo that what I usually do!

For potluck, I would likely bring a bowl of roasted herb potatoes. They are always a hit, filling and economical.

Love the idea. I really need to throw one of these soon!

rainbowsanddaydreams said...

Being young and having just bought a house, I am loving the potluck. We had a potluck for our house warming last weekend and we made a big pot of chicken soup, home made dinner rolls and a paella. They were all nice and cheap but satisfying- and the paella always looks downright sexy, people always think you've gone to great effort and expense.

Wendy said...

I almost always bring quiche or bread to potluck, because eggs are free (thank you, chickens ;), and I buy flour in bulk.

But now that I know a little more, it would be fun to bring something like Jerusalem artichokes, which became known as "poverty" food :).

I always dress in jeans and tee-shirts, and my birk sandals are my only shoes.

Green Bean said...

I'd bring whatever local fruit is at the peak of its season. I wouldn't dress like a hobo because, well, I think these kinds of parties are the best - regardless of economic situation.

JEM said...

Love the idea. It's really how I was raised. People getting together just because. Bring whatever you have and let's just enjoy the company. The focus is then on the people and the good times, instead of the expensive food. And the food was always WAY better than the expensive BBQ's I've been to lately. Thanks for the reminder!

Kimmie said...

I would make my delish veg curry and I would dress up wearing vintage chic.

http://theserendipitycafe.blogspot.com/2009/06/kimmies-delish-vegetable-curry.html

I really enjoy your blog - tis just fabulous!

Diane said...

I have no work coming in (and haven't for a while) and find I have completely reverted to my happy bo-ho poor student days of the late 90's. I am having way more dinner parties (overstatement to call them parties, really), because I'm not going out any more really. I mean, I never went out much, and I love to cook, but it was always easier to meet people for drinks and dinner out before a movie, play, etc. N ow I am hosting those things at home, or my friends are - and it sounds just like what you describe. It's convivial, cheap, relaxed, and open-ended. Last one I went to I brought an apricot/apple gallette with apricots from my neighbor's garden, and apples on a screaming sale. It was practically free, but very tasty.

Joyful said...

It's so wonderful to receive gifts like the kind you have in mind. I wish I knew you in person :-). BTW, in reading your list, I've got an idea for what to do with my lemon balm besides using it in tea or cooking.