Wednesday, 6 July 2011

A glimpse of how extreme poverty can affect me.

by Eilleen

Me and my children

Hello everyone,

I hope you are all having a good week. Readers of my personal blog would know that a couple of months ago, I went on a week-long $2 a day challenge for Live Below the Line. During that week, I was not allowed to live on existing items in my pantry/fridge, nor was I allowed to accept freebies or others offers of meals. Instead, I was to live on $2 a day for all my food and drink. (The reason for why $2, is in this post.)

Having only $2 a day for my food and drink gave me a very small inkling on what it is like to be in extreme poverty. I found the challenge difficult and I posted in my personal blog what I learned and I thought I'd share it here:
When stressed and under pressure, I made bad nutritional choices. This tells me that I am not immune to media/advertising that tell me that non-nutritious food is "fun" and offered an "escape" from the stress. I never realised that I could succumb to emotional eating but there you go.
As a result of my bad nutritional choices, I felt soooo tired all the time. Littlest things like getting dinner done, getting to work in time, organising my children's everyday school needs became an effort.

That despite my bad nutritional choices, there was no joy in my eating during those 5 days. It was a very strange combination of being hungry but not looking forward to eating. Food was just a means to stop hunger pangs. I certainly did not want to eat more of the same!

Without joy in my eating, and without the ability to eat what everyone around me ate, I felt isolated. I was surrounded by friends and family and I ate my own food while they ate theirs...and I felt disconnected. This highlighted for me the importance of the little things we do together to connect and without it, one's entire world becomes different.

I also realised during my $2 a day week, that if this was for real, I probably can not consume according to my values... and that my values would drastically change. And if my values would drastically change, then I would make choices using a value system that would be completely foreign to the way I am now.

And I guess this highlights for me how vastly poverty can affect a person. I wonder, if I was living on the poverty line, would I be emotionally and physically capable to get my kids to school regularly? Would I be able get a job? Would I be able to function and make choices in a way that is socially acceptable? Would I still be "me"? And I suspect that the answer to all of this would be "no". I probably would not.

The more I think of my experience and my constant efforts to live more simply, I realise that living simply is one way that can help prevent one's slide to extreme poverty. If I ever lose my main source of income, I am able to gain some precious time to try to recover because:

1. I do not live above my means. I have a comparably modest mortgage and I do not have a lot of stuff that requires a lot of maintenance. I also make extra payments against my mortgage - not only to pay the debt off faster but also it is an insurance that I can draw on if my circumstances change drastically.

2. I have the skills that already help me how to live frugally. I know how to cook, look after and repair most things. Gone are the days when I had a "disposable" mentality (when I devalued my stuff because I can just buy another).

3. I also now have a vast network of friends who can help me and I am slowly overcoming my reluctance to ask for help. This is actually a big one. I have realised that asking for help is part of being in a community. I love helping others and I need to give others that gift by asking them to help me. By practising how to ask for help for little things, then I am more capable to ask for help for big things if my circumstances change (and sometimes by asking for help on little things, one can prevent having to ask for help for bigger things).

Through the Live Below the Line Challenge, I now know that what is at stake is not only my way of life but also my values and my children's future. This reinforces to me the importance of living simply, frugally and consuming ethically.

I wish you all well.

P.S. Joyful asked in the comments below if my children joined me in this challenge. The answer is, no they did not. They wanted to, but I did not let them. My children watched me eat my food while they ate theirs and we talked a lot about poverty during meal times that week! My daughter wrote a speech (for a competition) on what she learned during that week and I shared it in my personal blog. For those interested, this is the link to her speech:

Tuesday, 5 July 2011


by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin.

Being resilient is about being able to withstand a shock to the normal way of life.  Recently there has been a shock in the form of the Global Financial Crisis and the ongoing economic crisis, however I believe that these are tame compared to what is about to come in the next decade.

For me, two big issues come immediately to mind.  Climate Change and Peak Oil.
Me being a concerned citizen at a climate change rally
You have probably heard a lot about the concept of Climate Change, and we are already feeling the effects of extreme weather events all around the world.  Doesn't it seem strange that we are getting more and more '1 in 100 year events' closer together and they are becoming more like 1 in 10 year events?  Not strange, but normal according the climatologists.  Climate change means more extreme weather, not just getting a bit warmer. Of course the climate changes over time and has many times before in Earth's history, but not in a matter of decades as we are now seeing, we are talking hundreds of centuries for these events to occur naturally. You can't take millions of years of trapped sunshine in the form of fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and oil and release it in to the biosphere in the space of fifty years or so without some repercussions.
Attempting to spread the word in our local newspaper about Peak Oil.
This leads me to the other big issue.  Peak Oil is a term that many might not be familiar with. Don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security. There was a time when Climate Change suffered the same lack of media coverage.

Peak Oil is not about “running out of oil” – we'll never run out of oil. There will always be oil left in the ground because either it's too hard to reach or it takes too much energy and cost to extract. Ponder on a fact that the economists conveniently gloss over – regardless of how much money you can make selling oil, once it takes an oil barrel's worth of energy and cost to extract a barrel of oil, the exploration, the drilling and the pumping will grind to a halt.

Peak Oil is about the end of cheap and plentiful oil, the recognition that the ever increasing volumes of oil being pumped into our economies will peak and then inexorably decline. It’s about understanding how our industrial way of life is absolutely dependent on this ever-increasing supply of cheap oil.  To learn more about Peak Oil please read a this previous post of mine titled "We Are Oil Junkies".

So why did I start out talking about local community resilience?  Well the two big issues have a lot to do about community resilience, because when these two effects start to bite hard, the outside inputs that supply our towns, cities and countries will begin to slow down, and we have to depend upon each and our local communities more and more just to get by.  This is why the Transition Town movement are going a long way to solving this problem of resilience.

Let me pose this question.  Do you know your neighbours, or at least 10 others in your community?  If you don't it might be a good idea to reach out to others where you live, because soon enough we are going to need each other more than over.

Local resilience begins when like minded people actually care and look out for each other.  People work better in communities, and have done so throughout all of history.  So join a local club to build that community spirit and start to talk about the two big issues that I have articulated in this post.  We have the power to change the way we do things, before the change gets forced upon us!

“Because the best protection isn't owning 30 guns; it's having 30 people who care about you. Since those 30 have other people who care about them, you actually have 300 people who are looking out for each other, including you. The second best protection isn't a big stash of stuff others want to steal; it's sharing what you have and owning little of value.”

- Charles Hugh Smith

How are you building resilience into you family and community?

Monday, 4 July 2011

Weddings and Frugality

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Recently I was invited to a friend's wedding. When I make that statement it sounds simple enough, only as details of the wedding & pre-wedding showers emerged, it became incredibly complicated.

The Wedding

Takes place on a weekday = a day off of work (unpaid)
Reception takes place 2.5 hours north of the Church in a very rural area = renting a car and possibly an overnight stay (it is assumed guests will book rooms as the hotel is so rural and there are events the next day).
A new outfit because I have nothing to wear having just moved overseas

Shower One
In a rural location, absolutely no public transport there. On a Sunday which means renting a car for the day
Required to give $50, which they will use to buy things
Everyone attending will also need to pay towards the costs of the shower

Shower Two
On a weekday afternoon which means taking a day off work unpaid
All guest (even if you already attended the other shower) are required to give $50 towards the honeymoon
There will be a charge for activities but it is not known how much yet

Anyone trying, through necessity, choice or circumstance, to live a frugal life will know where I'm going with this... Firstly and perhaps most importantly I want to clarify that it isn't my friend's fault that I would need to rent a car or buy a new outfit, those are because of my circumstances and my circumstances alone. But it is increasingly difficult to attend showers and weddings because of the financial implications and expectations of brides & grooms. At the very least, attending each shower will be almost $100 per event, and I was specifically asked to attend both. On top of that it was made clear that the shower gifts do not replace the wedding gift. This week, before I purchased what I planned to give to the couple, I asked if there was a registry for the wedding, I was told everyone invited was asked to give money because they already own 10 homes, already live together and don't need anything, so they want to use the money to splurge. What's more the wedding coincides with my friend's 30th Birthday, so there will be a separate party so that the Birthday isn't over looked. I didn't ask if I'd be asked to contribute financially to that too, because my then I was already doing the math in my head ;)

Doing my sums and taking all the costs out which are because of my individual circumstances (renting a car, time off work unpaid, a new outfit etc), attending the wedding and two showers & paying the minimum suggested for gifts, the total comes to $455, the suggested contribution towards gifts alone is $175.

When I first found out all the facts, I was a tad disgruntled about it all, many people commented on my blog & emailed in outrage that a bridge & groom could expect their guests to contribute so much. There were an array of similar stories and others shared they to have had to send regrets to events because expectations were too high in their particular season of life.

I wish my friends well, marriage is a gift and I hope they have truly found their life mate. For a while I felt incredible guilt about not being able to be there on their special day, but the more I put into practice the skills and thought process' this simple, green & frugal life has taught me, the more honest I was able to be with myself. Right now it simply isn't possible. And there's no guilt with that!

I'd love to hear from you. Do you think it is OK to charge attendance for showers? Is it OK to request monetary gifts in specific amounts? Have you ever had to say no to a wedding or shower because of the financial implications?

Sunday, 3 July 2011

How stocked is your store cupboard?

By Aurora @ Island Dreaming

We have been in the process of restocking our store cupboard in recent weeks, in anticipation of my reduced income. For the past year we haven't had a particularly robust store, probably a couple of weeks of mismatched ingredients on hand that we topped up as and when we ran out. This is partly because morning sickness once again put me off all the wholefood staples I normally cook with; and partly because of a few large purchases we needed to make, leaving little money for bulk food shops. In the meantime, food price inflation (and just about everything else inflation) has steadily risen.

We did a shop to end all shops (OK, about 6 months worth of staples) the last time I went on maternity leave. It paid off, 2008 was the year of record food inflation. With hindsight, the 200 tins of cat food was overkill (it certainly was for the poor driver who delivered it to our door; though never before or since has a burly stranger been so admired and adored by our usually skittish cats) but the cupboard full of pulses, grains, frozen veg and tinned tomatoes stood us in very good stead.

There are several reasons that I like to keep several months worth of food on hand:
  • I don't have to shop in supermarkets with any regularity. I hate them, even online shopping is a chore for me. But there are no food Co-ops around here and for bulk shopping in the UK, the big retailers are the only real option for many. 
  • We save on fuel and delivery costs if we do fewer shops.
  • We eat much more healthily when we have a full store cupboard - lots more whole food basics, less impulse purchases at the local shop.
  • We eat much more frugally when we have a full store cupboard - lots more wholefood basics, less impulse purchases at the local shop.
  • It is a lot easier to develop good routines when you always have what you need to hand - bread baking only became routine when we started bulk buying flour, for instance.
  • We can make the best of genuinely good deals on staples - tins of tomatoes and strong bread flour have been recent wins.
  • In an inflationary economic climate, it has saved us money.
  • Knowing I always have food on hand to tide us over any lean patches gives me a sense of security that money in the bank doesn't match.
I know these won't apply to everyone -  for financial reasons some people may choose to build up a store cupboard gradually, whereas we are usually able to put money each month and do it all in one (or two, if we see any particularly good offers) shops every few months before our store is completely exhausted. I know that if I had to rely on public transport or my own two feet I would have to take a more gradual approach. The rest of these points I think remain true however. 

I have seen some passionate debates on forums about food storage and stockpiling - it seems more controversial in the UK than in the US or Australia. I don't understand why as we are the small island that gave the world the phrase '9 meals from anarchy' after the fuel protests of 2000. Some people see storing several months worth of food as alarmist, a symptom of mental illness and even downright immoral. To me it just seems like common sense - a hedge against personal laziness, inflation, unemployment, fuel protests, the wrong kind of snow on the roads or full blown zombie apocalypse.

The food parcel contained some oddities that I wouldn't normally bulk buy - I have about a year's worth of tinned sardines at our present rate of consumption, I haven't eaten corned beef since I was a student and finding a home for 10 bricks of coffee is going to be a challenge in our small kitchen (my hunch is they will end up under the bed), but we are very grateful for the help. We eat well from our pantry, supplemented by fresh produce bought in local shops within walking distance - and hopefully a little more homegrown from the allotment this year.

Personally I think a nation of well stocked cupboards is the way forward in these uncertain times - I would be interested to hear what you think?

Friday, 1 July 2011

Chickpeas below subsistence

by Francesca @ FuoriBorgo

When I wrote about my intention to grow chickpeas in the spring (here), a reader of this blog suggested that instead of buying them from a garden catalog, I simply use chickpeas from the grocery store. Duh! That thought had not crossed my mind at all, even though we've often germinated chickpeas and beans as part of the science experiments with our kids. True, those seedlings never survived, but that was part of the mystery of science - our home-grown science, at any rate.


In the end, I didn't buy chickpeas for planting from a catalog, but I didn't buy them from a grocery store either. I went to a street market with a stall where legumes are sold by weight, in big sacks. There I talked to the stall-keeper, and she assured me that the 2 kilos of chickpeas I was buying were from the last harvest. Those chickpeas seemed especially tasty, and made wonderful soup and great hummus. Some I soaked for several days, and then sowed them in a corner of the garden, as a test. We probably sowed 40-60 chickpeas on that cool day in February.


By mid-May, my chickpea plants, which surprised me with their pretty little oval feathery leaves, were about 30 cm high, and beginning to produce pods.


The cutest pods ever! Small, fluffy, rounded pods, each cradling one or two chickpeas.


I harvested them this week, now that the plants and pods were dry.


The result was a handful of chickpeas.

Because although my chickpea plants were among the plants I cherished and photographed the most, there were only five of them. Five very healthy plants, that thrived in the optimal weather conditions we've been enjoying this year. Alas, only five chickpea out of the 40-60 we planted grew into plants - whatever happened to the others? I guess it's one of the mysteries of gardening ... of our gardening, at any rate!

Have you ever had a crop fail so catastrophically?