Thursday, January 28, 2021

What if?

Here's an interesting question for you all to ponder. 

How do we learn to be frugal? 

I learned from my own mother. She did not drive. We lived out in the middle of no where. My father worked long hours at the steel mill and she had four kids. She knew how to stretch the food dollar. 

The lessons of those days were invaluable to me, first when I was a young mother staying home with my own children, I had a garden. I canned and I cooked from scratch. I learned how to make the most of those food dollars. Later, when I was on my own with three children, it did not feel like a deprivation. We were living like we always had. I remember once when my youngest daughter said, astonished, "Wait! We were poor?!!"

Anyways, one thing that I remember from those days is this: There were two boys the same age as my two oldest who used to hang out at our house. I could generally count on them to be there for supper. I am the queen of soups and casseroles, so it wasn't really a problem. Just put some bread on the table with some jam, and everyone dug in. We rarely had left overs, but nobody went hungry. 

After a week, the mother of the boys called me. She told me that I did not have to feed her boys. I told her it was fine, it wasn't a problem. She said, "I don't know how you make your food stamps last until the end of the month. I can't." 

She was astounded that I did not get food stamps. "I don't know how you do it," she said once again. 

So I told her. I told her about my well used crock pot, about soups, about looking at what was on sale and planning your meals around that, and about the beauty of beans and pasta, how one chicken breast could feed a family once it was rounded out with beans or pasta and lots and lots of vegetables...

She interrupted to say, "No, no, no. I do not cook." 

How does a woman with two boys make that decision? I didn't understand that kind of thinking at all. 

But do you think that her boys grew up to be thrifty people who knew how to live within their means? 

We have a generation of kids who did not learn the lessons that I learned growing up. 

We have a food pantry at our church, and it is full of staples, most of it prepackaged and high in salt and carbohydrates, instant stuff. 

You know how these food kits are so popular nowadays? Blue Apron, Freshly, Dinnerly, etc? They send you the meal ingredients, with recipe cards, and you assemble the meals. People really like these kits. They're also pretty expensive. 

But what if we could come up with these 'kits' for our food pantry folks? There are plenty of economical crockpot meals. What if we started out with a simple minestrone soup. And I sat down with it and broke it all down. We could put together a kit for six meals costing no more than $5.00 a family. Every week we could add a soup, with its recipe card. In the summer, we could switch it over to lighter things. There are plenty of casseroles that can be done in a crockpot. 

I was unprepared for the blowback. "They won't cook." "They will not eat beans." "Too much work." "What if they don't have a crockpot?" Even a comment that I was playing 'lady of the manor' trying to teach the peasants how to make a better life for themselves. 

Now, I've heard that kind of talk coming from conservative people, about how "I work hard so millions of people on welfare don't have to" or people will go on about how they made it on their own (except most of them have had a helping hand on the way up). The assumption that every poor person is poor due to their own poor choices. Anything to point out that the poor don't deserve help. 

I don't get that. 

But I also didn't expect to hear that from people in my own crowd. 

We have a diaper ministry at our church, where people can stop in a couple times a month to pick up extra diapers in an emergency situation. 

"What if we start small?" I said. "Use those folks as a test group. Offer it to them. If someone says they don't have a crock pot, we can pull one out of the closet and give it to them. Try it out for a couple months. Encourage people to tell others, to bring them along. See what happens. I might be dead wrong. It might crash and burn. But what if it doesn't? What if we are teaching people to fish instead of giving them a fish?" 

Remember that cherry tomato my friend had? The plant grew five feet tall. Mary gave me 6 quarts of cherry tomatoes because they was heartily sick of them.  I saved the seeds. What if this summer, I sent people home with a cherry tomato plant that went nuts for them? What if they got the bug to plant small gardens of their own.

What if one thing led to another? What if we had people learning new skills? 

Yes. this idea could crash and burn.

But what if it doesn't?


  1. When I was first married we had a big garden, I canned a few hundred jars of veggies, raised our own potatoes put them in the cellar, ate all winter and than planted the left over ones for the new crop that year. When I had extra garden stuff I would offer it to people and sometimes they took it and others would say just pick it and drop it by my house. If they were able bodied I did not do that. I picked it and gave it to someone that was really trying to make it or and older person. We raised chickens and put them in the freezer. I was a farm girl and married a city boy. He had to learn a lot of things but was ready to do whatever needed to feed us. We had a coal stove(Ohio) so we carried coal, took out ashes. Our kids learned to work and do things over if the first time was a poor job. They are both hard workers now and raise a garden although they do not need to. They hunt and fill the freezer with meat. My daughter makes jelly and cans in the summer. I don't think I knew we were poor as a child and I learned a way of life that has helped me for 76 years.

  2. These are fabulous ideas and I don't understand the resistance to them. Personally, I love soups and casseroles much more than expensive foods like steak. I grew up lower middle class with a teacher dad; we were chronically short of funds at the end of the month, but I like creamed chipped beef on toast and tuna noodle casserole, so I never noticed the lack of meat. My late husband grew up very poor, but on a small farm. Of the three children, he was the only one who ended up good with money; his siblings both went bankrupt. It seems like they felt deprived as children, and had to make up for it as adults, even though they couldn't afford it. I don't know that there are any easy answers-probably both nature and nurture come into play. I hope that your positive and creative problem solving gets a try out; the potential is there to make a difference in many lives. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

  3. I, too, absorbed being frugal from my mother and life circumstances. she grew up on a farm in the early 1900's, horse and buggy days. They had to learn how to "make do". She often "made something out of nothing" and would be true quality items. Seems we've come around to prizing more of that sort of thing today as we think about our environment.

  4. My family were not poor, and I am also not poor, but both my parents and I have always been frugal (sensible), and 'waste' was always a dirty word. I was brought-up with veg' gardens, chickens, orchards, etc; and still live the same way today. I cook all our meals from scratch, and never buy 'ready meals'. What I can never understand is why those who claim to be poverty stricken are always the ones who eat at McDonalds, buy frozen pizzas, and go through the supermarket checkout with piles of boxed 'ready meals'. The world is upside-down.

  5. I would not describe us as frugal but most of our meals are cooked from fresh ingredients from scratch or close to scratch and it is rare for us to throw leftovers out. They are often my lunch. But if I had to cook, things would be a bit different as I haven't really cooked for decades.
    I think your idea has merit and there must certainly be some success if implemented.
    I know your food is cheaper than ours but can you clarify the figures please. A kit for six meals would only cost $5 or $5 per meal for a whole family?

  6. Small seeds down can grow big...
    I was brought up to make do and mend, to grow and cook and preserve not to buy...
    Thankyou grandmother ❤️

  7. We use to rent allotments when we lived in England and now we have a veg plot of our own here in Ireland. Cheap food stores like Iceland and Lidl make food very inexpensive. Fast food places like McDonald's are incredibly cheap too if you buy a simple burger for one Euros. We make lot of our own meals too. I think rents, property prices and mortgages and getting a foot on the ladder are very problem for a lot of people in Europe.

  8. I would agree with you, Northsider. Our minimum wage here is $7.25. It has been for many, many years. That is $290. a week. When you consider that rents for the slummiest places are $400 or so, not including utilities. Assume you are a single parent with one child. Add the price of childcare into that, which is going to run you, minimally, $75 a week. How do you feed and clothe and keep the power on for that. I haven't even touched the the expenses of car ownership. That is why you see so many people pushing small childred in strollers along with their groceries.

    It is an untenable situation, and here, at least, victim blaming is rampant.

    Now I will agree with you, Cro. You do see people making some pretty awful choices. People who cannot afford cigarettes spend $8.37 a pack to buy them, for instance. Fast food is another bad choice. Cell phones have always interested me. People see them as a necessity. I see them as a luxury. There is that. Where does it come from? I don't know. I think that a lot of it is just hopelessness. My choices were not always good ones. I smoked back in the day myself. Andrew, that would be for a family. My initial pitch was for a pot of minestrone soup. We would have the bags of celery, onion chopped and placed in a bag with the seasonings, a chicken breast, chopped in another bag. the pasta, and the dry beans. The recipe card would provide the directions: put the chopped chicken breast into your crock pot with 4 cups of water, allow to simmer on medium over night (to make the broth). In the morning, add the beans and the contents of bag 2 (which is the vegetables and seasonings). Allow to simmer all day. Add the pasta 45 minutes before serving. Serve with sliced bread. On the back side of the card would be the actual recipe in case they wanted to duplicate it on their own.

    Andrew, breaking down the figures, you can buy a package of chicken breasts for $6.00 (four breasts), a package of celery for $1.50, a bag of carrots for $1., pasta for $1 a box, beans for $2. If you are making four meals from that, you could throw in a loaf of Italian bread from Walmart for each meal sent out. Our cost to feed a family would be no more than $5. for that meal.

  9. I think this is a wonderful idea! I agree with the others, it's a seed to plant. I believe that even though we were raised a certain way, if we want to learn to do differently and are offered a way to learn, some will take the offer and run with it. There is no harm in trying, and there is a reason that the idea has come to you! Now you've got us all wondering and perhaps the idea will spread! Good on you for sharing it with us!

  10. I hope you can accomplish some of what you want to. People will have to be led and taught and shown how pleasurable it can be.

  11. with my first visit i loved your blog thoroughly
    actually i was reading Red"s blog when i read your comment where you mentioned about your precious son who got positive with virus ,that was sad and i wanted to drop my heartfelt best wishes for him wishing him speedy recovery,amen!

  12. When I was working full time, one of my colleagues was a volunteer at our local food bank. I asked her what sort of things I should donate and she told me that quite a lot of their clients didn't even have cooking facilities. Many of them were on state benefits and living in just one rented room with perhaps a kettle and, if they were lucky, access to a shared microwave. She said that they were really short of the sort of instant, ready to eat meals that these people needed.
    I was quite shocked, but I bought a box full of instant noodles, meals in a tin and other suchlike once a month to donate.

  13. I'm 76 years old. My mother had gone through the depression and told many stories about those times, although she and my dad both said they had always been poor, so the Depression didn't make much difference to them, although the droughts of that time affected how much food they could raise. One winter after a dry summer Mother said the people they hoth worked for (farmers) gave them some potatoes that had frozen. If you cook frozen potatoes without letting them thaw, Mother told me, they are just fine. So she boiled them and canned them, and they had some potatoes to eat. The same folks gave them some corn-field beans; that's just green beans planted in a corn field so the vines use cornstalks for support. The beans were past the "green-bean" stage. They hulled them for dry beans. Till her dying day, if my mom found mold on cheese or a jar of jelly, she'd just take the mold off and use it. She hated to see food wasted, and I do too. One reason I like having a couple of chickens around is that I can toss them the odd heel of bread or the last bit of milk that spoiled... no waste.

  14. To answer your initial question, I don't think frugality can be taught, it can only be lived. My grandparents were all born during the Great Depression years and lived through the shortages during World War II. My parents lived through the gas crisis and the farm crisis. Because I remember those years vividly, I am a fairly frugal person. Most of my peers didn't grow up on farms and so didn't experience those years of having nothing but what we created or raised. Their idea of frugal is saving half their meal from the restaurant and taking it home to feed the dog instead of leaving it behind on the plate. We are worlds apart.

    I have a neighbor who is in charge of our local foodbank and the whole process disgusts me. I see piles and piles of hamburger helper or macaroni and cheese but rarely anything in the form of nutrition. I would whole heartedly agree that it is more important to teach someone to fish than to give them a fish.

    I see lots of people who are poor by choice. They have figured out that by not working, they have access to food, money, healthcare and essentials to eke out a life as long as their standards aren't very high. I also know many who are poor not by choice but by circumstances. My mom was one of those and I vividly remember her choice to go without food just so my brother and I could attend school on full bellies. For me the question is how should we as a society deal with both of these groups in a way that benefits both? How do we help those who are truly in need but want to better their situation without enabling those who are willing to live life without attempting to better their situation? There isn't a really easy answer short of taking it out of the hands of the government and putting it into the hands of an organization that can see cases individually and apply reasoned judgement rather than a one size fits all methodology of our government. I'm not optimistic that will ever happen either because I believe giving lots of money to an entity to help others only guarantees that people within that entity will get rich through being corrupt. There are precious few organizations that have shown they can buck this trend.

    Anyway, a good post and a lot of food for thought.

  15. I think you're definitely on the right track. There's nothing wrong with trying a pilot program and seeing how well it works. I think sometimes people who have a "system" just don't want to change it -- because change is disruptive and takes getting used to.

    Having said that, I'm sure there are people who won't want to cook, even in a crock pot. A lot of people just never learned the skills.

    My mom was a good cook (though hardly a gourmet) and if there's one thing I learned from her, it's to not waste anything. We NEVER throw food out. I'm amazed when I see our upstairs neighbor's waste food caddy on recycling days. It's always full and it weighs a ton. Ours usually has a little biodegradable baggie or two in it, with chicken bones and lemon rinds!

    1. Good heavens, Steve! Have you never heard of bone broth? Lol.

  16. Cooking from scratch, growing your own are ways of knowing exactly what you are eating. My mum came from India on a trip ship to the UK with my father in 1947. She had to learn quickly how to shop, cook and look after a house. She had servants in Jhansi! She was an incredible woman who rode to the challenge.

  17. So much I could say here. What I think you should do, if the ministry you work with won’t go along with your plan, is to find one that will or start your own. It makes SO MUCH SENSE!

  18. No. The ministry itself is open to trying it out on a trial basis. It was even met with cautious enthusiasm. Where the negativity came from is from friends. I was surprised to hear people that I interact with reverting to 'they' and 'them'. The tired old stereotypes that allow people to believe that there are those who do not deserve assistance.

  19. Oh ok, sorry I misunderstood. And I’m sooo tired of the Us vs Them crowd. We must proceed as we feel called and let them believe what they will. Thanks for clarifying.

  20. I was raised by depression era parents who taught me to start from scratch. I taught my daughters, and they learned well. One daughter inherited a pear tree with her first house and her children thought pear sauce was an American staple. I raised four of my grandchildren, too. I don't know if they took the lesson. It's more "cool" to be like their friends.

  21. Well speaking, my first mother-in-law came from a fairly rich family but because she had lived through the wars was always thrifty with food. Leftovers went into the soup, cold meats would turn green with age unless we eat them quickly. When we went to the restaurant, the 'doggy bag' was duly produced and the dog hardly got anything!
    I think going back to casseroles may not necessarily be accepted. We now have shops full of food that is nutritionally poor and until education in nutrition in school is taught things will not change.

  22. If I bake a whole chicken and pick it off the bone I than boil the carcuss and make broth. It will freeze until I need it. a big pot of noodles cost so little. Flour, eggs and a little water if needed.

  23. I did Food Ministry Faith Based Work for over 20 Years. It was very much needed, but so was a lot of educating people about how to stretch their food dollars and how to prepare the most nutritious foods for their Families. It was not unusual to hand out a food box with something in it they'd never had before and have food challenged Families tell us that their Family would not eat 'that', because it was something unfamiliar, yet nutritious. Perhaps it was 7 Grain Bread a Gourmet Grocer had Donated, yet they'd only ever eaten White Bread... so actually it was MORE nutritious than what they'd become used to. I think Educating people does indeed serve them better since where ever you place dependency, ultimately controls you. So Independence is always a better option for everyone capable of being less dependent upon anyone else... especially for the basic necessities of Life. I think your Idea is brilliant.

  24. An exciting new ministry. Here's praying that it works for many. Good on you!

  25. This sounds like a wonderful idea, and I think with kindly encouragement and the loan of a crockpot and someone trying to make it easy, this could easily take off. A lot of people are secretly a bit scared of trying to cook because they haven't really tried and maybe their family lived on nothing but takeouts or processed food too. Let us know how it goes!


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