Listening to the press coverage of The Cuts today, you’d think we were on the brink of deep poverty. When that idea was put to Marguerite Patten, the War Food writer and home economist, at a talk in Lewes recently, she laughed derisively. As travelling outside Europe recently reminded me, we are extraordinarily well off in this country and few of us are likely to starve. Yet whatever the cause - bankers’ greed or government over-ambition, or simply because resource depletion equals economic decline - we are going to have to learn to live more frugally. It doesn’t help that our leaders and the press all express their great desire to get the economic machine back on track. Or that the collective dream of consumption continues unabated. The inconvenient truth is that small is inevitable. And like the proverbial ants, the ones preparing now will be more resilient and more relaxed.
Our family is still muddling towards frugality. This is the title of a book given to me by my friend Jim. The author, writing 30 years ago, tell us that the roots of the word frugality in Latin are frugalior meaning useful or worthy, and frux, meaning fruitful or productive. Unfortunately over the years the words have come to mean thriftiness and abstention, whereas their full meaning reflects a full and ‘fruitful’ use of all resources.
At this time of year, everything feels fruitful, and with my allotment is giving us fruit and veg for most of our meals. We’ve got a whole lot of greens planted up in the polytunnel which I hope will mean we can eat a salad most days of the year. Best of all, through the winter we’ll continue to harvest solar energy through our solar photovoltaic panels, carefully saved for and installed after a long and challenging planning process. Since they were installed in July, we’ve generated about ¾ of our household needs.We have wood for our burner and are still obsessively draightproofing.
I wonder, though, if frugality will take off. It doesn’t sell stuff. So the media wont sell it, nor will the shops. And it takes a little more time and effort for those too busy to bother and used to a convenience culture.
Yet, a frugal life is not something to be derided as hair-shirt abnegation. With less need to work and more time to play, it’s bloody brilliant! Let’s reclaim this frugality as a very juicy idea.