Here at Rancho del Broke-Ass, people found themselves wide awake before the sun rose. This is because our adorable toddler, Two Lumps of Sugar, was wide awake before the sun rose. And when Two Lumps of Sugar is wide awake at any juncture of the sun’s trajectory around this crazy world of ours: cocka-doodle-doo.
So, while the hour was nigh 7:30am, Broke-Ass had made a batch of granola for the week, restocked her witchy herbal pharmacy, read an awesome e-mail from her queen-of-the-world agent, was letting the bread dough rise, was halfway through knitting a scarf for a friend’s birthday present, and was on her fifth cup of bodega espresso, when she began to think about dinner. And that made her think about you lovelies and the whole business of the Broke-Ass cooking philosophy.
So today, among other things, this crisp October morning finds us pulling into the station of Part Deux of the Basics of Broke-Ass Living: growing shit yourself.
To review, if you want to eat like you used to when you were a yuppie even though you now qualify for foodstamps, the Broke-Ass view is: a) stock your pantry strategically; b) grow (or raise) as much of the stuff that you’d have bought back when you were a Rich-Ass Altruist; and c) if it can be made by a person–at home, in your kitchen–don’t buy it. There is no reason that you cannot be that person. Peasants in 5th Century Italy did it, and their kitchen was a fireplace overrun by rats. Broke-Ass will show you how because she loves you. But not now–next time. Right now, let’s talk about growing shit.
Everyone can grow shit themselves. Everyone. Believe me, Broke-Ass hears you when you say that you’re sick of hearing about kids who just graduated from art school or architecture school about manning their self-righteous food-coops with heirloom everything; looking down on everyone who doesn’t raise bees on their rooftops in Williamsburg or Greenpoint. Fuck them. You don’t need to have white-kid dredlocks, a degree from Bennington, or even have any more than a passing interest in limiting your carbon footprint to raise your own crap. You just need to be hungry. Just ask most of the world.
Of course, there is the question of where to put everything. Broke-Ass is, admittedly, lucky. Her little house in the ghetto has a yard ample enough to grow a shitload of stuff: beets, kale, chard, squash, green beans, apples, pears, every herb you can think of and some she didn’t know about until she said, “Why the hell not?” You get the picture. Over the summer and fall, Broke-Ass feeds her schmushkies from this garden exclusively–no store-bought fruits or veggies. Next year, she’s going to plant a whole crapload of sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, butternut squash, and other stuff that she can hoard away in a make-shift root cellar in her basement to eat during winter.
But even if you live in a shoe-box in Canarsie with no terrace, you have access to soil, sunlight, and water, which are plants’ only needs. If you have a lot of sunlight, you can grow a box of herbs; if you have shade, you can grow chard, kale, and other shade-preferring veggies. There is something you can grow, and that something will save you money and give you something good to eat.
Believe Broke-Ass when she tells you, babydolls: This is totally not hard. It only sounds hard. Once you get all the crap in the ground, all you have to do is water it and pick it. That’s it. It saves not just money but time you’d have spent suffering the exquisite tortures of supermarket lines with exhausted children–buying stuff that you and they might not think was so tasty and cool anyway.
But there’s another thing about growing your own stuff that Broke-Ass feels a little sheepish about mentioning because it sounds a little soap-boxy for her taste but feels equally compelled to mention because it is rather important. And that is this: when you have no money, it is more vital than ever to do whatever you must to keep some dignity about you. There is no greater demoralizer than poverty. It makes people feel like shit about themselves, and that breeds all kinds of badness–which is especially bad for children. No need for Broke-Ass to catalog more here.
The point is that, in Broke-Ass’ experience, a little self-sufficiency does wonders for the whole mood and world-view of the family ecosystem. Simply, children see that tough circumstances don’t break you. Things can change–money can come and go–but a little grit can keep life on the level and open up new ways of doing things. Which taste good and are fun. Broke-Ass always hears in her kooky head one of the last lines in One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish: “Have you tried these things? Well, you should./These things are fun, and fun is good.” Fun is good. Providing for your family is good. If these things can be intertwined, it is awesome.
It makes Broke-Ass wonder about Mayor Bloomberg and his effort to keep people on foodstamps from buying sugary drinks for their kids. In Broke-Ass’ view, this measure is not dignifying. At all. It sucks to be on foodstamps. The whole process, from applying to using the card with the cashier giving you that look, is totally fucking humiliating. It makes people feel like shit about themselves, even as they are dependent on the help. A crap situation.
Broke-Ass lives around the corner from the largest public housing complex in Brooklyn, and often wonders whenever she walks through the grounds: How come people can’t use all this unused land–which is a repository for scrappy-ass grass and trash–for planting stuff? There’s a lot of growing space, and Broke-Ass feels pretty sure that someone might want to use it.
What about giving everybody a plot, and let them decide what to do? Those who don’t feel like growing anything on theirs could “lease” it to people who do. Or what about having a rotating system–something? Broke-Ass knows a ton of people who grew up in the islands who live in that complex, and they grew up planting their own stuff. They’d be psyched for a little plot. You just have to keep the teenagers from messing with it. So, what else is new? This is Brooklyn.
Personal dignity via nourishing family can help move people out of the nose-bleed seats on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to a spot that’s a little more comfortable. And when people feel comfortable, they don’t freak out as much. Anyways, just a thought.
Tonight, Broke-Ass is making dinner for the awesome neighbors who grew up in the boondocks of West Virginia and taught her how to make “Freezer Soup.” She’ll use the rest of this year’s tomatoes and peppers in a big old pot of pork shoulder. It’ll be fun. And fun is good.