Wednesdays are kind of loopy in our house with regard to our homeschooling schedule. That’s because the girls have music and sewing lessons on Wednesdays and it breaks up our day.
So this past Wednesday, in lieu of bookwork, I decided to give the kids a practical lesson in an important life skill: canning. Specifically, canning carrots.
Let me back up a minute and explain where we got the carrots, because it wasn’t from our garden.
There is a weekly charitable food giveaway in our small town. We are lucky enough to have money to buy food, so we aren’t called to pick up any donations. However, the giveaway is a tremendous blessing for those in our community who are unemployed or struggling financially.
But sometimes there is food left over after everyone takes what they want, and when that happens the distributors call us. That’s how we got an entire case of baby carrots.
As I told our girls, whenever an abundance of food comes our way, we should try to preserve it for a time when it may not be abundant.
This attitude is shared by the kindly couple who oversees the food distribution … but not necessarily, I’m told, by everyone who receives food. “I won’t bother getting any carrots,” I’ve heard a few recipients say, “because they’ll be here next week.” Then if the carrots aren’t there the next week, they get annoyed.
When I mentioned this to my older daughter, she was indignant. “Maybe a short depression will do them some good,” she snapped. She meant an economic depression.
Maybe it would.
Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t wish an economic depression on my worst enemy. I’ve heard and read enough about the hardships endured by ordinary folks during the 1930s to want that. I follow the current news stories about people losing their jobs, life savings, homes and possessions, and my heart breaks for those who are struggling. Believe me, I don’t take my daughter’s comment flippantly.
But maybe, in a small way, she’s right. Sometimes it strikes me that we need a rude wake-up call in this country. We’re so used to abundance that we cannot conceive of its absence. Our family does not need more carrots – we already have 25 quarts canned up, thanks to the generosity of the grocery stores who donate to this food drive. But the day may come when our neighbors need a few quarts, and then we’ll have enough to share.
So my girls and I spent the afternoon canning carrots. As I pulled hot jars out of the canner, my older daughter exclaimed, “I like this! It makes me feel happy and safe.” We got 20 quarts out of a grocery store’s generosity and everyone else’s rejects, which is 20 quarts more than we had before. Next week or next month it might be green beans, or mushrooms, or apples, or potatoes, or onions. In this time of abundance, it behooves us to preserve these foods for a time when they’re scarce.
This cycle of the seasons – preserving during times of abundance – is largely lost in our society, when everything is abundant year-round. I’ve lamented before how many basic and critical skills from 5,000 years of civilization have been lost in only two or three generations of easy living. To my way of thinking, that leaves people intensely vulnerable to disruptions.
But what bugs me is the cavalier attitude that even some unemployed people have toward abundance. While they themselves may be temporarily short of money, they know the rest of us won’t let them starve. In fact, it’s expected that we won’t let them starve. That expectation sometimes leads toward flippancy about abundance … meaning they won’t help themselves by canning some carrots when they’re available.
It’s the tragedy of the commons: If it’s free, then it has no value and therefore you don’t preserve it. Who needs to worry about canning carrots? There will be more free carrots next week, won’t there? Somewhere along the way we’ve lost the notion of personal responsibility (“I will can these carrots”) and developed a sense of entitlement (“I won’t bother canning these carrots because there will be more next week”).
It’s not just food. We’ve developed a sense of entitlement toward nearly all the critical elements that used to be our own personal responsibility. If our children’s education is “free,” then we don’t cherish the importance of passing on our knowledge to the next generation. If medical care is “free,” then our health is less valued and we don’t take steps to preserve it.
The reality, of course, is nothing is free. Everything has a cost. “Free” food means you come to depend on it, and work less hard to obtain your own food. (As in, I didn’t bother to plant any of my own carrots this year.) “Free” education means you have no control over what your children learn. (You take what you’re given.) “Free” health care means someone else literally has the power of life and death over you. (“Sorry, you’re too old; no hip replacement for you.”)
Is this progress?
The advantage of growing or buying your own food is you’re far less likely to waste it. You’ll save your leftovers for another meal because you know exactly how much labor or cost went into obtaining those carrots.
The advantage of educating your own children is you know exactly what they’re learning. And the advantage of providing your own health care through private insurance or other means is that you value it for the treasure it is, and work to hold up your end of the bargain (preserving your health).
Right now we still have such an abundance of freedom in this country – of food, of educational opportunities, of health care options – that we cannot conceive of the absence of those freedoms. Therein lies the danger: What’s free isn’t treasured.
So please – please – let’s work to preserve these treasures while we can.
Like the carrots, these freedoms may not be here next week.