Monday, 26 March 2018

Weekly Column: Beware the nonchalant extravagance

Beware the Nonchalant Extravagance

“There are very few men and women, I suspect, who cooked and marketed their way through the past war without losing forever some of the nonchalant extravagance of the Twenties. They will feel, until their final days on earth, a kind of culinary caution: butter, no matter how unlimited, is a precious substance not lightly to be wasted; meats, too, and eggs, and all the far-brought spices of the world, take on a new significance, having once been so rare. And that is good, for there can be no more shameful carelessness than with the food we eat for life itself. When we exist without thought or thanksgiving we are not men, but beasts.” 

The above quote is old, but not outdated. Its author speaks of a post-World War Two era where people that lived on rations and sacrificed more than just their taxes to a common effort felt they could never go back to the free-wheeling life they had known in the 1920s.

This is not to compare the lost jobs and wages of the economic downturn to the losses experienced in war time. But if you or someone you know felt the helplessness of losing your livelihood overnight and the fear of not knowing how you would pay for day to day life, there is a comparison to be made between the lost innocence of the roaring twenties and the lost naivety of our most recent oil boom and bust.

While the quote refers to food and how people felt they could never again take for granted the luxury of butter, meat and eggs, and even spices, look around you now and make note of the luxuries that you’ve allowed yourself lately. Is a stick of butter still a sumptuous treat? Or, after cutting back on spending through an economic nose dive, have we returned to our old ways of getting what we want when we want it?

How much food gets thrown out in your home, without a thought or a care for the waste and expense? How many meals per week do you purchase rather than cook? And when is the last time you made leftovers stretch, despite the groans of the kids and even the adults who want something fresh every night?

It’s not only the food. If you’re ever out and about looking for ways to entertain the family, take a spin through the electronics depot at the Lloydminster landfill. Bin after bin of discarded TVs, computers and other expensive gadgets represent the shame of our consumer culture. In spite of what we’ve learned in the last few years, how much of this waste do we still see as essential? Is it really essential to upgrade to a bigger TV? Just because the phone company “gives” you a new cell phone at the start of a new contract, does it mean you should accept it? How many of these things are being replaced simply because they weren’t properly looked after by their careless owners? In light of such waste, one echoes the quote above: “When we exist without thought or thanksgiving we are not men, but beasts.”

This is the meaning of nonchalant extravagance, folks. Something is coming apart? Rather than glue it, staple it or sew it, the majority of people give it away or throw it out and go buy new. How many teenagers (and adults, for that matter) do you see carrying around phones with cracked screens? In the good old days when your parents gave you something worth $700 you were usually driving it. So it’s hard to relate to a generation that has such little regard for the toil and resources that go into their possessions. Perhaps they are only following the example that’s been set for them.

Look around the city of Lloydminster and it feels like people are spending again. There are new stores, the drive-thrus are busy and it’s hard to turn left against traffic. These are anecdotal indicators of how the economy is doing, of course. But have you considered how the economy’s doing at your house?

If you’ve returned to online shopping on your phone while you’re at the check out in a bricks and mortar store, take a moment to remember how it felt a few years ago when a neighbour had to sell their home, or their truck, or move in with their parents. Because those stories are still real.
It doesn’t hurt to take a little depression mentality with us into the future, after such a dramatic downturn of fortune in 2014. Appreciate what you have without needing more, and better, things as the great generation did.

If it was good enough for them, surely, it’s good enough for us.

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