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The Great Depression. What do you think of when you hear that phrase? I recently started watching documentaries on it, and I’m fascinated in a shocked and horrified way. It’s just so familiar. Land prices skyrocketing. Debt increasing at an alarming rate. Politicians and media working together to waltz around a terrifying economic situation. Unemployment on the rise. Disgruntled veterans and workers demanding promised bonuses. Tent cities forming. Government aid stretched thin. Unemployment nearing record highs.

At the height of the Great Depression, the US population was nearly at 123 million citizens. It is estimated that 7-12 million died from starvation. That’s 5-10% of the population. What would it be like in our time, with 313 million legal citizens and an estimated 12 million illegals?  The United States produced more than 75 million tons of food in 2012, including meat, dairy and crops. Even so, we imported approximately 15% of our food based on volume. During the Dust Bowl and Depression, our imports went up to 46%.  Could we possibly grow and import enough food to feed 325 million people when the world population is now over 7 billion, with an estimated 925 million of that number already in starvation? We’re doing okay now, but if we were to experience another drought of that magnitude or greater, how would it effect our already fragile system?

Before the Great Depression, people refused to go on government welfare except as a last resort. The newspapers published the names of all those who received welfare payments, and people thought of welfare as a disgrace. However, in the face of starving families at home, some men signed up for welfare payments. For most it was a very painful experience. I found estimates that only as much as 10% of the population was on any form of government assistance as of 1930. Compare that to today, where the government and main stream media have not just made it acceptable to be on the dole, but they have promoted it to the point where an estimated 47-52% of people are now on some form of assistance.

During the days of the Great Depression, it was much more common for families to own and operate small farms. I haven’t been able to lock down a specific percentage of people who lived on farms during the 30’s, but from everything I have read and watched, it seems like many more people grew their own gardens and cared for their own livestock, even if only a few chickens for eggs. Nowadays, it is illegal to own animals bred for meat or eggs inside most city limits. In fact, even in the countryside, many counties and municipalities have enacted laws that prohibit livestock and the growing of edible gardens. Homeowners Associations and town councils have banded together to create an atmosphere that is vastly different than what our predecessors faced in the Depression. Growing our own food is frowned upon. It’s illegal to sell raw milk in 19 states. It’s illegal to sell eggs off of your farm premises in most states. It’s even illegal to own heritage hogs in Michigan thanks to recent DNR idiocy.

There are also more people today who don’t know how to cook. With the abundance of pre-processed foods available on the market, even baking a potato is becoming a lost art. When I was first teaching myself how to can foods, I couldn’t find one person other than my mother who had any personal experience to share. Even now, I only know a handful of women who know how to can, and most of them do it as a hobby instead of as a necessity. Among the women I have been acquainted with since becoming married, I would estimate that more than half have never cooked a meal from scratch. (And I don’t mean boxed mac n cheese and hot dogs from a package when I say from scratch.) I’ve experimented before, asking neighbors to borrow common cooking ingredients, like flour, sugar, vinegar, salt, lard/shortening, eggs, etc. What I found is that a majority of neighbors in the city don’t keep those types of supplies on hand, even in small amounts. I was laughed at once when inquiring about vinegar. “What can you make with vinegar?” was their mocking question, followed quickly by, “You mean you COOK with it? I thought it was just for cleaning!”

Our people can’t feed themselves. They don’t feel a need to avoid welfare due to embarrassment. They don’t keep more than a few days worth of food (if that) on hand. Even when they get free food through government or private assistance, they choose pre-processed junk over healthy food. Our government no longer keeps stockpiles of staples on hand just in case – it has instead adopted the modern merchant viewpoint of keeping 1-3 days worth of goods on hand. We don’t know how to garden. We don’t know where our food comes from or how it’s made, and we don’t care.

I’m no doomsdayer, but I can read the writing on the wall. Our economic situation is perilous, much more so than it was in the 20’s. We have a much greater population depending on the same amount and quality of land and crops that we depended on nearly a century ago, but our infrastructure has changed to the point where we aren’t as self-sufficient as we could be. We are in much greater debt than anyone then could have ever imagined. Add to that the fact that the rest of the world is also feeling the modern pinch.

Do you really feel secure in the fact that you will be able to feed, cloth, shelter, and keep warm yourself and your family for the foreseeable future? Are you sure that you will be able to afford your high mortgage, car payments, heat bill, groceries, and associated lifestyle costs when our economy follows in the footsteps of so many other worldwide failures?

Now is the time to learn how to garden. Now is the time to learn how to cook. Now is the time to pay off debts and become more self-sufficient. Get a few weeks to a year worth of food and savings stashed away. Learn new skills to keep you in work just in case your profession moves along without you or becomes obsolete. Learn from the past, and you won’t be doomed to repeat it.

Unfortunately, this message is going to be viewed as ludicrous by many. It’s difficult to think of hard times when we have been so prosperous and lucky these past few generations. It’s scary to look back at the Depression of the 30’s and see entire families starving, millions losing their homes and farms to foreclosure, and entire families out working manual labor jobs for a pittance or hopping rail cars in a futile attempt to find work in far off cities. It’s terrible to imagine that we could face such a drastic lifestyle change from these days of plenty.

Maybe I am crazy by today’s pop culture definition. But at least I know that even if hard times are kept at bay, my family was able to live safe, secure, and stuffed full of home grown, home cooked food. Like my mom is fond of saying – better to be safe than sorry. I don’t want to be like the families who ate stray dogs and dandelions just to survive a strenuous decade. It’s happened before. It could happen again. If it does, I’d rather eat just as I do now, perhaps even better.

(Oh, I can’t wait to have gardens and livestock again! This summer can’t possibly come fast enough for me!)

January 2013

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