06 May 2007
Depression era

Frugal meals with my friend Gary

Mr. President,
I remember having a few beers at my good friend Gary's house about 20 years ago.  One particular summer afternoon recently came to mind.  We began the evening like so many other evenings discussing national and global problems hoping for a moment of clarity after a few beers soaked into our brains, when we stumbled upon the topic of the depression era and our parent's stories about how they survived it.

We were hardly rich back then; Gary and I only had a few thousand at-best in the bank between us and we both had significant mortgages on our houses but we were both employed and we liked what were doing.

Both of us came from poor families, and we both had several brothers and sisters. Neither one of us realized we were poor as we were growing up until we reached high school.

We spoke about how our lives were significantly better than what our parents had, and we both felt most Americans take the things they had for granted.  

We were amazed at what our parents had to do to feed and clothe so many kids, and we wondered if we were creative enough, skilled enough, frugal enough to make it if we suddenly had to deal with a depression.

That evening we decided to find out what was the minimum we could spend to make good nutritious meals for four people.

One week we made dinner while my friend Gary and his wife made the appetizer and dessert. The following week my wife and I made the appetizer, and the dessert, and Gary and his wife made the dinner.

Each week both of our families alternated making appetizers, dinner and dessert.
We began with the notion that we could not repeat any meals, and we had to show what we spent on the foodstuffs, but that didn't last long. We got lazy about keeping track of the costs, but we did cut back significantly on our food budgets.

It was kind of difficult,  but it was fun nonetheless. We both tried out the recipes before our scheduled Friday meal to make sure the meal was OK for human consumption.  This was way before Food TV.  Both of our families exchanged many recipes and we learned a lot about cooking on a restricted budget.

We kept it up for a few months until I started traveling for the company I worked for, and we never got the effort restarted.

My good friend died suddenly a few years later. I miss him a lot and I still think fondly of the time we had together and our Friday night meals. My wife and I still use some of the recipes from those Friday meals.

Back then we could "play" at being poor without any risk. We rarely rated any meal less than "pretty good" but if things didn't work out we could have gone out to dinner.  Our frugal meals reminded me  of the many times my mom stretched a round steak to feed a family of nine.

The memories of those evenings came to mind as I see the your economy crushing the lives of so many Americans.  

Every news show is reporting about the high cost of gasoline, the impact on many items people need every day and the sacrifices many people are making.

So many Americans are cutting back on gas, health care,  car repair, and clothing to keep food on the table for their families.

Your administration has been a plague with one disaster after another and it is the average American who is paying the price of your hubris and rush to reign roughshod over the world and our constitution.

I am so disheartened that there is a significant chance the children of this generation will not have it as good as we did and may will have to do more than just play at being poor as Gary and I did.

As China takes the center stage with all the Wal Mart money and begins to push us aside as the world's premier consumer nation, will the American dollar become yesterday's pound as far as international currencies are concerned?  How far away is our economy from regressing to Depression era norms?

I sit here listening to the news and I wonder how far away are American middle-class families from having "real" not "play acting" frugal nights across the nation.

And we have you to thank for it junior.