The other day, I decided to cook up some enchiladas from scratch, and I mean entirely from scratch. I even made the corn tortillas. Now, as I rolled out my 16 little balls of tortilla batter, put a damp cloth over them to keep them from drying out, pressed each one in between two sheets of plastic wrap with the back of a big spatula because I don’t own a tortilla press, struggled to get the tortillas to the right thickness, cooked them and, yet again, put a damp cloth over them so they wouldn’t dry out, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What am I doing? Is this even worth it?”
Sure, the tortillas were delicious, filled with black beans, mushrooms, onions, sauce and cheese, but was it really thrifty for me to spend the greater part of the afternoon making tortillas when I could have picked up a package of equally-delicious, fresh tortillas for $2 at the store? Heck no. Next time I’ll remember Jennifer’s ‘fast, cheap, and good’ rating system and buy the tortillas.
Jennifer is the woman behind the thought-provoking blog, Fast, Cheap, & Good. Just one read through her posts and you will have a whole new take on thrifty living; namely, how to live more independently in a way that makes the most sense and is sustainable.
You see, Jennifer has created this brilliant system that she uses to rate whatever seemingly thrifty projects she decides to undertake. It’s simple: is it fast, cheap, and/or good?
“If I can’t see a modest benefit in at least two of the areas, or a huge benefit in one, then it may not be worth the investment I am making,” Jennifer explains. “This is my own way of countering the message that we get from society that we can do everything perfectly all the time; I sure can’t, so I want to get the most bang for my metaphorical (or actual) buck.”
Besides being a great outlet for her as a writer, Jennifer started her blog because she wants to share her journey as she tries to lead a more sustainable life. She says she hopes that if people hear about her successes and failures, learn what projects really are fast, cheap, and good in terms of how much money they help you save or how much better something is when it’s made from scratch, then they will try to reduce their dependence on unsustainable infrastructure too.
While few would argue that technology and modern methods of transportation have given us greater and easier access to all sorts of foods and products, our dependence on global sources of goods has definitely taken a toll on our resources. Jennifer says that for her, “sustainability is about solving these problems locally, with investments that we can manage.”
Jennifer, an independent writer and the Director of Education for a community college, says she’s been interested in doing things for herself, like growing food and food preservation, most of her life. She says her memories of canning with her mother and great-aunt are some of the best from her childhood, and the satisfaction she gets from making something with her own two hands has meant that the things she once did as a hobby have evolved into a lifestyle in adulthood.
But, she says sustainable living and practical skills took on a whole other meaning when Hurricane Ike tore through Ohio.
"As we sat without power for five days, using a back-up generator periodically to keep the freezer cold, I realized that the infrastructure we depend on every day can fall apart at a moment’s notice, either short-term or long-term. Any kind of systematic problem, whether environmental, weather-related, economic, or cultural, could make the lifestyle we currently live unsustainable,” Jennifer says. “I set out to learn how to do as much as I could for myself, even if I decided not to do everything all the time.”
Like Hurricane Ike and other calamities that challenge our ability to survive without modern conveniences, the economic recession has tested our current way of life, with our dependency, lack or practical skills and all. Jennifer says she thinks that the recession has encouraged more people, mostly out of financial need, to start learning how to be more self-reliant; “a silver lining in the cloud of recession.”
“…people are realizing that if they can’t afford everything in the world, they will have to do more for themselves,” she explains. “When they do invest money, they want to hand it to a neighbour, not a faceless corporation. Along the way, they are realizing that self-sufficiency feels good.”
When you visit Fast, Cheap, & Good, you can expect to see posts about the do-it-yourself projects like, canning, knitting, foraging, and growing vegetables and herbs, that Jennifer is either trying for the first time or some that she’s been doing for years because she feels they’re worthy of a spot on her list of fast, cheap, and good.
She aims to give readers sustainable living ideas that don’t take a lot of time and won’t cost a lot of extra money, but will most assuredly save you money in the long-run or improve your life in some way.
If you’re looking for ways to make your lifestyle more sustainable, Jennifer says you should start small. So, for example, deciding overnight that you’re going to raise chickens, build a water catchment system, and forage for your dinner in your suburban backyard, probably isn’t a good way to start making lasting lifestyle changes. Try growing some of your own vegetables or herbs, composting your kitchen scraps, or cooking from scratch. Jennifer says it’s good to pick the utility or expense that you dislike paying for the most, and to start there.
“I hate paying the heat bill. I don’t know why; I like a warm house as much as anyone else, but that bill makes me crazy every time it comes in the mail,” she says. “So, I constantly look for ways to heat the house with passive solar energy, as well as heating myself with cozy, fun winter clothes like pretty homemade fleece socks. If you hate carrying the trash to the curb, maybe you want to try starting a compost pile and buying items with minimal packaging. Start where your efforts will be noticeable to you, even if no one else notices or thinks they are ‘worthwhile.’ ”
Whether you want to be more self-reliant to save money, to make less of an impact on the planet, you find it satisfying, or a combination of all of the above, the Internet is an amazing tool for finding the ideas and information you need to master the practical skills that will allow you to live more autonomously. There’s a growing number of bloggers who, like Jennifer, have realized that now, maybe more than ever before, is the time to teach and train yourself to do more.
While Jennifer says she thinks that more and more people are seeing the merits in sustainable living, she cautions that we still have a long way to go.
“The financial media loves to tell us that the only way out of a recessionary hole is to spend, and it is tempting to go back to ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ behaviour,” she explains. “However, I think the changes we are making will be real and hopefully permanent.”
Right now in North America, we’re at an interesting juncture; whether to seize the chance to make positive economic and social change or, the opposite, reverting back to our old habits. Will you continue down the unsustainable road of dependency or take a cue from Jennifer and learn how to be more self-reliant?