We All Live in the Ghetto Now

Yes, it’s all doom and gloom out there. Since we Americans live in an economy, not so much of a culture, it often feels like our entire way of life is crumbling as the stock market crashes and banks struggle.
People point out that I don’t need to worry because I have a garden and farm animals. It’s true that I recently started selling my eggs ($5/dozen) and sometimes sell a rabbit or two. That money goes toward buying things I can’t make, like parmasean cheese, beef, bananas, and french bread (thank you French guys at Oakland Farmer’s Market!) But of course, I’m not immune to the trials of the economy, as I watch friends lose their jobs and their homes, I realize how fragile our society is.
Last weekend I went to a Long Now event and saw doomsday-er Dmitri Orlov speak about what happened when the Soviet Union fell. The winners were the ones who could adjust and adapt quickly. Orlov lists the most important things for people to worry about during collapse: food, shelter, transportation, security. I was surprised that all of the descriptions of food post-collapse involved growing your own food, allowing animal husbandry in cities, even planting wheat on college campuses (after their endowments become worthless). If Orlov had spoken even two months earlier, I’m sure there would have been a lot of eye-rolling in the audience. People were on the edges of their seats. Including me, I found myself slapping my forehead about the wheat growing in Memorial Glade. Genius! Timing, for doomsday predictors, is everything.
Funny thing, though, here in the ghetto where everyone is poor, no one is grumbling about the economic crisis. It made me realize that for as long as this crisis goes on, we’re all going to be living in the ghetto. We’re going to have to forage, scrimp. Many of us may chose to do things that are considered illegal (selling drugs, selling rabbit meat). We’ll start sharing living space with our friends and families. We’ll spend more time chatting on the corners (no jobs to go to). And, I predict more and more people will arm themselves.
For awhile, I was sort of gleeful about the downturn, but lately I’ve recognized that it’s fun to choose to do all these self-sufficiency things, maybe it won’t be so if it’s forced on us.

P.S. Farm Tour Saturday, March 7. 10am

10 responses to “We All Live in the Ghetto Now

  1. Hey, I’m a first time reader of your blog and really wanted to read more of your writing after seeing your column on the publishing industry.

    If it makes you feel better about your book, my wife writes guidebooks on Mexico. We’re even hesitant to go these days. (Idea: a new guidebook series called “I dare you to go to…”)

    I’ll order your book even though I’m not into gardening and am an ex-urbanite as of two months go. I’m no literary critic, but hang onto that tone you have, it’s pitch perfect.

  2. Yep. It is absolutely true that the only way to maintain this time around is going to be do adapt. And we’re all in the ghetto, ultimately.

    I am still seeing many glaring signs of denial, though. My plan is to grow as much as I can and keep chickens when I have the space for that, and to fight tooth and nail to keep my privilege of being able to work, because of everything that affords me.

    But it disturbs me deeply that even in the SF Bay Area, there are still people who don’t grok that they’re lucky to remain employed. Or to have a space to grow pots of cukes at the least.

    And I agree about us living more in an economy than anything else.

    When culture and economy are based purely on consumerism, unsustainable consumerism, culture takes it in the shorts before the door hits it squarely on the way out.

  3. When we started the Funny Farm our main goal was to become as self-reliant as possible in advance of what I assumed would be economic collapse due to climate change. I figured we had at least 10 years. I never expected we would be facing collapse this soon. We are doing workshops on organic food growing and they sell out very rapidly. I’ve been making a list of the people we want to join us if it gets really bad. We want people with complimentary skills and good work ethic. If they are gun owners too, that is a big plus. Can hardly believe i wrote that but that is today’s reality.

  4. Novella–you’re selling your eggs? Where? I will buy them. yes we’re all in the ghetto now.

  5. “here in the ghetto where everyone is poor, no one is grumbling about the economic crisis”

    I don’t believe there really is much of a “crises”. It’s just that the many people who have had much more than their share for generations are losing a little of the excess they are used to. Here in the trailer park, we have been living like this all along. Even here our standard of living is much higher than the majority of the world. Americans have been living on the credit that history and our military has bought us, and its finally running out. Good for the rest of the world.

    On an unrelated note, I second the question of where I can buy eggs from you.

  6. Pingback: Making the Abyss Into a Tiny Ditch

  7. pablo: thanks! which mexico guidebooks?
    sara: there is so much waste out there to take advantage of, that’s what keeps me optimistic.
    duane: good to have your knives sharp; you guys are way ahead of the curve.
    hey christine and bakari: i’d sell you eggs but my guy is taking all of them at once and it’s just easier. but if you happen by my house around thursday, i might have some for ya.

  8. Novella, you may know this already, but the Victory Garden on the Cal campus was planted by a student group called STEAM: http://bie.berkeley.edu/steam. They also do a mini farmer’s market on campus once a week.

    Funny enough, in academia where everyone is poor (at least in my crowd of non-tenured writers who teach), nobody’s bitching about the economy either (except for colleagues who were lucky enough to have retirement funds). I’m old enough to remember the nuclear doomsday scenarios of the 80s, when we were all pretty convinced things were gonna go The Day After at any given moment. The tone of a lot of the doomsdayers I hear now reminds me of that. Personally, I’m planning on starting my own University should the one I work for vanish, though it’s already ridden out multiple depressions and collapses. I dunno; it seems in tough times, people starve for knowledge. Of course, if the zombies are really coming for me and they’re armed, I’ll be too fucked to fling a book at them.

  9. Love the blog. I’m thinking about the crisis and what it means all the time these days. I’ve lived through three brief ones, the 89 quake, 9/11 in NY and the blackout in NY. Each time I was amazed by people’s native altruism. We know all too well that there a bad people among us. But most of us are inclined to treat each other in a neighborly manner when the shit hits the fan.

    You can look at Argentina during it’s banking collapse. People got together and ‘got er done, as they say. Cuba has already hit a post oil break – and started growing food all over city centers.

    I built a site called hyperlocavore.com – it’s a yardsharing community developed to help people get growing food together. It’s often too daunting to start on your own. You might lack strength, skill, tools, space or time. Groups can easily bring these things together.

    I am hoping that hyperlocavore.com will be a place where neighborhoods can build self reliance and resilience when we need it most.

    Thanks for sharing your anxieties around all this. It is good to feel we are not alone in that.

  10. Susan Oliver

    You bring up an interesting point – after the collapse we may all find ourselves in the ghetto. At that point the skills we’re honing now – gardening, cheesemaking, using biodiesel, etc., etc. – will play a large part in making it thru to the next era of prosperity.

    What troubles me is this – why aren’t those *already* living the ghetto life putting these skills to work? I fear it is because poor people often are not just poor in money, but in hope. But the best thing about growing your own food is that it brings hope! It empowers! We focus so much on making sure everybody knows how to use a computer; we should also make sure every single person knows how to grow veggies and raise chickens. Mandatory graduation requirement! In my own very humble opinion, of course.

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