The Suburban Peasants’ Revolt

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Cab Davidson is a trained microbiologist, a maker of holograms, and a self-confessed cheapskate.  He forages, grows vegetables and fruits, makes soaps and jams, all in an attempt to avoid shopping.  In a guest article, he explores how many of us have become the new peasant class, how we may escape little-by-little, and gardening as civil disobedience.  How do the things we talk about in Locavore translate to everyday life?

I suppose I’m just the same as everyone else. I get up, I eat breakfast, I go to work, and I come home. We all do that, to pay our rent or our mortgage, every day, every week, every month. And we’re sort of stuck with it – you’ve got to earn to pay your way. And as the supposedly liberating dream of home ownership gets ever more difficult for most people, I think perhaps we’re reaching a point where the suburban dream of financial independence, which comes when our accommodation cost is essentially sorted out, is getting ever more unrealistic. We’re tied to our work, so we can pay people who already have enough, and to facilitate our further membership of a wider society that we don’t really have time to participate in. Because we’re always at work. And when we get home we sit and watch a bit of telly, drink a glass of wine, and go to bed.

I put it to you that this problem is not actually new. Financially, the only conceptual difference between how we’re living now and how a subsistence farmer lived in years gone by is that we’re doing two jobs – one of them is to produce a salary and pay a landlord, the other is to consume advertising (whether online or television). We are, to a great extent, the new peasant class, only we’re peasants who commute from the suburbs. So I suggest that it is time we did something different.

I suggest that now is time for the Suburban Peasants’ Revolt!

A suburban bounty

OK, that’s a little over-dramatic. We can’t afford to quit our jobs and do nothing, but we can spend more of our free time doing things that increase our independence in other ways. Rather than a full-scale revolt I’m proposing small acts of financial sedition through learning skills for self-reliance. That, I find, is a highly liberating way to live. It can be small things to begin with. You could learn three or four species of common mushrooms and half a dozen wild green salad plants so you can make gourmet food almost for free. You could plant a few vegetables in the back garden, and if you concentrate on the small, high cost plants like herbs, chilli’s, cucumbers, salads and some soft fruit you’ll get returns that justify the expenditure of time and space. Maybe you might want to spend a bit of time talking to suppliers at your local farmers market – negotiate a deal for a bulk buy of something from them, filling your freezer with better quality products at a lower price than you’d pay at a supermarket. You might even decide to go a little further and start making your own jam, wine, or even embark on something like soap making. Before you know it? You’ve got a wine rack full of home-brew under the stairs, an allotment full of vegetables sitting in the ground waiting to be eaten, a cupboard full of jam for winter, a fridge packed with wild mushrooms, six chickens staring at you through the window as you write a blog post, and the phone numbers of half a dozen local farmers you trust to produce meat to a high welfare standard in your mobile. And by October you’re already planning what kind of soap to make for everyone’s Christmas present this year.

Why is this a ‘revolt’ you ask? Because it requires that you spend time on something that is only productive to you and yours. It isn’t work, nor is it consuming advertising. Its also not (once any initial purchase of gardening tools, mushroom guidebooks or wine making equipment is done) going to put any money back into the economy. Quite the reverse in fact, all of these activities will save you money, and they’ll also reduce your environmental impact. Goods you make at home, or acquire from local suppliers, will have a smaller carbon footprint and save you money. Each is baby step towards, if not complete financial freedom or a zero impact lifestyle, at least saving enough money and reducing your carbon footprint, and each is a tiny act of rebellion against a financial system that says spending is the only economic activity of value.

Oh, and it’s fun. Seriously, what’s better, sitting watching Corrie or gathering water mint by a lakeside? What do you think is more rewarding, buying a Beaujolais or popping open a bottle of elderberry? And why mow a lawn when you can move the chicken run on to that patch for a day or two? Look, I know, its glib and predictable, but when you’ve got a dozen jars of plum jam cooling on the kitchen worktop, one after the other making ‘pop’ sounds as the pressure point on the lid of the jar is sucked down as they cool? You’ll feel a sense of satisfaction at a job well done. The kind you probably didn’t feel at work today.

Edible mushrooms can be found in suburban, and even urban, environments

Now, I’m not going to say that this is a world-saving lifestyle change. We need far more than this to reverse the horrific harm we’re doing to our climate. But it’s a way in. What I’m proposing is a conceptual difference that takes us closer to that goal. And this doesn’t excuse us of other excesses – you don’t get a free pass on long-haul flying because you make your own chutney out of vegetables that would otherwise spoil. But by dragging us back closer to our goods, by being part of the production process, we can start to appreciate the kind of effect our activities have on the wider environment, and it puts us in a better place to judge the impact of what we do. And that in itself acts as a driver for further lifestyle change. When we start to see things not just as discrete products but as journeys, we can begin to appreciate the journey itself and take steps to more sensibly manage that for our own and welfare and for the wider world.

And where does that all start? With a single act of sedition against consumerism, represented by learning to pick a mushroom, brew some wine, or grow some herbs. The time for a Suburban Peasants’ Revolt is now.

For more from Cab Davidson, click here.