You know how come families ate home-cooked, (more or less) healthy meals together at the dining table every evening in the fifties? Because (middle class) women didn’t work, and middle-class women often had domestic help. Cooking dinner every night is hard work, and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.
Cooking dinner is just as much hard work now as it ever was, but now women have jobs and no one can afford domestic help anymore (which is actually a good thing—domestic help was so available in the twentieth century only because the labor of women and people of color was grossly undervalued). Apparently lots of people have determined that cooking dinner on the regular is simply more trouble than it’s worth: this year, Americans spent more money on eating out than they did on groceries.
Eating out is expensive and unhealthy and did I mention expensive? But it’s also fun and tasty and you don’t have to cook or do dishes. Plus, you don’t buy a bunch of expensive fennel for a recipe, use a third of it making something that doesn’t even taste that good, and then have to throw the rest of it out.
The key to eating at home more and wasting less food is meal planning (it’s also the key to making lunches for work that aren’t sad desk sandwiches, but that’s a post for another time). A meal plan keeps you from buying food you don’t need, from throwing away food you don’t eat, and from coming home to an empty refrigerator on a Thursday night.
We actually love to cook in the Provident household. Prof. de Cuisine makes the best Mexican food in town (admittedly, it’s a pretty small town), and I bake bread and make a mean roast chicken. Eating well is important to us.
But though we like to cook in general, we often really don’t like to cook on a Wednesday afternoon after a long day of teaching and grading and meetings. And we really, really don’t like to cook on Thursday evenings when it seems like the week has taken twice as long as they should. Those are the nights we order pizza or convince ourselves that we deserve to go out.
Not only is that reaction expensive and unhealthy, but we’re often too tired to really enjoy eating out. So we’ve developed some strategies to cut down on those mid-week calls to Pizza Hut and keep us cooking dinner, even when we don’t want to.
I know I’m far from the first person to make this insightful observation, but good bread is expensive. Heck, mediocre bread from the grocery store is kind of expensive. The good stuff from the bakery is like four bucks a loaf, which adds up quick.
Fortunately (kind of) for the Provident household, we do not have a bakery in our tiny town. And since bread is not so fantastic for the waistline (plus, I prefer to get my grains via beer), I tend to just not buy bread.
But sometimes you want a sandwich. Or a colleague gives you some homemade jam as a housewarming present. What’s an aspiringly provident person to do?
I’ve said it before: I love stuff. I love making things and then seeing and feeling and using the things I’ve made. I love getting gifts that someone else has picked out for me and then remembering that person every time I see the candlesticks on the dining table or the little ceramic drawers on the mantelpiece. I love that, because no one else wanted it, I have all the family china from both sides of the family. I keep it all displayed in the dining room so that I can always think about my grandfather, who I never got to meet, buying the game bird pattern from the Orvis catalogue some seventy-five years ago.
I collect teapots, which is the opposite of de-cluttering. I’m very selective about what I collect: no kitschy teapots, and I don’t have that many–10 or so, several of which are in regular use, two of which are family hand-me-downs, and three of which are gifts. When she found out I collected teapots, my aunt got several from an antique-dealer friend and gave them to me each Christmas. I love looking at them and knowing that my aunt picked them out because she knew I’d like them.
Stuff is important. Some of it is laden with memories; some of it was made by someone you know, or you yourself. Lots of it is beautiful. I don’t hold with the minimalist idea that you should have just a few really beautiful objects. You should have lots of beautiful objects. (Though for my part, I try to stop well short of Victorian rococo proportions, but you do you.) And beautiful doesn’t have to mean expensive. Lots of my china was free, though some of it would be quite expensive to replace. My favorite purple ceramic vase, which sits on our mantle, cost $30 when I bought it from the potter.
“Provident” is aspirational–I’m not sure I’m there yet, but I’d like to be. It means careful and thoughtful in planning and providing for the future. Synonyms include frugal, but also prudent and judicious, qualities that are just as important as frugality.
While frugality is important, it’s not my endgame in itself. I don’t just want to be frugal, I want to be thoughtful and careful. Being provident is especially hard in an era of information overload. How do you make judicious choices when you can’t possibly absorb all the facts and opinions that are out there?
You could, I suppose, ignore the Internet and live your life as if it’s still 1910 and the word “provident” is still in common circulation (these days, it’s a popular name for financial services, but less commonly used to describe individuals). But that would be 1. weird and 2. not much fun.
So instead, I’m going to try to be provident in an improvident time, judicious with my time and information in a moment that’s profligate with both. We’ll see how it goes.
Welcome to the Provident Professor. I’m Prof. Provident, an early-30s English professor who dreams of becoming an ex-English professor some time before I’m 80. This makes me something of an anomaly among professors, most of whom keep trudging into the classroom well into their dotage until they finally keel over in their office, a stale cup of coffee on one side and a 3-year-old stack of unread journal articles on the other.
Not me. Don’t get me wrong, I like my job (well enough), but I work too many hours for too little pay. I have just enough autonomy and control of my time to know that I want more, and to begin to see what I might do with it. This blog is one step toward that freedom. Being provident is hard work, particularly since all the rewards are in the future. You need encouragement, and you need accountability. That’s what I hope this blog will provide, along with information that might be useful to someone, somewhere, and a whole lot of useless literary knowledge and bad jokes about good books.