Simplicity isn’t Simple.

— by Christine Sine —

For the last five year’s my husband, Tom and I have taken what we call the $2 challenge during the season of Lent. For at least one week of the season we restrict our food budget to $2 per person per day. It reminds us that half the world’s population still lives on less than $2 per person per day. It also challenges us to reflect on our lifestyle and consider ways to simplify in order to have more resources available for work with those at the margins.

The Overflow Project - 50-Day ChallengeThis year we decided to accept The Overflow Project’s 50-Day Challenge of simplicity instead. Polluted and inadequate water is just as big a global problem as hunger after all. Lets live out of our freezer and pantry for the 50 days, I suggested. Lets try to restrict our food purchases to fresh produce and milk. After all the freezer and pantry were both bulging with left over meals and produce from last year’s garden. It seemed like a simple, convenient and in many ways self serving acceptance of the challenge.

It was one of those spur of the moment decisions with far more challenging implications than I anticipated. First it meant that I actually needed to get down into the freezer to find out what was there – a somewhat embarrassing activity that left me with frosty hands and a whole lot of packages that were well past their use by date. How could I possibly let this much good food go to waste I wondered as I filled yet another garbage bag? Sad to say, it often seems easier to go to the store for new ingredients than to reach into the freezer for something that is already on hand.

Living out of the freezer takes time too. Planning, sometimes days in advance, isn’t simple. There is little room for spontaneity when the only ingredients available are a few frozen lumps of vegetables and perhaps a little left over BBQ from last year. I pulled out my favourite Mennonite cookbooks More with Less and Extending the Table looking for help. No fast food convenience meals allowed, though we did indulge in a few deli sandwiches when we headed out of town a couple of times.

Huge vats of soup that could have fed an army soon emerged. Even our guests enjoyed the freezer feasts. Just ask Jackie and Wolt. Tom’s lemon chicken rice was good enough to satisfy the most discerning palate.

Simplicity isn’t simple. It takes a great deal of intentionality and commitment.  
It’s revolutionary.  
It’s countercultural.

Tomato planting at Mustard Seed HouseLiving out of the freezer calls for creativity that goes beyond the recipe book however. Yesterday I made walk through the freezer soup, an adaptation of my “walk through the garden soup“, a delicious vegetarian meal that was inspired by the $2 challenge of previous years.

I started with the basic ingredients of dried beans and wheat berries added a can of tomatoes preserved last year, and then scavenged frozen packets of zucchini, collard greens and winter squash. It was delicious served with home made pumpkin damper.  All those ingredients came out of our stored supplies. We buy flour in 50 lb bags, a huge savings that can reduce the cost of a loaf of bread to less than a dollar. No bread machines needed either. No knead bread is a heavenly addition to any diet.
Tom planting  tomatoesAccepting this challenge reminds me of the importance of the garden. We grow about 40% of our own vegetables each year, and without the canned, dried and frozen fruit and vegetables from last year, not only would the freezer and pantry be empty, but our access to fresh produce would be very restricted too. We already have an abundance of lettuce, spinach and other greens to harvest and we just planted 30 tomato plants in anticipation of many wonderful meals to come.

I’m not sure that it is really possible to simplify one’s food budget to this extent and remain healthy, unless one produces some of one’s own food. The added bonuses – nothing tastes as good as fruit and vegetables straight out of the garden and nothing connects me more deeply to the God revealed in Jesus Christ than working in the garden.

Simplicity isn’t simple. It takes a great deal of intentionality and commitment. It’s revolutionary. It’s countercultural. It challenges us to rethink of our values and our lifestyles not just for a few days but for the rest of our lives. And in the process we often discover a new way of life that is both more satisfying and more celebrative.