“They’re Happy Because They Eat Lard”: remembering the current recession

lardI was making a sandwich a couple of days ago and sitting on the kitchen bench in a cup was the solidified fat—the dripping!—from the previous night’s roast, destined for the rubbish bin. Eyeing it up, I was reminded of how my parents used to talk of eating bread and dripping during the Great Depression. And the Depression was not an easy time for them—my mother’s family lost their home, taken by the bank, and my father talks of his father, a builder, going out looking for work every day for several years, scratching by on the occasional odd job.  Sacrificing on luxuries became an engrained part of their lives.

OK, I thought, we’re in the worst recession since the Big One, so maybe I should try a little personal “sacrifice”  by eating some of this lard or, as I now like to call it, ‘Depression Era Butter’. It was pretty hard not to giggle as I spread the translucent fatty substance onto the bread.

Anyway, as I did so, this got me thinking further about this current “Great Recession”, as it has now been dubbed by manycommentators. How would the greatest economic downturn since the 1930s be represented visually and what stories of sacrifice would we tell generations yet to be born?

g owamerica-depressionIt’s hard to judge how history will reflect on an era when you are living through it, but it is often the images that get repeated that will determine how it will be seen by these future generations. Take the 1930s’ Depression; for me, it happened in black and white: those iconic photographs of long queues for New York soup kitchens, for instance, or John Ford’s film images in The Grapes of Wrath, of gaunt-faced, soul-destroyed Oakies staring straight into the camera.

But we can never see those same Depression-era representations again – the safety net of the modern welfare state means that we don’t have to pile up all our belongings onto the flatbed of a spidery Ford truck and pass through dusty tent cities as we move to California.


The Grapes of Wrath

So what will be the defining images that will become emblematic of this particular period in history? What sort of sacrifices will we say that we made?

We’ll probably tell out grandkids that life was so tough that we had to take fewer holidays, we had to cut back on cappuccinos and that we had to buy the cheap generic, supermarket brands. Yes, life for us really went to hell in a handbasket back in the ‘00s! Is that it, they’ll ask? No, there’s more, we couldn’t afford broadband so had to revert to dial-up!

And the iconic images? Most of the photographs in this recession lack a human face (unless they’re of Ponzi scheme embezzler Bernie Madoff or Lehman Brothers tyrant-like CEO, Dick Fuld). Here’s some of my choices: the rows of foreclosure signs in a single street and shopping streets full of “For Lease” signs,


and my favourites, the shots of empty offices and factory spaces that speak of the hollowing out of business and manufacturing.

Abandoned office

Abandoned office


Abandoned factory

What none of these really capture, or can, is the absolute destruction of capital that has characterised this recession—13 trillion dollars and counting. Perhaps some things are just unrepresentable.

So, back to the dripping on my sandwich. Well, eating it took a bit of getting used to, both in terms of texture and taste, but after a few mouthfuls it was bearable, certainly not disgusting. In fact, it had quite a savoury, sausage-like taste. Hmmm! The main problem was I couldn’t get rid of the taste for the rest of the day; those globules of fat stuck fast to my taste buds. I resolved, as I sat down and turned on my large, high definition, flat screen TV, that henceforth my sacrifice will go no further than the generic supermarket-brand butter.

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Further recession reading at Notes: Will a new “American Dream” emerge from the current recession?


5 Responses

  1. Score, dude! You so well articulated the *recession* in the UK and here in the US. My mom ate drippings on bread in the 30’s, but says Really poor children came to school with only cold biscuits, no drippings on them. You did make me think which luxuries I have foregone in the last 5 yrs, and I’d have to say driving anywhere unnecessarily, vacations of any kind, new clothes of any kind, restaurant meals, films, long-distance telephone calls, extravagant celebrations for any reason, including Christmas and birthdays, just about everything down to the bone except WiFi and cable. They’ll have to pry my laptop and my tube out of my cold dead hands. Great blog, glad I stumbled onto you!

    • Hey, thanks for the response, most appreciated. Like your comment about not giving up the wi-fi or laptop; you’re not alone. I’ve got several friends who are struggling financially and when I suggest they lose the wi-fi they look at me like I’m mad. There was a nice article a couple of months ago that looked at a new phenomenon from this recession — newly homeless people who won’t give up their laptops: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124363359881267523.html

  2. American “cowboy philosopher” Will Rogers said Americans are the only people who will “drive” to the poorhouse

  3. […] Further recession reading at Notes: “They’re Happy Because They Eat Lard”: remembering the current recession […]

  4. So true. i can’t imagine having to eat lard. it just rings heart attack in my viens! we have made such a technological leap since those days it almost seems impossible to return to them. going to california doesn’t seem so bad these days!

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