It is usually quite hard to explain ERE to someone who has been raised as a consumer with materialistic values. A very common first objection upon learning the size of my budget is that they either can’t or won’t “sacrifice” that much. I then try to explain that I’m not really sacrificing, I just do things differently. And I fail get the point across.

Cooking makes for a reasonably useful analogy for many complex systems. It has inputs and outputs. The inputs are called ingredients and they’re usually combined in certain ways using particular methods, thus increasing the complexity, to make meals. Furthermore, the output must be able to feed you, and the input has a cost. As such it can also be used to describe the difference between ERE and consumerism.

The purpose of food is to keep you alive, healthy (alive in the future) and happy. Everybody has to eat, so no matter how you go about it, there’s no way around having to eat and drink.

Consumerism is the idea that more happiness obtains from cooking more. If one boiled potato is good, then two boiled potatoes must be twice as good and so on. This is the underlying philosophy behind the “I’d rather earn more” as in “I’d rather cook more” because more food is better. This is true when food is scarce. If you’re starving, having more is clearly better. However, if you’re already well-fed, putting more food on the table is not going to make it possible to eat more. Instead you’ll perhaps be eating less of each thing and then having to throw the surplus out. This is analogous to how consumers buy tons of stuff and consequently end up using individual items very little. I think the scarcity-mentality results in frustration. More is only better if you don’t have much. Unfortunately, it takes a while to realize how much you have (maybe generations?).

ERE is not about seeking happiness by cooking more. It is about finding better recipes. Instead of working twice as hard to bake twice as much bread, say, the effort is put into finding a better recipe. Or perhaps combining the bread with jam and peanut butter instead of eating it raw. Not only does this increase efficiency since food is no longer wasted. It also makes cooking interesting. It’s no longer about working harder. It’s about working smarter. This platitude is forgotten or at least not understood on a fundamental level by anyone who says that “they’d rather earn more”.

Analogies need to be short to be effective and this is already getting rather long. You could see how Mr Consumer with ten loafs of bread machine on his table would think that Mr ERE with one loaf of artisan bread on his table would think that ERE is sacrificing. But—and this is why the analogy just might work—most people know the difference between “good cooking” and “bad cooking”, and they realize that “more cooking” is not the same as “good cooking”.

The point of this analogy is thus to try to change people’s focus from “more” to “better”. Going from “more” to “better” is a good choice. In fact, from a food perspective, it’s quite clear. Yet from a materialistic perspective, it’s something that 95% of everybody still haven’t quite understood/internalized yet.

Originally posted 2011-04-12 07:57:30.