I’ve been going on 4-5 months now unemployed. I’ve sent probably a hundred resumes, applications, and inquiry emails over that time, and the only responses I got was to tell me that I was overqualified to work at a grocery store. Thanks for nothing, job market.
But on Sunday I found myself hanging out with some cousins, one of whom was showing us all the delicious Mexican food this little old lady makes for their family on a weekly basis. They pay her, they pick it up from her house, and they munch on it all week like leftovers. And I thought to myself, holy cannoli, I could do that! Not only do I love to cook, but I love to cook things that 99% of people don’t even know how to. So after ballparking how much food costs, how long it takes me to cook in general, and then throwing together a basic menu of things that look impressive but are either 1. made of cheap, simple ingredients, or 2. made of a few exotic ingredients that I already use in cooking for myself. All that was left to put an ad on Craigslist and wait.
It didn’t even take long, though. It took all of 24 hours to secure a first client who wants meals for his daughter who has a very long list of no-no foods. She needs to be vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, peanut-free, and baker’s-yeast free, among a smattering of other fruits and veggies she’s sensitive to. Honestly, I can do that, no problem. I’ve learned so many tricks over the past 2 years since getting stomach problems of my own that I can cook for practically anybody. I did get another email almost right away too: someone who’s been doing this for a long time sent me a frustrated note, saying that I was charging too little, and that was not only undervaluing myself, but other people who do this sort of work too. I apologized, noted that I was pretty desperate, but that I would raise my rates for the next client.
But that got me to thinking. Was I really undercharging? How did all of this relate to my politics?
After spending a few minutes with a calculator at this point I estimated that I would be making the least amount of money per hour of cooking than I would if I had more clients; and right now that comes out to be about minimum wage, ~$10/hr. But then I thought about how that didn’t factor in the time it took me to go shopping, and other related tasks. That’s when the anti-money anarchist started coming out. Why do I need to be paid to go shopping at all the places that I already do my own shopping? To walk/bike to and from the store? Not only are these things that I already do for myself, but they’re things that are good for me too. If I just shift my point of view a little bit, I can transform that tiresome errand into the world’s cheapest gym membership. Or if I twist things a little more, I can even see it as being paid to exercise and go for walks. How lucky am I?
I thought some more at this point about the profit motive, and how ruthlessly wasteful it is. How much of a profit do I want to make? How involved do I want this venture to be? Would I still do it even if I got no money for it? Does this have any place in my ideal community?
I want enough money to get by, at the end of the day. But this is funny to me because my father says the same thing, and to me, he lives extravagantly. Upper-middle class for sure. But to him, any decline in his quality of living, any downsizing, any withholding of material desires, doesn’t even enter into his mind as a possibility. Which is just completely alien to me. So right now, I just want to be able to make my loan payments, move to Canada to be with my hubs, and have a garden. I don’t want a car, house, or a $2000 sofa. I don’t want a Vitamix or a Cuisinart stand mixer. No Keurig, no PS4, no Dyson. Nothing I can’t buy used (well… mostly). In other words, I’d love to be able to live off $1000/mo. Unfortunately, my school loans are almost 3/4 of that right now. I can’t wait to be debt-free.
The other fun thing is that I get to take over another person’s meals and get close to being ZW with the buying and preparation. But looking at the wider picture, I’m in the perfect position to offer this service and do it the way that I am. I happen to be located at a nexus of health food stores and farmer’s markets, many of which are within walking distance. Most people in Los Angeles aren’t nearly as lucky as I am, so I get to help them offset a little bit of their carbon footprint this way also.
All in all though, I am OK with doing what I’m doing and in the way I’m doing it. I love to cook, and I love to cook for others, so this is a healthy thing for me to do, and the money is just the icing on the cake, really. Why should I charge more? I’m not greedy, I just want to survive and not be miserable. If I get to make great, healthy food for others AND support local farmers on their dime? Score.