Return of the Ball Jar: Middle Class Anxiety Files

ball-jar_l.jpgThe Ball jar: Preserving our Illusions.

The New York Times reported last week that sales of Ball jars are up 92 percent from the same month last year. That's because the upper middle class is getting jittery about the economy, and when we get jittery, you know what we do? 

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Just to take myself as an example: We buy 17 kinds of heirloom tomato seeds on the Internet and plant them in pots. Great way to economize, right? Grow your own food! Because maybe like freelance writer Sheri Ann Richerson of Marion, Indiana, we "think there is going to be a bigger and bigger problem with shortages of food and money," and we want to be ready! Nobody'll ever say we fiddled while Rome burned!

Only problem is, and we educated middle class folks know this deep in our bones, that by the time you buy the 40 plastic pots at Home Depot ($2.89 each) and the worm poop fertilizer specially formulated for tomatoes ($8 a botttle) and the organic potting soil ($5 a bag) and the wooden stakes and god knows what all else, those homegrown tomatoes are not looking so economical anymore. I figure the super pretty tomatoes pictured above are going to make me some pricey BLTs and marinara sauce when they're finally ready.

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I'm sure that Sheri, who spends 16 hour days on the weekends canning her own vegetables, is aware on some level that if she just took a minimum wage job on weekends ($6.55 in Indiana, times 30 hours), the $200 bucks she earned would buy enough canned vegetables to fill every shelf in the underground emergency shelter her hubby is most likely building in the basement. 

Of course, selling packs of chewing tobacco at the Jiffy Mart isn't anywhere near as fun as Ball jarring your own carrots or roasting a whole chicken or signing up for a cooking class to learn how to make dinner at home or leaving Wall Street to buy your own pig farm  -- but let's call these trends what they are. I know perfectly well that the folks suddenly raising their own chickens and baking their own bread instead of eating out at restaurants had to pore through the Williams Sonoma catalogue to find the perfect $160 rotisserie and a pair of darling little baguette pans before they could get started. Like my tomato project, any way you slice it these hobbies are no more virtuous than my neighbor tinkering with his Harley in the driveway -- only he's not spouting off to some reporter about how he's preparing for the economic apocalypse by conserving gasoline. 

He just digs the ride. 

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