Bartering is Back

8 years ago

Now that the First Lady has announced the creation of an organic vegetable garden on the White House lawn, I’m feeling empowered.  Like maybe it was my BlogHer post on the subject that may have tipped the scale in our favor.  So now I’m wondering what else we can revive, preferably a well-established idea onto which I can just piggyback at the last minute.  I know.  Bartering!

The direct exchange of goods and services for other goods and services without any money involved has been in place for a long, long time.  Since the dinosaurs, at least, like the time a Tyrannosaurus Rex reportedly bartered a delicious meal from a Stegosaurus in exchange for a swift and merciful death.  (Sorry, I’ve been playing with dinosaurs all day long.)

Additionally, bartering made excellent sense in the times before currency was invented:

Caveman1: What’s that?

Caveman2: A saber-toothed tiger I hunted.  What about you?

Caveman1: Half a mastodon.  (sigh)  Mastodon soup, mastodon stew, mastodon chowder.  I’m so sick of mastodon.

Caveman2: Do you want to buy some tiger chops off of me?  

Caveman1: Only if I can sell some of this goddamned mastodon.

Caveman2: I like mastodon.

Caveman1: Okay, but I don’t have anything to give you to symbolize that I’m exchanging my mastodon for your chops.  I mean, besides the mastodon itself.  

Caveman2: Yeah, me neither.  I just have the chops.  How would we know that an actual exchange was taking place?  I mean, besides remembering what we had before.

Caveman1: There’s no way to tell.  What should we do?

Caveman2: I know.  We could just put them on either side of this rock slab and each walk to the other side and then run away with whatever is in front of us?

Caveman1: That will never work.  We'll have to fight to the death.

Caveman2: (sigh) Okay, here I go again…

Once more, I apologize.  My prehistoric knowledge is limited to the Ice Age movies.

With the advent of currency, bartering fell out of favor for practical reasons.  For example, it’s hard to make change when you’re trading a mule for a bucket of eggs.  Also, coins and paper money meant that you could more easily conduct three-way, four-way, or even 16-way trades if the person who wanted to barter with you didn’t have anything you wanted (or they had hideous taste) (or if, like me, they offered a poor trade).

Now that none of us has any money, bartering has gone mainstream, with sites like Craig’s List ready to set you up with someone who wants your used crap as much as you want theirs.  Bartering never really went out of style with the culinarily inclined, who might trade a jar of this for a jar of that just to keep things interesting.  But now, with the miracle of the Internet, it’s taken on a whole new dimension.  Soup Swaps have sprung up all over the country from Seattle to Boston, where people make a batch of soup, portion it into a designated number of containers, freeze them, and then meet at a predetermined location to socialize and exchange with the other participants.  It’s a lot like a holiday cookie swap but without the guilt and self-loathing that occurs when you go home and eat them all in one sitting.

Joelen of Joelen’s Culinary Adventures hosts meal exchanges in Chicago called Brunch & Barter, where everyone meets for brunch and exchanges pre-portioned meals in much the same way as the Soup Swap.  But bartering doesn’t necessarily require that much orchestration.  It can be as simple as exchanging baked goods for fresh yogurt and raw honey from local farmers as Kate of Living the Frugal Life demonstrates.  Or it can inspire some pretty interesting business arrangements, like the Will Work For Food Project.  The owner of a Boston-area design firm, Gates Studio, forged a relationship with small area farms in which she offered marketing and branding services in exchange for locally grown food for her family.  The response was overwhelming.

An economy in the toilet can mean new opportunities to get creative with your own skills and resources.  Do you barter?

Tammy Donroe can also be found documenting the messy collision between food and life on her blog, Food on the Food.

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