With our usual systems of social interaction dismantled, people are looking for ways to connect, help and show affection—whether that be via fresh baked goods, vegetables from their garden, pre-batched cocktails or hand-sewn masks. There’s a cooperative generosity in the air right now and I, for one, am really enjoying it.
In my pantry there sits a beautiful jar of fragrant, savoury, punchy chilli oil. I did not make it. I did not buy it. I traded a few daiquiris for it, kind of. In fact, I’ve been engaging in a lot of “light bartering” recently: Instead of outlining strict, “equal” swaps, I give things to friends, with a sort of vague understanding that they might give me something at a later date.
This has worked out particularly well with A.A. Newton—so well that I feel a little guilty about it. She has given me chilli oil, delicious cheesy tofu puffs, really excellent macaroni salad and brisket burgers she ground herself. I, in turn, have given her three pre-batched daiquiris (with my special Cuban rum I brought back from Canada), this peach-pear side car and some rhubarb-infused vodka. I also lent her a sous-vide tub. Tomorrow I will bring her some curing salt. Beyond food, I recently walked a bottle of wine (and that rhubarb vodka) over to my friend Katie, and was delighted to find she had made me a ring.
The key to light bartering is to keep it light. Cast aside any greedy urges that have been instilled in you by capitalism. Offer goods and favours freely, without the expectation of “fair” reciprocation. If you have a car, offer to pick groceries up for a house-bound or carless friend. If you have baked extra bread, find it a loving home. If you have a need, don’t be afraid to ask, but don’t preface your request with “since I gave you that jam…” or any such nonsense. Be nice, be generous and be honest about your needs and limits. Very few things are making me feel good these days, but light bartering (and chilli oil) is one of them.