For one year, German freelance journalist Greta Taubert renounced our consumer society. Eating, drinking and dressing without spending a cent, the 30-year-old wanted to see what life would be like if the economic system collapsed.
The first thing she badly wanted after her 12 months of consumer abstinence?
“Tights,” she replied spontaneously, nursing a cappuccino in a cafe in Leipzig, a city in what used to be East Germany.
“And toiletries,” she added quickly, pushing aside a strand of her long blonde hair.
Gone now are the homemade deodorants, face creams and toothpastes, all guaranteed 100 percent organic.
“I even made my own shampoo,” she said. “But I started to look like a Neanderthal. My friends told me: ‘Now you’re going too far.’”
For an entire year Taubert swapped skirts and trousers at second-hand clothes exchanges and tilled the soil to grow cabbage and potatoes in a community garden.
For a holiday, she hitchhiked about 1,700km to take time out in Barcelona, albeit in a squat.
Having endured the extreme experience, she wrote a book, Apokalypse Jetzt! — German for Apocalypse Now, the title of Francis Ford Coppola’s epic 1979 Vietnam war movie — which came out in February.
In the book, she recounts her life far from the clothes racks of H&M, the cardboard boxes of discount supermarket chains and from the considerable waste of modern consumer society.
The eco-minimalist adventure began one Sunday afternoon at her grandmother’s house, where she contemplated a table laden with ham and cheese canapes, apple pie, cheesecake, cream pie, vanilla biscuits and coffee — just a couple of hours after a hearty lunch.
“When I said ‘I would like some milk,’ my granny put on the table powdered flavors to add chocolate, banana, vanilla or strawberry taste,” Taubert said.
“Our economic system is based on the perspective of infinite growth, but our ecological world is limited,” she wrote. “The mantra ‘more, more, more’ will not take us very far.”
In Germany, in 2012, nearly 7 million tonnes of food landed in the garbage, averaging 81.6kg per person.
Taubert says Europe’s years of crisis have heightened awareness about the limits of the current economic model.
“People have realized that they haven’t settled anything with the bailouts and the European Stability Mechanism,” she said. “We’re just continuing as in the past, but this system doesn’t have a sound basis.”
Her arguments reprise those made in the 2012 book How Much Is Enough? by British writers Robert and Edward Skidelsky, who argue that the modern world is ruled by an insatiable desire to accumulate ever more money and things.
The less-is-more trend has drawn a growing band of followers, spawning online food-sharing sites and “book trees” in Berlin where people leave and pick up their favourite reads.
In southern Europe, hard hit by the crisis, unemployed Greek youths are teaching skills such as gardening in exchange for English language courses.
During her adventure, Taubert met neo-hippies, eco-extremists and end-time “preppers” or survivalists and, as she humorously recounts in her book, learned to negotiate the finer points of an outdoor composting toilet.
“Today, I try to incorporate into my daily life what I learned during this year,” she said. “But I’m glad I no longer live as radically.”