That picture on the left is my first batch of homemade beer of 2014. It's only my second attempt at home brewing, but if it turns out as well as my first one, it should be tasty.
I tried two new things in 2013 that changed my outlook on how things are produced and consumed in today's culture. The first was a real, serious attempt at a garden. The second was my first home brew.
While I took up neither in search of enlightenment, after doing both I realized I had learned two really important insights into how we produce and consume.
1) We are too far removed from what we consume
For the most part, we have no idea how any of what we consume is produced. We take for granted the hard work that goes into making quality products, and we're for the most part clueless when shortcuts are taken (and the effects of those shortcuts on quality and health).
The ability for people to feed themselves is the most fundemental principle of self-sufficiency, yet if our economy were all of the sudden to face massive disruptions, most people would have no idea how to grow and produce anything they consume.
In today's economy, it makes sense that most people don't produce their own food, but we should all have some idea how to do it in case we ever have to. Plus when you get engaged with how to make things for yourself, you start to get engaged with how others make it for you. That's a good thing.
2) The economic precision with which products are made is amazing
I'm glad I'm gardening. I'm glad I'm making my own beer.
To be clear, however, it's very difficult to do any of it cheaper than what you would have paid for it at the store. Even if things are going well, whether growing vegetables in the back yard, or brewing beer, when you calculate all out of pocket expenses for everything required to produce, there's a good chance you could have gone to the store and bought the same quantities that you made for not much more money.
Even if you're good and you're able to brew or garden for a lot less money than you would spend at the store, there's another thing to factor: your time. The truth of the matter is, from the standpoint of just pure cash flow, your time is much better spent doing what it is that you do that makes money, rather than gardening or brewing to save money.
The DIY ethic is important to participate in and pass along to your children. I can't wait to do more. However, our free market economy has allowed incredible economies of scale to flourish, and you really learn to respect them and appreciate them when you try to compete against them. The precision with which our economy runs is amazing, and it's something to be respected and protected.