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The Wisdom of our Grandmothers

Lessons for Lockdown from our Grandparents

It turns out our Grandparents knew a thing or two, and we should have listened a little harder. Lockdown has seen grocery shopping become a major undertaking, with long queues, necessary but time-consuming health and safety measures and staple products in short supply. Gone, at least for now, are the days when we could duck to the supermarket on a whim. Alongside all that, the future feels a little uncertain, which sees us tightening our belts for what could continue to be a rocky road ahead as New Zealand journeys towards a new normal. The unexpected but not altogether negative consequence of this has seen us returning to a more frugal, careful way of living that heralds back to our Grandparent's era when the Great Depression and World War II meant resourcefulness and thriftiness were paramount to survival. Those harsh lessons were never forgotten by those who lived through those darker times. In generations that followed, though, all those lessons were forgotten, and consumerism took hold, along with a throw-away philosophy that has been detrimental to our environment. Maybe this communal house arrest has been a chance for us to re-set our consumerist culture and remember the wisdom of our Grandmothers.

Here are a few nuggets of that wisdom from days past:

  1. Garden, garden, garden. During WW2, allied Governments around the world encouraged all households to have their own vegetable garden. Known as Victory Gardens, they were necessary when many market gardeners were sent off to war and the production of fruit and vegetables dropped. Most farmers already had prolific vegetable patches, but now cities followed suit. Plots were started in vacant lots and city parks to feed those in need, including one in Christchurch’s Abberley Park by a group of fifty women, including writer Ngaio Marsh. Wherever there was soil, the Government encouraged a vegetable garden and many flower beds in parks were removed to plant more useful, food-producing plants.

  2. Make your own food. Bake, cook, preserve and freeze. It’s cheaper and better for you.

  3. Vinegar and baking soda can clean pretty much anything. Use vinegar to clean glass and bathroom surfaces. Baking soda can also be used as a paste for cleaning and for removing odours. Use it to remove stains from coffee cups, soap scum from showers and rust from sinks.

  4. Borrow and barter before you buy. The lockdown has seen a sort of legal stealth mode contactless food swap system, often involving mailbox drops. Why not continue it? Like a mobile sharing shed on mass.

  5. When you buy, buy in bulk. Not panic shopping, but buying directly from suppliers in wholesale lots, if you can. It’s cheaper when you beat the middleman and means you aren’t caught short when disaster strikes.

  6. Shop seasonal, shop local and get to know your local food producers. Be loyal. You may depend on them when disaster strikes.

  7. Use less of everything. You don’t know how long that baking powder might have to last (spoiler alert: longer than you think).

  8. Don’t waste food. We throw away so much these days, Great Grandma Myrtle would be appalled. Bones for stocks, scraps for soups, compost for the garden.

  9. Cash is king. If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. You never know what’s around the corner, and having debt puts you on the backfoot if crisis strikes. Do you need that new tv? Remember the difference between ‘want’ and need’.

  10. Get to know your neighbours and keep an eye on those alone or in need. A baked cake on a doorstep goes a long way.

  11. Buy second-hand. Trade me, and Facebook Marketplace are great tools our Grandmothers would undoubtedly have utilised.

  12. Never use something just once: almost everything can be reused. Disposable was not even a thing back then. Imagine. So: rags instead of paper towels, storage containers instead of glad wrap (or use bees wax wraps -it’s easy to make your own). Disposable coffee cups? Nope. Keep cups, or try Sarah Wilsons' glass jar and rubber band trick (found in the cookbook mentioned below)

  13. Learn more than one trade or at the very least keep upskilling: job security is a mythical thing, so be prepared to adapt.

  14. Don’t invest all your money in one place; try to have some cash handy just in case.

  15. Crime rates often go through the roof, particularly during a post-crisis recession. Look after yourselves, your neighbours, and lock your doors.

  16. Remember what matters: family, friends and community.

For more advice from yesteryear, check out ‘The NZ Woman's Weekly Book of Household Hints’. For a more modern approach, try Sarah Wilson's Simplicious Flow’, a waste-free way of cooking.

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