Make Making Great Again

Want to abruptly bring conversations to an end at your child’s high school college night here in stock-option-worshiping and don’t-worry-tech-will-save-us Silicon Valley? When a representative from a prestigious university asks you which profession interests your child, say “farmer.” The appalled rep will attempt to regain his composure before moving on to the tiger parent tapping their foot in line behind you.

Or, as Greta Thunberg put it, “Why should we be studying for a future that soon may not exist anymore and when no one is doing anything to save that future?

“I don’t want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day and then I want you to act.”

I applaud my daughter’s foresight and her desire to prepare for the worst by growing food.

Lost knowledge

The Zero-Waste Chef turned five years old this week. When I contemplated writing a blog back in 2014, I toyed with a name such as “Lost Knowledge.” At the time, I wondered (and still do) when else in human history have people not possessed the basic knowledge necessary to feed themselves. As we became more of a consumer culture, we abandoned or forgot many life skills, leaving us helpless and dependent on corporations to fulfill our every need. And as those corporations squeezed more out of their workers and drove down wages, many of us have no time to apply these skills.

One of the many, many aspects that I love about a zero-waste or low-waste lifestyle is the recovery of some of these hands-on, life skills. Let’s teach them in schools and incorporate them into math and English and science and history—or MESH. (I don’t know if MESH is a thing but it should be.)

1. Gardening

People who go down the rabbit hole of zero waste often reach the point at which twist ties on herbs and green onions drive them crazy, they wonder what to do with all of those annoying produce stickers and they really wish they could buy just the dozen sprigs or so of fresh parsley that they need for a dish, rather than an entire food-waste-anxiety-triggering bunch. At that point, they may begin to grow some of their own food.

Many schools in our area feature school gardens, due perhaps to our close proximity to Berkeley, where Alice Waters launched The Edible Schoolyard Project in 1995. When kids grow food, they eat that food and they respect food more.

2. Sewing

To this day, I use the sewing skills I learned in my grade eight home economics class. When my kids were little, I made them adorable simple dresses, cozy flannel pajamas and overly elaborate halloween costumes that almost drove me over the edge.

Today, I sew very basic items such as napkins, reusable menstrual pads, bento bags and produce bags. I also mend clothes on my sewing machine. Reusable items and repaired items reduce piles of waste.

If you want to sew but don’t have access to a sewing machine, you may be able to use one at your library. A few of my local libraries have sewing machine banks. How awesome is that?! People regularly ask me for advice about buying a secondhand machine. I would ask around. Friends or friends of friends may have one they don’t use and would like to unload.

I have spoken with a couple of teachers in the area about recruiting middle and high school home ec students to help sew the reusable produce bags that my group of sewers and I have been making and giving away at the farmers’ market. So I know home ec classes still exist in some schools.

3. Carpentry

Recently, my daughter Charlotte wanted a bread slicing guide she found on Etsy and decided she would try to build it instead of buying it. She made hers with scrap pieces of maple Chandra had on hand, left over from a project. At last! Smooth slices of sourdough rather than mangled! When I posted the images below on social media today, several people asked me how to make this slicing guide. Here are the instructions.

While the girls and I learned to sew and cook in our grade eight home ec class, the boys learned to cut wood and swing a hammer in shop class. Let’s teach all of these skills to everyone.

Bread slicing guide
My daughter made the greatest thing since

4. Cooking

People regularly ask me for my number one eco-tip. I always answer “cook.” When you cook, you eat more whole foods and thus fewer processed foods because you can consume only so much food. While you may easily find unpackaged apples and onions, almost all processed foods are packaged in single-use throwaway plastic. And their confusing best-before dates cause people to throw out perfectly edible food.

When you learn to cook, you also learn what to do with leftovers and that extra bunch of parsley and other bits of ingredients that you have on hand. You reduce food waste—a major contributor to climate change—and you save money and time.

I could go on and on and on about the importance of cooking. I could probably write blog posts for at least five years about it!

5. Bonus skill: Peaceful protest

My daughter, inspired my Greta, inspired some kids at her school to take part in the March 15th climate protests. They made front-page news in The Mercury. I was so proud of her and her classmates! These kids give me hope.

My daughter (above left) helped organize the walkout at her high school

18 Replies to “Make Making Great Again”

  1. Fantastic post- love that cartoon in the beginning- and you must be so proud of your daughter, on so many levels, that’s awesome. Enjoy that bread slicer 👍🏿

  2. Interestingly, we went to a talk recently about kids futures in tech and one of the speakers said something that really resonated. (I wrote it down…) “The skills worth cultivating in our kids are compassion, resilience, self sufficiency, resourcefulness, problem solving and empathy.” His reasoning was that no one knows what the future holds for the working environment even with a tech boom and all these ‘soft skills’ will see almost any human through almost any thing. I found that really inspiring, especially coming from a very tech focused guy.

  3. Love this post but hate that it’s necessary! Thank you for what you do!!!! Love your daughter’s bread slicer and love that she decided to make one instead of buying it.

  4. Chandra Permaul says: Reply

    To inclusive education and peaceful protest! Great post. Chandra 🙂

  5. Is home-ec even taught anymore? None of my six teenage grandchildren knows how to sew on a button or how to do simple repairs. I’m afraid that until we are forced to consume less anything that requires fixing will be thrown away. Oh dear, I sound like a cantankerous old lady.

    1. Where I live, it’s not even taught anymore! Due to different circumstances, I didn’t even get the class myself. My mom wasn’t one to mend things and definitely didn’t own a sewing machine. I’ve been teaching myself over the past few years in hopes of being able to pass down the knowledge to my own children.

    2. wendy hale davis says: Reply

      Nope! Not cantankerous, just right on! Bring back Home Ec! And Shop! But make boys and girls take both!

    3. “If you want to sew but don’t have access to a sewing machine, you may be able to use one at your library.”
      Or you could try… a needle! And thread! *bangs head against walll*

      See, I out ‘cantakerous old lady’d you 😀

      1. The Zero-Waste Chef says:

        You’re right Libby! Those things work. ~ Anne Marie

  6. Thank you for the wonderful post, I completely agree that we need to remember to grow our own knowledge and skills (and food) and not rely solely on tech & large corporations. I’m sure many of you know Ron Finley, this post echos what he says in this amazing interview:

  7. I hate that these are the things our children are worried about. Will there be a future? How bleak will that future look? I hope we are able to cultivate enough change to have something left to offer them.

  8. Another cool way of sewing is altering clothes bought from a thrift-shop/op-shop, therefore bypassing buying new fabric. I haven’t done it too much (simply because i don’t buy many clothes anymore to begin with), but i’m hoping to explore more in the future as i need new clothes.

  9. I also think we lose out on a lot of creative people who could make a difference in the ‘making’ industry (farming, hospitality, crafting) because schools subtly devalue learning about these subjects even if they are available. Couple of examples from Scottish schooling 7 years back: being told that my grades were too good in written work to take hospitality (practical cooking) so having to take ‘lifestyle technology’ instead (everything from nutrition to insurance to factory processes for making food – still useful but not really what I wanted to do). Generally these practical subjects weren’t even available at a higher level, so weren’t aimed at people doing well in school. Also, as a year group applying for uni, an advisor told us a story about a boy who got all A’s but didn’t write a good personal statement and ended up a farm labourer. This was said in such a disdainful way as though nothing could possibly be worse. It’s not exactly an attitude that inspires people to make a difference from the ground up.

  10. I feel so grateful that I was brought up by parents who cooked, who grew food, who made things. I taught myself to sew and knit rather than learning it directly from my parents but having the mindset that such things are possible was a massive help. When I started growing vegetables in my 30s I realised how much knowledge I had picked up from my mum, despite never having been interested in it before.

    One point about these types of skills is they are not only useful but they are life enhancing. There’s an epidemic of mental health problems going on in the so-called developed countries, and making things, and gardening have been shown to be therapeutic for people struggling with depression and anxiety.

  11. I love this! We unfortunately don’t have home economics here anymore and it is such a shame! I’m hopeful for my kids (and also have bouts of anxiety when I think about what their future may be with climate change) because I’ve been passing on these skills to them. Good for your daughter for standing up for change!

  12. Five years of this website.It’s grown so much! I’ve learnt lots from you, most notably an introduction to ferments and stepping up my first of the three R’s. You were my introduction to sourdough and while I now use the French kneading technique to make my bread, I wouldn’t have gotten here without Eleanor and her (knitted?) hair braids. I made produce bags from seeing yours and now I’m thinking of making a roll of unpaper towels after reading that recent post.

    Thanks for all the ideas.

  13. […] For inspiration and ideas please go to the Zero-Waste Chef. […]

  14. I love the bread slicing guide, but was wondering… do you think it could be made using a strong wood glue in place of the screws? I can get the wood cut to size at Home Depot, then sand it until smooth. But I don’t have clamps or a workbench to clamp it to.

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