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