I was born in 1955. My mother was widowed twice, the first time before my first birthday, and again when I was seven. She was left with seven children to provide for, and didn’t have the benefit of any life insurance policy.
By standards even in those days we were considered ‘poor’. But were we? Everything’s relative, and compared to our immediate neighbours, yes, we were poor. We wore hand me downs, often visibly darned. We were kept warm at night with wool patch work quilts which mum spent days sewing from scraps obtained from a local coat manufacturer (I think my oldest brother worked there). Our warmest winter clothes were also patchwork skirts lovingly made from the same scraps. Our jumpers and cardigans were all hand knitted, often from old jumpers unravelled and re-knitted in a size to fit.
We lived on a 1/4 acre block, common in those days in Christchurch NZ. Much of the block was planted in vegetables. We looked forward to the first of the potatoes, always the first of the year dug for our Christmas nights dinner. Fresh beans when they came into season – I’ve never tasted beans like those mum used to grow, and pick when they were young and crisp and sweet. Cabbages, carrots, peas, cauliflowers, tomatoes, lettuce….. Mum grew them all. And she always found time to plant a lovely flower garden too. I loved our garden.
We were fed cheaply but well. For dinner meat and three veg was normal, with the meat being either from a weekly side of mutton, or sausages, saveloys or mince. Sometimes there wasn’t enough money for meat to go around eight people, so mum would buy a ham hock and make a thick vegetable soup. Milk in those days was subsidised, so the occasional pudding was usually milk based, either rice, sago or custard to go over a home made steamed pudding or crumble. Breakfast was usually either week-bix, porridge or toast, and lunch was sandwiches.
Mum always managed something small for us for birthdays and Christmas’. One year, I think it was about my eighth birthday I remember getting a pair of knitting needles, a ball of wool, and a small bar of chocolate. I was thrilled.
I didn’t know we were poor. To me, how we grew up was normal. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realised that whilst people in those days didn’t have the same abundance that is evident now, none-the-less, most had more ‘store bought’ things than we had.
Compared to our Christchurch neighbours, we were poor. But compared to most of the world would we have been poor? I suspect not. While we were wearing darned hand me downs and patchwork skirts, and eating home grown veggies with the cheapest of meats, much of the world was famine or war ravaged, the same as it is today. Much of world had no real roof over their head, no shoes on their feet, and only the clothes on their back. Much of the world wasn’t getting one good meal a day, let alone three, and it’s still the same today. I suspect that as poor as we were compared to our neighbours, we still would have been amongst the top 20% of the worlds wealthiest.
And what’s bought about these reflections? I’ve just been reading about the low fat diet revolution that has taken place over the passed 40 years – now in the process of being completely debunked. That had me thinking – The Pritikin diet, The Aitkin’s diet, Low carbs, High carbs, low protein, high protein, the 5 and 2 (two days of fasting weekly), vegetarian, vegan, dairy free, wheat free…… the list goes on and on in our over abundant western civilisation. Yet for most of the world, food, any food is welcomed.
Food is such a pleasure, and we’re so lucky to have it in abundance. Yet we insist in finding ways to deprive ourselves of some of it. We cut out fats, we cut out carbs, we cut out meat, we cut out our daily bread. My thoughts today are that any diet that omits a complete food group (true allergies excluded) is likely to end up being debunked at sometime in the future. In our Western World of true abundance, relatively new in society, we haven’t as yet developed the self discipline to prevent us over eating in preparation for the next famine. Today, I don’t think omitting any one food group is the answer – tomorrow I may think differently, but today I can’t see any sense in it.
I don’t know how or what we should or shouldn’t be eating in our over abundant western civilisation but the words of Robert Burns come to mind:
The Selkirk Grace
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
Food is such a pleasure. I’m going to keep enjoying it while I can (but I wish I could develop a little more moderation).