My father’s sister Aunt Pat turns 90 this month. I got to get together with a bunch of the family to celebrate her.
We were catching up and somehow Aunt Zelpha was saying how she never had the knack of milking the cow.
“Lola was always the best at milking. We always had a cow, and then a calf sometimes”
They all reminisced together, and it was revealed that they grew all the food that they ate. The cow for milk, chickens for eggs and meat, and for greens: Chard.
They had a huge row of chard to keep them in greens every day.
“How did you cook the chard?”
“We boiled it.”
This flashed me back into the old days of “eat your greens.” It was something from black and white movies, greens as a slimy glob of boiled leafy veg.
Greens have changed now. We have steamed and sautéed vegetables. I blend spinach greens into my breakfast.
But that was what greens were for my grandmother. She grew her greens.
“When we had too extra chard we gave it to the chickens.”
This kind of life was a lot of hard work for my dad’s family. Now it has glamour. Growing all your own food? It’s the dream of many hipsters.
But this was world war two. And they were in California farmland. They had the room and the climate to grow food. There is not room for chickens and chard in the city.
They said they ate the same thing every day. Potatoes and gravy ever day.
My life now does not have that monotony. We have different foods every day, even if it’s the same regular rotation.
I had to go back and look at what it meant to eat less than a hundred years ago. We’ve done a lot of inventing when it comes to food.
Refrigerators were a huge advance in our ability to get enough food. I briefly worked for a refrigeration company, and once people figured out how to do it, it is not a complicated machine.
But everything seems easy in hindsight.
When people had a cold place to keep their food, it lasted a lot longer. And when food lasts longer, that gives rise to a new category of food:
You know what they called leftovers before refrigerators?
Seriously, guys, food was scarce. When my dad was a kid, people spent 40% of their income on food.
How lucky for them that they had a thrifty mom and kids to help grow their own food.
Like I said, that only worked because they had the location and the land to do it. Poor people in the day were actually known for being shorter than more wealthy people because of lack of nutrition during their growth periods as children.
So a fit healthy person back then was someone who was tall.
Shaking my head.
Things have changed. Now it’s a mark of poverty in America to be fat. We really figured out how to make food, preserve it and transport it. This is an amazing time.
As I was able to see, hanging out with my aunt to celebrate her 90 years, and to hear about how far we have progressed.