We all know the Wartime advice to “Make Do and Mend” and “Dig for Victory”, in fact I have modern postcards pinned my wall proclaiming the slogans, but how relevant is this advice in 2016 and how does it help us in going zero waste ?
DIGGING FOR VICTORY
Just after the start of the Second World War the British Government encouraged the nation to dig up gardens, parks and sports pitches to grow vegetables and make the country as self-sufficient as possible. The Dig For Victory Campaign became one of the most well-known home initiatives of the period.
In 2016 we do not thankfully have any fear of shipping lane blockades, rationing or impending food shortages but growing even a small number of vegetables or fruit can make a huge difference to our food budgets and to reducing the amount of packaging that comes into our lives. Vegetables that are notoriously hard to find without plastic, such as peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, herbs, rocket and lettuce, can be grown in relatively small beds or on windowsills…or go all Alys Fowler (my gardening heroine) and plant them amoungst your flowers.
I am adding fruit trees to my garden this year as well as more roses (for rosewater), peas and rosemary. Due to strong winds we lost the ivy hedge that seperated the courtyard from the back garden and, instead of pitting up trellis as I’d previously planned, I am instead going to make a bamboo a frame to grow beans over.
Last year I had plenty of tomatoes, courgettes, salad leaves, cucumbers, beetroot and onions as well as mint and lavender for tea so I am doing all those again with a few new additions I’ll decide on when I start seed shopping *excited*.
I love flowers too though so there will be more hollyhocks, foxgloves, dahlias and other pretty blooms for cutting so I can stop buying cellophane wrapped bunches.
Something I have not done enough in the past, with the exception of blackberries, is foraging. This year I hope to start so I will no doubt regale you soon with stories of wild garlic, elderflowers and berry picking.
Rationing started in January 1940 and meant that every tiny morsel of food was valuable; families could not afford to waste any of it. So dishes were developed to use leftovers to keep the population going.
With modern freezers and fridges leftovers can be kept for future meals very easily. Whether its is eating last night’s lasagna as today’s lunch or cooking a chicken pie with the Sunday roast leftovers, saving leftovers and reusing them can save a lot of money.
I buy food a few times a week with the next day or a couple of days in mind. A chicken is not just tonight’s roast, it is tomorrow’s chicken pasta and the following day’s curry as well as sandwiches for packed lunches. It then becomes soup with leftover vegetables when I boil the carcass with an onion to make stock, something people tell me they have no time for but which takes very little supervision and produces divine flavours for no money at all. In addition the sprouts, potatoes, courgettes or cabbage that tonight we eat with the chicken will become bubble & squeak and, as usual, we will fight over the crispy burnt edges. My Nanna used to make giant potato cakes with leftover mash, from which my mother invented the potato pizza. It was a huge treat, which it turns out was yesterday’s leftover mash mixed with a tablespoon of flour and a knob of butter, flattened onto a tray and baked in the oven for a few minutes to form a skin before being topped with the usual pizza sauce, toppings and cheese and returned to the oven for 15 minutes or so.
SAVING KITCHEN SCRAPS
One of the most heavily rationed food items was meat and to supplement their meals many families kept chickens or joined pig clubs with their friends or neighbours. Any food scraps that came out of their kitchens would be fed to these animals so reducing the food waste amount even further. The Government also collected the food scraps of households without any animals to feed.
This advice is not as useful to most families today as the keeping & slaughtering of pigs is much more tightly regulated than it was 60 years ago. We could keep a few chickens though for their eggs with the bonus of knowing the conditions in which the eggs were produced. I’d love to keep chickens and it is something that I may look into in a couple of years. I have the room…just not, as yet, the knowledge.
Instead of livestock the compost heap or bin is the next best way of using kitchen and other garden scraps instead of wasting them. This year’s waste can become next year’s compost in which you can grow tomatoes next year…
Plus it is essentially free!
The British Ministry of Food produced many leaflets about the importance of preserving fruit and vegetable gluts during the growing seasons to supplement rations during leaner months. Methods included making jams, pickles and chutney.
I once had a misadventure whilst attempting to set my strawberry jam during home economics class at 14 which put me off jam making for years, but it is so easy and satisfying its definitely worth giving it more that a single go! Tomato sauce, pesto and pickled vegetables are also worth trying with your garden gluts and vegetables such as peas and beans are really easy to freeze to use throughout the year.
Preserving will also automatically lead to less packaging as making your own means buying less.
MAKE DO AND MEND
On the 1st June 1941 clothes were rationed in Britain as the manufacturing capacity of the country needed to go towards the war effort rather than clothing the nation. The ‘Make do and Mend’ campaign suggested ways to repair, rework and recycle old clothes and clothes swaps were set up between friends, neighbours and by organisations such as the Women’s Voluntary Service.
In today’s economic and ecological climate, mending the clothes you already have in your wardrobe makes perfect sense and a well made coat or pair of shoes can have a long life with occasional maintenance. If you love and enjoy wearing a certain item it makes more than just economic sense to repair it of it loses a button or needs a new lining.
I have bought and altered vintage, secondhand and charity shop clothing since I was a teenager and it makes my wardrobe not only unique but also means I spend a ridiculously small amount of money on my clothes. I also have items that I still wear that were my Nanna’s, my Grandmother’s, my Mother’s or my Aunt’s and the women in my family regularly ask each other if an unwanted piece of clothing would be worn by anyone else before it goes to the charity shop.
It is easy to learn to mend your clothes or buy second-hand and alter pieces to fit you. I am hoping to release a thrifty mending ebook in a couple of weeks so if you want to learn keep your eyes peeled. If you don’t feel confident enough or have to time to mend and alter your clothing yourself then try to find a local expert in your area to do it for you.
Clothes swapping parties are also easy to plan and can involve gossip, wine and laughter as well as exchanging your unwanted pieces for something new and lovely and have the additional thrill of seeing that dress that makes you look like a blob transform your friend Betty into a Greek Goddess.
You can also look up local collectives and clubs…when we were little a lot of my clothing was from a local swap club in the village which was then handed down to my sister.