Don't be scared

23 June 2010
Thank you all for your kind messages of support.  We will all miss Bernadette very much.

They've scared us all, you know.  I doubt it was their original strategy, but it is now.  When you see advertising for cleaners that promise to kill bacteria that harm our families; when you hear that some people throw out perfectly good food because it happened to be out of the fridge for a few hours; when skilful homemakers doubt their capabilities so much they don't think they can handle soap making, well I just shake my head and wonder why.  When new products came onto the market back in the 1950s, I believe there was a genuine belief many of the products would make life easier. Of course there is the ever present profit motive too but now a new element has been added to the equation, dependence.  Producers want us to be dependent on their products and they use fear to influence us.

We have grown to be a bunch of sooky la las. Instead of learning basic skills as children and teens, we are sitting in front of computers playing games, we are opening packets of chips and biscuits for snacks instead of biting into fruit or making a cake or a sandwich; we are bypassing that period in life when we were taught to knit, sew, mend, garden, collect eggs and honey and change a tyre on a bike or car.  Instead of buying ingredients at the supermarkets, we're buying premade, tinned and frozen meals and prewashed salads to serve on the side.  Instead of learning how to build a fine and healthy life we are watching others do it on TV, movie and computers screens and tend to believe it's out of our reach.

So what's wrong with all that convenience?  It's robbed us of our knowledge and skills.  We don't know how to cook for ourselves. We don't see the need to garden when we can buy what looks like fresh fruit and vegetables at the shops. We prefer our meat pre-sliced and unrecognisable on a plastic tray so we don't know our cuts of meat and we forget that for every bite of tender steak or pork, an animal has died.  We stop canning/preserving our excess food because we're scared of that word botulism.  We clean everything in our homes with chemicals that give us an environment SO clean, our babies are failing to develop resistance to everyday bugs.  In a nutshell, my friends, we've set ourselves apart from the natural world and we've traded our independence for convenience.

I think we lost out on that trade.

Since I regained my independence and reskilled myself, I now know that if you can trust your food suppliers to give you wholesome food then it is okay to leave milk, cheese or meat out of the fridge for a while.  There are no bugs lurking, just waiting to attack anything that steps out of the fridge.  Food spoilage will happen if you're sold old produce, or produce that has been contaminated in the food chain.  I have read of meat contaminated with ecoli in America, here in Australia, and I imagine in many other countries, there is a problem with contaminated fruit and vegetables from China.  That is a problem with government regulations and testing and should be brought to the attention of your local member of parliament or senator.  It is only when they get a lot of complaints from the people who vote for them, that they will stand up and demand action be taken.  Never underestimate the power of a written letter to a parliamentarian or congressman.  The thought of losing a vote is a powerful incentive to act on your behalf.

But the other things are there for us to change.  I believe the best way to learn is to find someone who is already doing what you want to do and ask them to teach you.  I am sure you'll be surprised at how generous and friendly older people are when asked about a skill. Most of them have grown up seeing mothers and fathers teach their children with the expectation that those same skills will be passed on again later.  If you have no one close by to ask, we all have computers, we can do our research about various products and ways of tending to our housework.  Books and blogs are also an excellent way of learning various skills.

And don't forget to think!  You can work things out, even if you've learnt that you shouldn't - that you should rely on others to do the thinking.  Gathering the skills of life will teach you that self reliance is a fine way to live.  We're not talking about rocket science here - this is the everyday work of women and men that has been part of our lives forever.  Don't let it slip away from you and your children.  Learning, and then teaching, will open up a rich life that will allow you to live well even if the system starts to crumble around you.  Understanding the natural world - including the bacteria and fungus that surround us, will show you that not everything has to be killed in order for us to live.

You don't have to live as Hanno and I do or learn every skill but you should learn about what you do.  If the only part of a simple life that you have the time or inclination for is cooking, then learn every aspect of it, and  pass that skill on.  If you want to add a new skill, learn about it thoroughly, so that you don't just know it, you understand it as well.  For instance, baking bread isn't just about the ingredients and method, it's also about understanding the chemical processes of baking so that you can fix problems that occur.
Even though we now have all manner of products that promise to give us a better life, I don't think we can look after ourselves as well as we used to.  When things go wrong, we're stumped.  We don't know what to do. We believe stupid claims made by advertisers.  Somewhere along the way we lost that burning desire to do for ourselves.  I hope I've rekindled the spark of that desire again within you.  Regaining independence is not difficult.  It is there for the taking but it is not purchased or available to the faint-hearted.  Be bold, step up and take back what is yours, you'll be better for it, and self reliance will be your fine reward.