Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Knitting your own yoghurt

My op-ed in today's Herald

By Susan Daly

Tuesday June 09 2009

I know how the Green Party feels -- my own green credentials have taken something of a hit of late. The salad window box wilted to death when I was away for the weekend.

It is safe to say I will not be self-sufficient in homegrown food this summer. Pipe dreams of growing tomatoes in a pot and bottling them for winter like some class of Amish housewife have come to naught.

Things were so different about a year ago when it became clear that we would have to start tightening our belts. There was a rash of lifestyle articles telling you how to raise a chicken on a balcony, grow veggies in a half-barrel, make briquettes from wet paper, knit your own yoghurt.


It seemed that the patriotic thing to do was to embrace the simple life. Fashion your shoes out of last season's leather belt, create a party dress out of a pair of curtains a la Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind. Retro gardening and bread-baking books shot back to the top of the bestsellers' list for the first time in decades.

But it all got a bit exhausting, didn't it? Those of us who continue to have a job still have to work as many hours as before. Walking everywhere is a nice jolly hockeysticks idea when the sun is shining, and you have nowhere to be in a hurry. Finding two hours to walk the kids to school, walk yourself to work, then to the supermarket to pick up the dinner on the way home is not always realistic.

Convenience is still paramount -- few have the time or energy to churn their own butter from the milk of a cow kept in the back garden.

We have adapted in some ways; we might not get up at 4am to grind corn and bake our own bread, but we probably now know which supermarket has the cheapest sliced pan. It's just that we perhaps bit off more wholesome, organic fare than we could chew.

It was reported recently that some of the councils who assign allotments in the greater Dublin area were taking several of the patches of land back from people who had failed to actually grow anything on them.

There was a lot of tut-tutting from seasoned allotment users over these fair-weather farmers. But to be fair I'm sure the road away from the vegetable patch is paved with good intentions.

There was something almost spiritual about the idea of growing one's own food after years of thoughtless takeaways and stockpiles of expensive food bought in a fancy deli, destined to rot in the chiller cabinet of giant American-style fridges. We were a little ashamed of our excesses and we wanted to feel the refreshing sting of austerity.

I don't think we should feel too bad that we haven't instantaneously turned into survival experts. Not too long ago, showing you were not one of wasteful ways just meant putting a housebrick in the toilet cistern to save water on a flush. We can't expect to suddenly morph into Bear Grylls clones, building our own bicycles from two sticks of wicker and a punctured football. Do you think Michelle Obama is hoeing that giant vegetable patch in front of the White House all by herself? Is she heck.

Saying that, it might be nice if there were a few free council-run classes available to people who would like to give the old self-help lark another try. Clothes-altering lessons and urban garden courses might well reinvigorate our good intentions. It takes time for new habits to take -- who would have thought ten years ago that we would all be religiously separating our paper and plastic?

In the meantime, if you don't want to pull up your lovely rose bush to make room for a potato drill, don't worry about being called selfish and irresponsible. Enjoy the view -- at least it's free.

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