We live in an unprecedented time, a pandemic from a novel coronavirus and resulting disease, COVID-19, has nations advising their citizens to work from and stay at home until further notice. This is history in the making, and not far removed, just over a century from the last world-impacting pandemic, the Influenza epidemic of 1918 that followed close on the heels of WW1.
But I don’t really want to focus strictly on big history for the moment, but rather domestic history and frankly, the practical lessons thereof. What do you do when store shelves are running out from the depredations of panic shoppers, and you can’t get the pre-packaged foods you’re used to?
Home economics/Depression-era savvy to the rescue! The home economics movement taught, mostly women, how to take advantage of common sense when shopping to be a good consumer, and get the best deals and therefore most mileage from your income.
Likewise, the Great Depression taught people that wastefulness was a dirty word. When you can’t easily go out and buy a replacement the next day, you make do with what you have. In the same vein, wasted food thrown out is wasted money thrown away.
After visiting the local warehouse club store today for provisions, my mom noticed that though most of the frozen meat was sold-out (the Sunday rush, we presumed) there were plenty of larger-size packages of fresh beef and chicken, still there, looking for a hungry home.
As we reviewed the collective wisdom of both my grandmothers, we realized that the only thing standing between a fresh package of meat and a deep-freezer was a sharp knife, a little slicing know-how, and a freezer bag or two.
From one big package of beef round roast we got two good-sized steaks, one medium roast, and a package of stew meat. Then we sharpened the knife because there is nothing more creepy-crawly than trying to cut up fresh meat with a dull edged blade.
From a package of giant chicken breasts (4 to a pack) we got a gallon bag of chicken cutlets. Again, with the sharp knife.
Divvied up into freezer bags and marked with the date and store we originally bought them at, into the freezer they went. And the cost was substantially lower then buying the pre-frozen variety.
My grandparents and many of their generation who dealt with a pandemic (1918-1921), a massive economic depression (1929-1940), and a second World War (1941-1945) had a “can-do” outlook, rather than a “do-for-me” attitude. We’ve been used to a culture of “do-for-me”, but it’s actually extremely empowering to take back some of that being done-for and turn it into, “I can do this!”
Even something as simple as cutting up some of your own meat or getting back into the swing of pantry cooking. These are little steps, training wheel into a different mentality, but they can make a dollars and cents difference!
[If you care to comment: What kind of dollars and sense savvy and practical considerations have you drawn on to make the best of difficult circumstances?]
Even during this crisis the past is full of practical lessons that can teach us how to react to emergencies in the present.
Keep thinking history!