When In Crisis – Head Back to the Homefront and We’ll Meet Again!

I find it notable that in times of national crisis on an international scale our (writing from the U.S. here) collective reaction is to draw on the resolve and the homefront spirit of World War Two.

Image credit: Amanda Stiver

What has sold out in stores, aside from toilet paper and vitamins? Yeast, meat and potatoes, and other staples. In a strange way, we’re self-rationing. Just as our grand and great-grandparents did during that all-consuming war in the 1940’s. People are scrounging online to learn how to make their own bread, or at least have the means to do so, and looking for other simple comfort meals much like those that people relied on to stretch their rations.

This sense of, “If I’m stuck at home, I might as well go on with life and get back to the basics” is striking.

Families are exercising together, at least in our neighborhood. And neighbors are trying to keep a healthy distance, not unlike the way neighborhoods used to make sure that everyone had their windows blacked-out as an air-raid precaution. If we’re all in this together we have to take a care for those around us.

What else has sold out? Vegetable seeds! Can you believe it?! It’s like there is an instinctive need to plant a Victory Garden deep down inside us, despite being several generations away from WW2. Those who survived the war are in their 80’s and 90’s, yet this collective sense of history has reached all the way through the years of trends and revisions to visit their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

On the dark side, we also have hoarders and black market-style price gougers (individual and corporate, and mostly online). The good and bad of the WW2 has a tendency to repeat itself.

The global and national nature of the Coronavirus epidemic and the fact that it, like war, is no respecter of persons, wealth, or nation, has forged a similar atmosphere as the Second World War. Totality and finality forces you to face reality.

I had the privilege of studying civil defense documents from WW2 as my undergraduate thesis, and the same kind of local pull-together was recorded for me in those memos, memorabilia, and notations. First-Aid training was a community wide-effort. Plane spotters (which my own grandparents did while living in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon) and Air-Raid wardens were a vital part of daily life.

Experts were sent out from Washington D.C. to train local communities and encourage clothing and other drives for necessities for soldiers and civilians. Avid knitters and seamstresses accomplished great things to send items to those in need over-seas, just as readily as many now are making masks to protect loved-ones, neighbors, and perfect strangers.

In the same way, industry was refitted to produce vital supplies and the phrase “make-do and mend,” which was already a part of daily life from the Great Depression, extended into the war years as production of non-essential items was stopped. And here we are with our light and some heavy manufacturing rapidly refitting to produce medical supplies and field hospitals (also a feature of WW2 and WW1).

It’s no wonder that after Queen Elizabeth II’s televised speech last night in which she quoted the lines from a Vera Lynn song “We’ll Meet Again” (made famous during the Second World War) that it, as so many things related to that historic time, has surfaced again. It’s now number 22 on the iTunes chart.

There truly is nothing new under the sun. What we experience now has been lived before, yet how we react to it will be the measure of our generation.

Keep your chin up and keep thinking history!

Amanda Stiver

Dollars and Sense Savvy: Cut Up Your Own Meat

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.

The author, apron on, read to get down to practicalities!

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!

-Amanda Stiver