“How’s my ethical granddaughter?”
My grandparents are legends. They’ve been a big part of my life since the day I was born, frequent attendees at all school shows, and constant supporters of whatever I do. But they find my current day job very intriguing and foreign. How do you explain that you write about eco-living and ethical fashion, plus promote ethical products online through a platform that shows square photos with small captions, to people born in the 1930s?
Nana calls me her ‘ethical granddaughter’ and saves newspaper articles when they even slightly hint of the topic. The concept of sustainable living is alienating for their generation; it’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks… but is sustainable living really a new trick?
The other day, as I looked at my safety razor that reminded me of the ones men use in old movies, it clicked:
“Nana, sustainable living is simply reverting back to the way you used to live”.
So, on a sunny Friday afternoon, with a cup of tea in my hand that I hadn’t asked for, but was made for me anyway (classic grandmother move), I sat down with nana and grandad to get the ‘goss’.
“Grandad, how did you get your milk?”
My grandfather grew up in Wales, moved to London but when the war began, had to evacuate. They lived opposite a farm that provided the whole neighbourhood with milk. Every day, the farmer would head out on a horse and cart, carrying a huge metal can full of milk, and a ladle. The farmer would stop at each house to pour milk into the household’s containers. This was the same farm that provided grandad’s family with meat produce too.
Meanwhile, in New Zealand, my grandmother remembers her mother’s distinct morning routine: “Make the beds, get the children ready, and walk to Greenwoods Corner: the local shopping centre.” Shopping for groceries every morning was the routine for most women. “You’d have to shop daily because everything was fresh.”
There were no supermarkets. The meat was bought at the butcher in thin butcher’s paper, sweets from the sweet shop in brown paper bags, produce from the vegetable shop, and everything else from the store; packaged in brown paper packaging. Apparently, buying biscuits and prepackaged food was a rarity. This would only be done on very special occasions, or if you were rich. Everything was made from scratch, and nothing would go to waste.
(Note: Whilst my nana described the shopping experience, she pulled out a hanky from her sleeve, much like the one I’ve started keeping in my handbag to reduce paper tissues and the plastic they come in.)
“Nana, what did you use for nappies?”
She explained that a large square piece of cloth was wrapped around the baby’s bottom, and a flannelette piece of fabric was wrapped on the outside to make the nappy waterproof. My nana burst into laughter when she remembered that they now use those very cloth nappies (turns out, it’s mine!) to protect their pillows from grandad’s head sores. Talk about reusing!
After chatting for a few hours, being offered a cup of tea every five minutes, and listening to conversational tangents about relatives I had no clue about, I began to realise how similar my ‘zero-waste lifestyle’ was to how they simply used to exist back in the day.
I bike to the farmers’ market every Sunday morning to get my vegetables. It’s a community affair; I can imagine it is much like the experience of the women at Greenwoods Corner. I buy my grains, spices, pasta, etc. from the bulk bin store in my own containers, my meat from the butcher in containers, and only eat packaged food on the odd occasion we’ve been given something, or I’ve caved during a craving at the supermarket (I’m proud to say, this hasn’t happened in months). The life I’m living isn’t revolutionary and unusual; it’s been done before.
It’s almost as though we’ve advanced so far, that our hard work has come back to bite us in the bottom. Creating technology and systems to make our lives easier – supermarkets, plastic, and machinery – seems to have backfired. We’ve become so caught up in advancing technology, that we haven’t stopped to realise how it will affect us and the planet in the long run.
Perhaps my grandparents are the old dogs that should be teaching me the new tricks?
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