Thinking of our food abundance13 Sep 2017
I love the way Fair Food Forager blogs cover just about everything on the healthy food – healthy planet spectrum, but I really enjoyed last year’s blog on Shane Jordan with his emphasis on loving food and hating waste. I was delighted to see Shane was back again in ‘Midsummer Supper in Oxford’ and reading it reminded me of something he said the first time he was featured ‘Shane Jordan – Waste Less Inspiration’
‘I think the availability of food is taken too much for granted’
He went on to talk about World War II as a time when people in the west really valued food.
Any peep into how people lived in historical times shows us that Shane is absolutely right.
I’m a historian and I keep coming across information, sometimes in no more than little snippets, which show us how careless and wasteful we’ve now (unintentionally) become with food, compared to how it was once valued. Take the value of ‘gleaning’ for instance – the right of women and children to follow the hand cutting grain harvesters and pick up the stalks of wheat or barley that have been left behind. There are heaps of nineteenth century paintings called ‘The Gleaners’ or something similar – there they are out in the fields morning, noon and evening, bending over to pick up a stalk or two of corn in one hand, clutching at their backs with the other. It doesn’t seem like much of a return. Unless you were a masochist desperate for a really bad back ache, why would you put in an effort like that?
In her autobiography of life in rural Oxfordshire (England) in the 1880s, From Lark Rise to Candleford, Flora Thompson shows just how important gleaning was (or ‘leazing’ as it was called where she came from –from Anglo-Saxon ‘lesun’ – to gather).
Breton, ‘The Gleaners’, 1854.
Gleaners could never collect enough grain for daily bread flour, that necessity had to be bought. But as you can imagine, with farm labourers earning only ten shillings a week, they’d buy ‘just enough’ and no more. There was never anything left over for the luxury of cakes or puddings. This was where ‘leazing’ came in. The labourers’ wives packed dinner baskets, filled water cans and for two or three weeks at the end of the harvest went with their children and ‘leazed’ the grain that would let a family have pudding and cake for the forthcoming year (if they were economical with it). The leazed corn was thrashed at home and then was sent to the miller for grinding. Families were so proud of their effort that when it came back from the mill, Flora tells us, ‘the mealy-white sack was often kept for a time on show on a chair in the living room and it was a common thing to be invited to “step inside and see our little bit o’ leazings” ’.
Rosemary Montgomery - Author and editor at Fair Food Forager
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