Just as the Second World War had its Victory Gardens, the great economic tailspin of 2009 will have its Survival Plots, it seems. Campaigns are underway to persuade households, including even those at 10 Downing Street and the White House (no word on Sussex Drive), to plant vegetable gardens this year as buffers against dismal economic times.
It may conjure images of a desperate Scarlett O'Hara digging for radishes outside the looted Tara, but still, encouraging widespread planting of vegetable gardens is a positive response to the times. Or at least it should be.
There is just one problem.
When our grandmothers brought baskets of tomatoes, beans and potatoes in from their kitchen gardens, they knew what to do with them. This generation does not. Many don't cook.
Some don't even boil water.
For far too many people, cooking has become one of the many lost arts. But, unlike letter writing and darning, it is one they can't afford to do without. An inability to cook leaves people even more vulnerable to economic turmoil. There is not much victory in a garden if you don't know how to cook your harvest.
How did we forget how to cook?
It has been a cultural shift. Cooking takes time, something people insist they have little of.
And, unless you like to cook -- and many people still passionately do -- it is all too easy to get by without doing any. Processed, ready-to-serve food has been cheap and plentiful in recent years.
What is more, during recent flush economic times, growing numbers of people simply stopped eating at home very often.
In New York City, tiny apartment ovens are famously used to store dishes, or books. In middle America, families were eating out more than ever in history until recently. Speed replaced quality. Happy Meals replaced chicken noodle soup as a favourite family comfort food.
Yes, food television and literature have flourished in recent years, and with it the rise of a foodie class. More recently, the runaway popularity of local produce markets and 100-mile diets has made it seem as if we all had returned to our senses and learned to love food (and cooking) again. Or at least to be competent at it.
But that's not true.
Cooking good food became a leisure activity, enjoyed mainly by those who could afford both leisure time and good food.
For everyone else, there is prepared food and takeout. Or fast food, which is experiencing a revival. "Would you like fries with that?" has replaced "Finish your vegetables" as the mantra around many meals.
I would not have believed that so many people no longer cook until I took a trip to the United States recently.
There, in a giant modern grocery store, I found row after row of ready-to-serve, highly processed or partially prepared food, but had to search repeatedly for basic ingredients to make dinner.
Then it struck me -- this is a grocery store for people who don't cook. They may assemble, or heat up, but they are not cooking.
This move away from food has been so gradual that many of us didn't even notice.
We buy shrink-wrapped meat that bears no resemblance to the animal it once was.
We buy boxed and canned food, often paying more attention to the packaging than the contents.
We give up more and more of the food preparation -- we don't grow our own, can our own, or butcher our own anymore -- and as a result, we don't understand food.
As a society, that makes us vulnerable, particularly now, and particularly those of us who have lost, or never had, any cooking skills.
It is not difficult to make cheap, nutritious meals, but you have to know some basics, such as how to cook with dried beans and how to make soup and casseroles, how good food should taste. And, to really make use of a garden, you have to know how to freeze or bake with the overflowing produce.
What's the alternative? It's what those who are food illiterate do when money gets tight -- they rely on fast food, sandwiches, even cereal.
"People are going to economize and as they save money on food they will be eating more empty calories or foods high in sugar, saturated fats and refined grains, which are cheaper," worries Adam Drewnowski, director of the Nutrition Sciences Program at the University of Washington.
The result, he says, will be a worsening obesity epidemic and growing health problems for those who are least able to deal with them.
He suggests a "diet for a new Depression," featuring such staples as beans, ground beef, cheese, potatoes, tomatoes, soup and rice.
I would also suggest some basic cooking courses for high school students -- boys and girls -- as well as courses offered in the community on how to cook and eat well for less.
Vegetable gardens are a great symbol of a badly needed new common-sense approach to food.
But once you grow them, you need a plan. Call it cooking, or just plain survival.
Elizabeth Payne is a member of the Ottawa Citizen's editorial board.
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