Now I don't have a problem with my taxes going to help feed the very old, the very ill, the very disabled and recent widows/widowers but I do have a problem with able-bodied people who can't lift a finger to help themselves. Or worse, those who already can't help themselves yet they continue to produce kids that they can't feed (a majority of those 1 in 7 on food stamps are children). Which pretty much makes my blood boil (and, judging from the comments in the article, I am not alone). So now that I've got that little rant out of my system, today's topic is about procuring your own food.
Years ago, welfare and food stamps weren't an option (very many years ago). Then came "entitlement programs" which included food stamps for the poor. There was a huge stigma to using food stamps back then and no one that I knew--even the very poor--would accept such a handout from the government. My single mother worked three or four jobs at times just to put food on the table as going on welfare simply was not an option (people had quite a sense of pride back then. Apparently that is gone today. OK I'll stop ranting). So how did these rural and urban poor who, by all accounts would have qualified for food stamps, put food on the table?
- They grew their own food. Many people had gardens ranging from what they could grow around their inner-city house or apartment to multi-acre fields of fruit and vegetables. My grandparents always had a huge garden, orchard, and berry patches. They also grew some of their own meat and dairy in the form of chickens, pigs, goats, and cows.
- They traded for food. Right next to my grandfather's farm was another farm (and another and another; this was farm country after all). That neighbor had honey from his own hives which he traded with neighbors and which his wife gave away as gifts. Each neighbor also grew unique items that the other neighbors didn't grow so that they could use these items for barter (or course they also grew the same crops which amounted to quite a bit of rivalry if someone's crop came in earlier/grew bigger/etc).
- They went hunting and fishing to put meat on the table. Although this looked more like a fun social activity that the guys (and some of the women) would engage in, it was these efforts that filled up people's freezers (if I had a nickel for every smelt I cleaned in my lifetime...).
- They foraged for food. Pretty much nothing was off limits when it came to getting free food--dandelion greens, wild mushrooms, huckleberries, blackberries, nuts from abandoned trees in the city. They would also glean other farmer's fields at the end of the harvest so basically nothing went to waste.
- They preserved their own food. Once they had all of this food together (and since food came in seasonally, in waves, they would end up with A LOT of a particular item at one time...zucchini, tomatoes, berries, etc.) they would preserve the food to make it last from year to year. Some people has smoke houses, every farm had a huge freezer, every farm wife had the tools, skills, and knowledge to make jams, jellies, preserves, and dehydrated items such as jerky and fruit leather. Sausage making was a big deal (and another occasion to generate a rivalry). I remember one uncle, from the "old country", made enough sauerkraut for everyone. It was a communal effort but also a self-sufficiency effort (both of which seem to be lost these days).
- They only bought the basics. I don't believe my grandparents ever bought a pre-made, pre-packaged food item in their lives. If they wanted pizza, they made it from scratch, if they wanted a chicken dinner, they made that from scratch. If they wanted candy, a cake, or any other item that people these days would buy at a fast food restaurant or from a grocery store, they made it from scratch. Their entire shopping list consisted of a dozen or so basic items from which everything else could be made (flour, sugar, oil, coffee, chocolate, spices, etc).
Sadly these skills seem to be lost on the majority of the population these days. I'm sure some pundit from centuries past is rolling in his grave right now, shaking his head in disgust, thinking this population has lost the ability to even feed itself. Which brings us to future posts with a more "survivalist" bent because once you can provide food for yourself, in the event that the government for some reason stops doing this for others, you will need to protect what is yours (case in point).