Environmentally Considerate Living – Part 1

Living an Environmentally Considerate Life – What we can learn from growing up in the pre-consumer age


by Valerie Garforth (FAUSA)

We of the Baby Boomer generation have much to answer for when it comes to environmental impact, but we know how to live an environmentally considerate life – we just have to look back to our younger days, growing up in the pre-consumer age. Young people today are rediscovering how to live that way, and we have much to learn from each other!

My husband, Peter, and I grew up in England in the 1950s and 1960s. Great Britain was still recovering from the effects of World War II: city centers were bombed out, there was food rationing until the mid-1950s, and there were very few cars on the road. People cycled, took the bus or train, or walked, and they were slim and fit!  Although the war was over, the Cold War and the Korean War still loomed large; however, the National Health Service had been introduced in 1948, bringing a sense of freedom from fear of sickness. We had a new young queen, a small prince and princess, and a new Elizabethan age was dawning. We were all poor in terms of physical possessions but rich in our sense of community. What can we learn from growing up then?  


borsch 4260907 960 720Food was very simple: people cooked and ate at home. There might be a roast on Sunday, followed by leftovers for several days. The cooked meat would be ground up for a shepherd’s (lamb) or cottage (beef) pie or served cold with hot potatoes. Chicken bones would be boiled to make a base for soup. Very little food was wasted, and vegetable scraps went into the compost or to feed backyard chickens. Vegetables and fruit would be much in evidence: many people had an apple tree in the back garden, and we would go blackberrying in the fields in the autumn to make blackberry and apple pie and jam. pumpkin 3659929 960 720People grewradischen 1379656 960 720 vegetables at home or on allotments to supplement meals, and we learned basic cookery in school. Since meat was expensive, the butcher’s shop arranged “clubs” to which one could pay in weekly for a turkey at Christmas or a chicken or roast of lamb at Easter.  

Milk was delivered daily to the front door. Later eggs, butter, and yogurt were added to the morning delivery. The baker came to the door at teatime with bread and cakes!  Although milk deliveries are not common today, young people (and not so young) have food delivered. Many young people today are becoming vegetarian or vegan and are experimenting with interesting dishes based on vegetables and herbs. There is much interest these days in community and backyard gardens.


Clothing was simple, and we did not own a lot of clothes. Clothing was of good quality and tended to last, but it was expensive. knit 869221 960 720We learned how to sew and knit at home and in school. Much clothing was homemade, and the material was repurposed: I made dresses for our little daughter from my old skirts. My mother-in-law knitted a new sweater for her husband every two or three years, and the old one was relegated to daily wear. When we lived in Scotland, I learned how to knit Fair Isle and Aran (cable knit) sweaters, which are expensive to this day if you buy them sewing 3698994 960 720in Edinburgh or Harrods! Most importantly, we learned how to mend our clothes – simple things like replacing missing buttons or zippers or darning socks, which I still do – and the local tailor would alter and repair clothes. We believed in the motto “a stitch in time saves nine.” We even made our own curtains and upholstered furniture, but I do not recommend that! shoe repair 3544335 960 720 

We had our shoes repaired and my husband still has rubber soles put on brand new shoes to make them last and be easier to repair. I have several pairs of shoes bought in Switzerland in the mid-1990s which I still wear. They have been repaired numerous times. Shoe menders can fix all sorts of issues, such as broken zips on suitcases or jackets. They need to be supported or we will lose them.  

Possessions... stuff!

chair 165102 960 720We had few possessions: furniture was expensive, and my parents had “utility” furniture which was produced inexpensivellaundry 4373593 960 720y during the war but lasted for many decades. They bought a piano for my mother at an auction for £2 and it cost £5 to move it to our house, a lot of money in those days. All the time I was growing up we had one tiny refrigerator which could hold two pints of milk: it had an icebox with an ice tray for six ice cubes. My mother would put orange juice in the ice tray with little sticks and when the juice froze, my sister and I had ice lollipops!  

My mother washed clothes in a “boiler” which could also be used for bottling (sterilizing) fruit. She hung the clothes on a line and to let them dry in the wind. When I was first married, I had no washing machine and washed all the clothes, including sheets and towels, in the bathtub. We even washed out cloth nappies (diapers) after soaking them in a product called NapiSan.  doll 611871 340

As children we had few toys: my father made me a rag doll (“Topsy”) from old curtain material and orange wool for her hair.  I loved that doll!  

Stay tuned next month for Part 2 – more lessons from the pre-consumer age on entertainment, travel, waste not – want not and today's modern conveniences. 


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