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History: Everything old is new again……

April 26, 2012

I’ve seen this before in my inbox and here it was again this morning. As I ponder how the locavore food movement is really just a concept to return to a system that was in place only 2 generations ago, this borrowed essay reminds us of so many changes that have occurred in the past 50-60 years.

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Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the older woman, that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. The woman apologized and explained, “Sorry, We didn’t have this green thing back in my earlier days.” The clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.”

She was right – the Baby Boomer generation and their parents didn’t have the “green thing” in its day.
Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled. But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.


Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags that we reused for numerous things.  Most memorable besides used as household garbage bags, was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our school books. This was to ensure that public property, (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribbling. Then we were able to personalize our books on the paper covers. But too bad we didn’t do the green thing back then.


We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But she was right. We didn’t have the green thing in our day.
Back then, we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts — wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady is right; we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.
Back then, we had one TV and our parents had one radio in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?) not a screen the size of the state of Montana . In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But she’s right; we didn’t have the green thing back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But we didn’t have the green thing back then.
Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint.


But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we older folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. April 26, 2012 7:16 am

    While this is a valid view pre-WW2, society changed radically after that war. We went from more decentralised population to a more urban based population. Advertising became more common, eventually it became almost unavoidable. This is not so much a generational as a cultural problem. Many in the current older generation embraced the keeping up with the Jones culture, and passed it on to their baby-boomer off-spring who took it to the next level, and passed it on to their kids who are now the X’ers, Millenials, etc. Skills like growing and preserving food, making your own clothes, cooking meals from scratch, and all other kinds of “old fashioned” skills were abandoned, often in the name of “progress”. This “progress” was seen as a wonderful thing, and people were actually encouraged to stop all the old-fashioned “drudgery” that they used to do. In cultures around the world, including ours, it only takes a generation or two to completely lose skills that used to be second nature to almost everyone. And this large skill loss is a huge problem, and will only become a bigger problem in the years to come.

    My mother is handicapped and needs special shoes for her leg braces. She could easily find a cobbler to do the modifications in the sixties through the seventies. However, now you only find a few shoe and leather repair shops, and she has to drive farther to find one.

    So generational squabbling really shouldn’t be the issue, we need to change our culture. We need to do it pretty quickly too. I think it won’t actually happen fast enough to make a difference though. The Japanese nuclear incident and the Gulf oil spill are major examples. Our country is now drilling more that ever, going whole-hog into natural gas fracking (with the contamination of drinking water that it leads to), and considering adding more nuclear power, when it should be screaming for alternatives.

    So in reality, it’s “everybody’s fault” that we are in this mess right now.

    • April 26, 2012 7:55 am

      I agree, Karl….we made a lot of changes because of progressive availability of products and services. And in the advancement, things were lost like craftsman and artisan skills in many areas. I believe the point of the essay is not to say we should all go back, just that anyone choosing to live in a more sustainable fashion is NOT doing anything new….just picking traditional methods with new technology and updated information. That is advancement–choosing a pathway that will be healthy for yourself and make a positive impact on the world.

  2. April 26, 2012 3:36 pm

    When I see how much litter we now have from disposable plastics, bottles, papers, etc., I can’t help but long for those days in my childhood when we use sustainable resources for many things. We went to market with our baskets made of rattan or palm leaves. Fish, meat and other items in the wet market were wrapped in banana leaves. Soft drink bottles were returned to be cleaned and reused again. In those days, we did not see that many litters and garbage. These days, if the garbage collectors go on strike for just a few days, the city is already turned into one garbage dump. 😉

    • April 26, 2012 7:05 pm

      And in our town we pay have had to pay for recycling service and then they often don;t come to pick up. People have gotten active tho more recently and there are more bins for you to go take your recycling.

  3. April 26, 2012 5:02 pm

    This has been my soapbox for so long I’m getting tired of listening to myself. The latest, for me, is the incredible amounts of trash that gets washed ashore on the beaches.

    • April 27, 2012 5:22 am

      I remember flying to Europe and seeing white on the water and pondering how I might be seeing so many waves….and was dismayed to be told that what I had been seeing were islands of trash!

  4. May 1, 2012 9:06 pm

    Ooh! I want a “Like” button!

  5. May 2, 2012 12:32 pm

    I remember saving “tinfoil” and waxed paper to use again, as well as bread bags and lunch bags, because we packed our lunch. Every scrap of colored paper was saved for another art project.
    Children didn’t do multiple worksheets but wrote their numbers, problems to solve, sentences and other lessons on tablets or slates. We wrote with pencils worn down to nubbins.

    • May 2, 2012 6:14 pm

      I had a visitor from France and she was appalled at how much trash we produce…and we have a compost and recycle. We have a very throw away society here.

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