Changing times for "21st-century Ireland, where people are looking for ways to reduce both their spending and their negative impact on the environment"...
Recycling the good old days...
WHAT'S THE STORY WITH WARTIME NOSTALGIA BOOKS?
'Knickers renewed - one good pair from two old pairs; here's how to manage it," begins one snappy article from a collection of pamphlets originally published by the British government during the second World War and which have recently appeared in book form.
The trick, apparently, is to cut a new gusset from the back of one pair and neatly sew it into place on the other pair and off you go, good as new.
Make Do and Mend contains dozens of original facsimile leaflets offering hundreds of tips on how to make everything from carpets and gloves to saucepans and blinds last a whole lot longer.
There are details on how to darn deftly and instructions on how best to convert a tired pair of men's pyjamas into a reinvigorated summer frock for your daughter (although there are no instructions on how to make said daughter like or wear said frock).
The book shows readers how to make a pair of socks last a lot longer than they should and, if you fancy making a pair of slippers from scratch using only macramé twine and rags, then this is the book for you, although you might first have to find out what macramé twine is.
A second collection, stirringly titled Eating For Victory , was published alongside Made Do and Mend . It contains hundreds of low-cost recipes including mock fried egg, semolina porridge and a worrying amount of suet-based treats. It is filled with tips on making perishable food last longer - although, in truth, many of the tips seem to involve baking the daylights out of stale bread and optimistically renaming the end product Fairy Toast or Wheatmealies in the hope of passing it off as a tasty biscuit.
NOSTALGIA HAS BEEN one of the big trends in publishing in recent years, with books such as the Dangerous Book for Boys flying off the shelves. According to Anna Sampson, who handles the publicity for the wartime pamphlets, they have proved to be "incredibly popular" since they were published last autumn. The first print run sold out in less than three weeks and close to 50,000 copies of Eating For Victory and Make Do and Mend have now been sold.
"It wasn't just about the nostalgia," she says, "we did feel that there was an eco-angle to these books. Like many people, I feel incredibly guilty about how much I end up throwing out and these books really hammer home the ethic of recycling." She stresses that it is "not a guide book" and while the publishers "haven't modernised it at all, there will still be tips that resonate today".
Both books are a striking illustration of how far we have travelled as consumers in the last 60 years and how much we take our staggering levels of consumption for granted. Despite some of the more austere and outlandish ideas, there are elements of the books which could be brought back to 21st-century Ireland, where people are looking for ways to reduce both their spending and their negative impact on the environment.
Eating for Victory has proved to be the more popular of the books and, despite all the suet, lard and pilchards between the covers, it provides a snapshot of Britain at its healthiest. The comparative health of Britain at war hasn't been lost on some very high-profile opinion-formers, and nostalgia for old-school cooking is likely to come even more to the fore later this year when Jamie Oliver returns to our screens with a new series and a cookbook inspired by the Ministry of Food.
Set up during the war to help families make the most of rations, the ministry's network of food centres hosted cookery demonstrations and handed out recipes and tips on how to best use scarce ingredients. It was credited with keeping Britain fighting and resulted in the public having one of the healthiest diets at any time in its history.
Skip three generations and people living in much of the developed world have turned into unhealthy wasters. When our clothes fray around the edges we don't get out our darning needle - we leave them to rot in cupboards or just chuck them in the bin. And when holes appear in our woollies we are more likely to watch them unravel than darn them - even if we wanted to darn them, how many of us would know where to start?
It is, however, food which we waste more than anything else and while we moan - with just cause - about spiralling food prices, we also throw tonnes of it away. The amount of good food dumped by people because it looks a little tired or has come too close to its best-by date prompted British prime minister Gordon Brown to declare a "war on waste" at the G8 summit earlier this month. Launching an initiative aimed at encouraging households to reduce their food waste, Brown claimed "unnecessary" purchases were in part responsible for recent food price rises. He cautioned families to store fruit and vegetables carefully in order to prolong their shelf-life and called on people to plan their meals better so that less food ends up in the bin.
While there are no reliable statistics on food waste in Ireland, the figures from the UK are illuminating. According to the British Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the UK wastes an estimated €25.2 billion worth of food every year. Research published by the British Cabinet Office earlier this month recorded families throwing away 4.1 million tonnes of good food annually at a cost of around €528 per household. The UK retail sector dumps a similarly sized food mountain each year.
To put those numbers into perspective, that is 4 million apples, 1.6 million bananas, 6,000 chickens, 300,000 bags of crisps and 440,000 ready meals - and a whole lot more - going in British bins every single day. The writers of those wartime pamphlets are no doubt turning in their graves.
Report from the Irish Times Newspaper.