Are Today’s Conveniences Really Good For Us? Part II -The Bare Necessities of Life; Food, Clothing and Shelter

October 23, 2002

Are Today’s Conveniences Really Good For Us? Part II -The Bare Necessities of Life; Food, Clothing and Shelter

Imagine having to cook everything you ate, from scratch, by hand, probably with food you grew, or from food you got from bartering with your neighbour, who probably lived 5 miles away. Plus, bake your own bread. An amazing concept! But it was done and it was done every day, regardless of how much food you had or how many chickens were hanging out in the backyard. To truly understand this concept, you first have to think of yourself as a farmer because that’s exactly how it was for people of 100 years ago. Most people farmed, whether it was commercially or privately. Everyone had a garden – a big garden! And bad weather could devastate an entire winter worth of food. Not good if you had many mouths to feed, you didn’t make $60,000 a year, and there was no Quickie-Mart down your dirt road. Once you get past the growing-your-own-food concept, try to imagine yourself making three square meals a day for lots of people. If you have an image in your head of being stuck in the kitchen all day, then you’re there! This must have been a terribly mundane life and very physically demanding. But at least the food people ate 100 years ago was real. Now, nothing is “real” anymore. Even the fruit and vegetables we eat, something we like to think of as “natural”, are soaked in chemicals. Most food grown today is sprayed with pesticides to keep the pests away. The animals we eat are fed food with chemicals mixed in it or are actually injected with chemicals. It’s usually hormones that are injected to make the animal grow larger, faster, so it can be taken to market quicker. If most of us didn’t have to work full-time jobs, we could keep big gardens and grow most of our own food. Doesn’t everyone love to go outside and work in the garden? Don’t you feel great to see the bounty of your hard labour? Isn’t that the true meaning of Thanksgiving Day? It’s a very satisfying accomplishment to grow your own food and know your family will be healthier and happier for eating out of your own garden, not your grocer’s freezer. Is our health, our lives, worth the convenience of man-made, processed food that comes in a can or a box?

People a century ago didn’t have as much clothing as we do now but the fabrics and craftsmanship of their clothes were of a better calibre. It seems today what has been gained in quantity of clothing has been lost in quality of clothing. Everyone can appreciate an old favourite sweater their grandmother knit them; it’s still in excellent shape, keeps them warm, and doesn’t require machine-washing every weekend. I would rather have a very small wardrobe that consists of basic clothing but is made with good fabrics and craftsmanship that would last many years. Our ability today to buy any article of clothing we want, wear it for 10 or 15 minutes (the average length of a trend!), and then stuff it in the back of a closet, is a convenience we can do without. If we went back to learning how to knit and sew our own clothes, we would have more pride in our clothing and take better care of it. Besides, there really is more to life than just clothes, like: yourself, your health, your family, your education, and your career – just to name a few.

Hard to believe but people actually built their own houses with materials that today we would consider inferior, and with tools we would consider primitive. But that’s how houses were built and some of those old houses are still around today, a fine example of good craftsmanship and good ol’ fashion hard labour. Houses today are built with the latest technology, the best materials, and electronic tools. But not all houses stand the test of time; many foundations crack and many roofs leak. Remember lead paint and allergic reactions to certain fibres in carpets? Houses today provide people with great convenience, but some might say too much convenience. It’s possible if a person is provided with too much convenience, they will be lulled into complacency, and there are no benefits to being complacent. Once a person becomes complacent, the slippery slope begins and most everything else in that person and their life starts to slide. Yes, we live in nice houses today but there really wasn’t anything wrong with the houses of yester-year. It’s good to get off the couch and play with the children, go for a walk, or wash some dishes by hand. Being active is good for us, both physically and mentally.

The convenience of having heated homes and electricity (hooray for ovens and fridges!) is probably appreciated more in the cold-weather countries like Canada, than in warm-weather countries. If you live in the Bahamas, it wouldn’t be such a big deal if you didn’t have heated homes or indoor ovens, considering it’s probably warmer there in the winter than it is in the summer in Canada. And when it’s that warm out, you usually don’t require indoor heating and you cook outside – a lot! People have chopped and hauled wood to heat their homes, cook their food, and give a little light for the evening chores and play time for billions of years, and probably didn’t complain about it that much. Usually it was the men who did the wood chopping, although we know a fair number of women chopped wood too, but it was a natural excuse to get outside and enjoy the fresh air and get some exercise. Turning up your furnace in your house today does nothing for you but keep you inside and make you less energetic. The virtues of being outdoors and getting regular exercise cannot be understated; it is essential for good health.

Our standard of living has exceeded even our own expectations. Tune in next week, when we’ll finish exploring our new modes of transportation, electronic gadgets and how we learn differently today.

Diane is a full-time, freelance writer. She specializes in writing technical articles for the oil and gas industry, but also writes feature length magazine articles of all genres, including Calgary-based magazines. She is working towards a Bachelor of General Studies degree.