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Thursday 19 April 2012

Of Cakes and Chain Letters...

 I've been keeping the same sourdough starter going for nearly a year. It makes incredible bread, but to keep it going I have to feed it regularly with flour and water, throwing away the excess on days I don't need to bake. This always seems such a waste. Yesterday, I asked my sister if she'd like to take on my next batch of excess starter, to save me having to throw it away. She responded with news of the school-gate phenomenon that is 'Herman the German'.  This is a chain letter in the form  of cake mix - you take on the responsibility of a fancier version of my own sourdough starter, giving the excess batter away and baking a Friendship fruit cake with the remainder.  The cake sounded a good way to use up my own excess starter on the days I don't need to make bread, so I tried it out. It was delicious, so that's taken a weight off my mind (even if it has moved straight to my hips). While looking up the recipe online, I came across this on the web. It's the only good example of a chain letter I've ever seen - unless you count 'Herman the German'!  Please pass it on to any idealistic teenager - or pin it up in plain sight as I have. It's a reminder of how (relatively) easy our lives are now and how we could all save a bit of energy here and there. 
       The Green Thing
          In the line at the store, the cashier told an older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. 
       The woman apologized to her and explained, “We didn’t have the green thing back in my day.”
        The clerk responded, “That’s our problem today.  Your generation did not care enough to save our environment.”
           She was right — our generation 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.
            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 nappies 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 the clothes.  Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that lady is right; we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.
             Back then, we had one TV, or 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 a wadded up old newspaper 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 pizza joint.
           But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?
            Please forward this on to another selfish old person who needs a lesson in conservation from a smartass young person.
I hope that piece made you smile, but there is a serious point. Please feel free to pass it on, like Herman the German!


  1. Hi Christina, I'm glad you mentioned "Herman the German" because I'm hoping to dive into sourdough bread-making at Uni and pass the extra starter around friends & compatriots - he'll come in handy when I've run out of people to give some to! But I think that "The Green Thing", at least the version you give here, says more about the rudeness and arrogance of some people of my generation (those in their 20s) than the 'selfishness' of the previous ones! Best wishes, Ketty

  2. Hi Ketinka - thanks for commenting. Everyone's allowed to be as insufferably crusading as Lisa Simpson/Pip Archer at some time in their life. That's half the fun! Remember Tom Lehrer 's Folk Song Army? "We're all against poverty, war and injustice, not like the rest of you squares!" ;)