So much change, so much variety - Keith Roulston editorial
One of the problems of being my age is that you sometimes miss the good things about today because you’re thinking about the good things of times past.
That recently happened to me. I was doing research into the 1970s in old newspapers available online because I was documenting the history of the Blyth Festival. In the old newspapers, I was seeing how there used to be men’s and women’s clothing stores on main street, there were two places where you could buy televisions and the latest electronics, multiple places to get your car repaired, and two hardware stores.
Going back a little further, I recall having ancient cars that could make a trip down the rural concession to the farm I grew up on nearly suffocate you, because the road dust that clouded the air inside the rusted-out vehicle. A trip to one of our nearby communities was almost, in those days, like a visit to Toronto these days – a bit of an adventure.
Even when I grew older, we thought twice before venturing any distance. There were still stores in neighbouring hamlets to get groceries, even in communities like St. Augustine. The world has changed. Now, my old hometown of Lucknow doesn’t even have a grocery store left.
So I was bemoaning the losses of the past until I read Scott Stephenson’s search for the perfect ingredients for a superior sandwich in The Citizen’s Salute to Agriculture special section a couple of weeks ago and realized that we’ve lost some things, but discovered others.
If you look at things through the foggy lens of the past, we already had an infinite variety of choices. We have, for instance, businesses like Subway that offer all sorts of food we wouldn’t even recognize from my youth. I mean, from the view of the 1950s in this part of the country, even pizza was a new adventure.
So, when Scott started his search for the ideal ingredients for a sandwich at BRØD bread and pastry in Blyth and Blyth Farm Cheese just south of Blyth it was the beginning of a lesson in the wonderful diversity available in food these days. At BRØD, they got a loaf of the bakery’s orange-veined cheese bread. We had a bakery when I was growing up, but brown bread was as adventurous as I recall being in a white-bread community.
At Blyth Farm Cheese, they chose from a variety of gouda-style cheeses offered by owner Paul Van Dorp and made from sheep’s milk. Sheep’s milk? Our local cheese maker Pine River Cheese made only cheddar from cows when I was young. You wanted variety, you chose from mild, medium or old, depending on how long the cheese had been left to age.
Next Scott and his wife Chelsea were off to Seaforth to The Sprouted Mill and Bakery. Bread made from sprouted grain? When I was young that would have meant trying to salvage grain that had been stored when it was too damp. There they chose a sourdough loaf for their sandwich.
Next they visited 5 Chicks and a Farmer just east of Seaforth for back bacon from their heritage hogs but they also got a plump chicken breast from their pasture-raised chickens.
It was a bit of a hike to the next farm-based business at Meeting Place Organic Farm near Lucknow for summer sausage, one thing familiar from my youth.
In Wingham, they stopped at Homegrown Food Basket for farm-fresh eggs and yellow mustard. Then it was on to Green’s Meat Market, ironically the one sort of place that would have been common in the 1950s and 1960s, except larger and more modern, of course.
From there, they were off to Lucknow to their home in the building that was my church in the long-ago, to put their very special sandwich together.
Their journey for the ingredients, however, shows how different something so essential as food has become over the years. The huge selection at the massive supermarkets of today already gives us more variety than we would ever have thought was necessary from my youth. Then, beyond that, we have tiny, home-grown food suppliers like those Scott and Chelsea explored in their search for the perfect sandwich – itself something that’s so foreign to those of us who were once as young as they are.
You listen to the television news these days and hear endless complaints about the price of food, yet people today spend less on their nourishment than my parents, who survived the Depression and World War II food shortages. I, in turn, lived a far richer, more entitled life than they did, and my kids better than I. Hopefully, my grandchildren will too.
So, although I miss having all the stores we had on main street in the 1970s, I don’t want to do without those that replaced them. Such is our privilege in Canada these days.