Each February, women around the world mark the anniversary of the founding of the Women’s Institute. It has been 118 years since that snowy evening in Stoney Creek, Ontario, when 101 women gathered to hear Adelaide Hoodless speak, and then made that first step to create what has become the most influential and numerous sisterhood in the history of the world.
So – what made Adelaide Hoodless a woman who others revered? One who others would follow, who others would remember over 100 years after her passing?
Born into a farming family, where her father passed away before Adelaide had a chance to know him, she learned the hard facts that life was not easy, and that planning and team work were the keys to success.
Adelaide grew into a charming young woman, met and married a man from a well-to-do Hamilton family, and soon was busy with a young family of her own. But life brought the loss of her youngest son, caused by the impure milk she fed him through the lack of understanding of its risks. Following his passing, she dedicated herself to learn what had caused his death, and what could be done to prevent more such occurrences. When she had accumulated enough information to speak about the matter with some authority, she began her campaign to persuade the education system and government that it was most important that women have available to them the information and training to better feed and care for their families. At the time the government supplied information to farmers on the nutrition and feeding of farm animals, but their wives and families were overlooked.
By 1898 she had been asked by the Ontario Provincial Department of Education to write a textbook on Domestic Science, an early title for Home Economics, which was to be used in the province’s schools. She did so. Some of the subjects included were Infant’s Diet, Sterilized or Pasteurized Milk, and Food and Our Bodies. This book was used for many years in the Ontario schools, and did much to raise the levels of understanding of the role food and cleanliness played in the health of all families.
Although I have not had the pleasure of seeing Mrs. Hoodless’ book first hand, I have had the good fortune to examine a small twenty-page booklet written about it and its contents. Entitled “The Little Red Book” it was prepared by Sue Doiron and Pat Ozsvari in 1996 – Sue Doiron was at one time the Curator of the Adelaide Hoodless Homestead at St. George, Ontario. These ladies studied Mrs. Hoodless’ book and then reproduced some of the information and recipes contained in it. These were included in their booklet to indicate the depth of information and thought that she had brought to the preparation of the book itself.
How does this relate to life in 2015? We are once again in a scenario where too many young people who have been given little, if any, instruction in food care and preparation are in charge of many of the nation’s kitchens. Too many busy households rely on fast food take-outs for many of their meals, or on the heat-and-eat varieties from the grocery stores. While nutritional information is on the packaging from stores, these products also contain many additional ingredients, intended to extend the shelf life of the food. Just what these additional ingredients may or may not bring to the nutritional aspect is most unclear. If you buy fresh ingredients and prepare a pizza at home, the nutritional value will be much higher than buying one that may have been in transit, or the store’s freezer, for weeks. Similarly, if you have the space and grow your own lettuce and tomatoes, the salad you make from those vegetables will be much better for you and your family than a salad who’s origins may be California or even South America! The freshest food, with the best nutrition, travels very little – just from your garden to your table!
This is one scenario when in truth… “there is nothing new in the world.” Mrs. Hoodless recognized the problems that existed over 100 years ago – it is not exactly the same problem today, but similar enough to create the same nutritional deficits as in her day. What can each of us do to correct the matter? If possible, grow as much of your own food as is possible; alternately, buy as much as possible from growers in your own area – and it behooves us all to prepare more of our own food – after all, if you make it yourself, you will know what went into it!
Adelaide Hoodless’ advice of one hundred years ago applies even today. With food allergies, digestive problems and related illnesses on the rise, it is time to go back to basics: Get to love cooking in your own kitchen! Your future health and the future health of those you cook for will profit from your actions!
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