Waste not, want not – the Baobab tree

My ten year daughter old taught me something very interesting today. She told me about the Baobab tree which grows in Tanzania and is reputed to live up to 3,000 years old. The tree has a symbiotic relationship with its neighbours, the peoples who live around it as the tree provides for them in every possible way. After harvesting the tree regenerates again and many many generations will be sustained by the same tree. Every piece is used ; the fruit, which grows up to a foot long, contains tartaric acid and vitamin C; the bark is pounded to make rope, mats, baskets, paper and cloth; the leaves can be boiled and eaten, and glue can be made from the pollen. A sustainable society and a thrifty one at that.

Baobab Tree
A Baobab tree in West Africa

There’s a moral in that story for all of us. The ads tell us to ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ and we’re all recycling more but the reduce and reuse parts are probably harder. In the old days this was all just good housekeeping. Economic circumstances were different and people were used to making do and making things last. As the old recipe for Vicarage Mutton went, “Hot on Sunday, Cold on Monday, Hashed on Tuesday, Minced on Wednesday, Curried Thursday, Broth on Friday, Cottage pie Saturday”. The reference of course is to the traditional practice of making Sunday roast last through the week and every cook will have their own routine for utilising the excess from any given mealtime; whether as stock, stuffing, sauce or sambos.

Any extra which cannot find a human home can often be composted of course; or in my case a guinea pig provides an extra layer of reuse between the chopping board and the compost bin (which is where the hatch output gets ‘mucked out‘ to eventually!) but with a happy camper in the middle. I’ve started the vegetable garden for this year already with the aforementioned compost providing the backbone. If things go according to plan this year’s veg will derive nourishment from the detritus of last years and we’ll all be reaping the rewards this Summer.

Outside the kitchen, ethical living would suggest we repair rather than replace when ‘the wheel falls off ’. Electrical goods can be tricky to repair but hand-made goods will usually be amenable to the right attention. That well worn and much loved pair of leather boots can draw a new lease of life from a re-heeling and stitching whilst sparing the landfill for another few years at the same time. But at the end of the day it’s all down to personal routines and pragmatism and everyone has to find their own level, what works for them.

On a final note the scientific name for the Baobab tree is Adansonia digitata after the naturalist who “first discovered” it (Michel Adanson, in Senegal, Africa about 1750). I always find it mildly amusing to hears of things being “discovered” millennia after indigenous peoples have been living and working around them. When the first European discovered it, might be more accurate. But as often, at least on an environmental level, it seems the conqueror can still learn a lot from the conquered. We all have our own Baobab tree, it just needs to be discovered.

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