In recent years there’s been a movement growing in this country and elsewhere that centers around ideas of self-sufficiency, re-learning traditional skills, and reducing one’s “footprint” so to speak. Long time readers of this blog know that this is an area of special interest to me for example this post and this one. If these topics interest you too than DCPL has plenty of resources to aid you in your pursuit. Want to learn about urban farming? Check out Your Farm In the City: an urban dweller’s guide to growing food and raising livestock by Lisa Taylor. Are you interested in homesteading and old skills? Don’t miss Jenna Woginrich’s fine memoir Made From Scratch: discovering the pleasures of a handmade life. Maybe you’re fascinated with the “tiny house” movement. If so, you might want to start with the book that many people agree launched the phenomenon, The Not So Big House: a blueprint for the way we really live by Sarah Susanka.
Realistically, my own pursuits are hobbies that I spend time on with pleasure. Becoming completely self-sufficient involves a commitment of time and energy that I prefer to spend elsewhere. Some people though are making that commitment and an interesting new book explores this rising phenomenon. Emily Matchar’s Homeward Bound: why women are embracing the new domesticity delves deeply into what Matchar does indeed call the “New Domesticity” and presents a balanced view of both its appeal and some of its dangers. This is domesticity as rebellion – young women (and some men as well) are taking up knitting, sewing, gardening and baking. Some are even leaving careers and fully embracing a life centered on the home. They are homeschooling, homesteading, and starting their own businesses on Etsy. Matchar interviewed many of these people and the book is filled with these well-educated women and men explaining their passion for this style of life. It is very easy to fall sway to the romance and appeal of these life choices but Matchar is an exceptionally clear-eyed writer and thinker. She points out, throughout the book that it’s only in recent history that this way of life has been a “choice” for most people – it was the way you had to live if you and your family were going to survive. Matchar does a good job too in analysing some tenets of the movement that are dubious or just plain wrong. For example she very smartly refutes the popular idea that feminism is what drove women out of the kitchen and into the work force leaving them no time or inclination to cook proper meals. In fact, it was post World War II market forces that shaped and drove the success of the processed food industry along with the overwhelming popularity of such cookbooks as Peg Bracken’s legendary The Compleat I Hate to Cook Book. That volume, by the way, was an enormous hit with, you guess it, stay-at-home wives and mothers. This linking of feminism with the rise of the fast and processed food industry has been promoted by everyone from controversial lightning-rod Caitlin Flanagan to Slow Food advocate Michael Pollan who really ought to know better (and I’m one of his many fans!). Finally, I appreciated Matchar’s thoughtful exploration of some of the potential dangers involved in some of the passionately held and promoted beliefs in the movement. What effect on “herd immunity” does a wide spread choice of parents not to have their children vaccinated? What happens to social ideals such as affordable day care and quality public schools if more and more people opt out of the culture?
For a masculine focus on some of the same questions, check out Shop Class As Soulcraft: an inquiry into the value of work by Matthew B. Crawford.