Join 3,524 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Thoughts about women and homemaking in the 21st century
September 5, 2012 9:11 AM   Subscribe

"This blog is a look at the social movement I call ‘New Domesticity’ – the fascination with reviving “lost” domestic arts like canning, bread-baking, knitting, chicken-raising, etc. Why are women of my generation, the daughters of post-Betty Friedan feminists, embracing the domestic tasks that our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shrugged off? Why has the image of the blissfully domestic supermom overtaken the Sex and the City-style single urban careerist as the media’s feminine ideal? Where does this movement come from? What does it mean for women? For families? For society?"
posted by showbiz_liz (250 comments total) 85 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yes please! See also her defense of Gen Y last month in the Washington Post.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:18 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


"How can I marry this person?" is probably not a great response to this type of blog, but, er, than was pretty much mine. Soz.
posted by ominous_paws at 9:18 AM on September 5, 2012


I don't think the new domesticity is strictly female—cooking, chicken-raising, pickle-making, etc. are all more popular lately among the guys I know than I think they were a couple of decades ago. I think there's a lot of satisfaction to be found in tactile creativity, especially when so many of us spend so much time working on computers.

Growing up (female, in the 80s and 90s) with a homemaker mom, I sort of rejected learning some basic domestic skills. I thought I wanted to be a career woman. And I am, except now I realize that everyone should know how to cook well, and all of the other basic handy skills my mom (and dad) tried to teach me are, in fact, very useful. Domesticity is part of the good life.
posted by three_red_balloons at 9:18 AM on September 5, 2012 [43 favorites]


I don't get the sense that this "New Domesticity" (a term I kinda like) is limited to or primarily something women do. That may well be me and the circles I run in, though.

I've also never encountered any of these listed peeves before now, but if I had I'd also be peeved.
posted by cmoj at 9:19 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


* that was. sigh.
posted by ominous_paws at 9:19 AM on September 5, 2012


I know many men who have undertaken canning and bread-baking. Asked why, one explained that he wanted a closer relationship with his food, seeking it by returning to "lost arts." Similarly, the women I know who do this do not give up their other pursuits; they see it as a return to simplicity. Nobody's giving up their washing machines yet. I'm unable to see gender playing a role here, but perhaps I'm not hanging with the right people.
posted by kinnakeet at 9:19 AM on September 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


The number of women whom I know in the 'real world' who are into canning, bread-baking, knitting, chicken-raising is very, very low. The internet allows enclaves of people with similar interests to form. That's a good thing for both women gamers and women 'domestic goddesses'.

I think we also have to consider what a bad economy does to both family structures and the interest in domestic arts, which is probably why my (fairly affluent) group of young compatriots isn't represented by the characterization. Canning doesn't make much sense when you can afford fresh vegetables all year around. A lot of canning blogs seem to be people who are doing it for home economic reasons.

Maybe I just need to read the book and not judge her argument based on a pithy mission statement which seems to imply that domesticity is anti-feminist.
posted by muddgirl at 9:20 AM on September 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


That said, after actually looking at her blog, I agree, there's no need to cover books in kraft paper.
posted by three_red_balloons at 9:20 AM on September 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Why so focused on women? I'm a guy, I'm into brewing beer, growing my own food, and I would like to learn to can. My best male friend has spent a lot of time learning to bake bread, and will be moving onto making sausages and pickling this fall. He also took a welding class. I can spend an entire Sunday trying to perfectly smoke brisket and ducks. It's all lo-fi, completely centered around home, friends, and family (even the welding is about furniture), and making our own stuff.
posted by oneironaut at 9:21 AM on September 5, 2012 [29 favorites]


And, three people beat me to it. Sorry, I was too busy making my own kraft paper and stencils.
posted by oneironaut at 9:22 AM on September 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


I think this movement is rooted much more deeply in organic/natural, environmental/low-impact, and frugal principles than anything to do with feminism.

FWIW neither my mother nor her mother ever canned, baked bread, knitted, or raised chickens, and they were both quite old-fashioned and the farthest thing from feminists you can imagine (grandma never drove a car, and outside of the grocery store, my mother has never written a check in her life).
posted by headnsouth at 9:23 AM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why has the image of the blissfully domestic supermom overtaken the Sex and the City-style single urban careerist as the media’s feminine ideal? Where does this movement come from?

Well, the economic crisis that made spending hundreds of dollars on shoes an unattractive proposition and made saving money by growing your own food and making your own clothes an attractive one might have had something to do with it.

On preview: what muddgirl said.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 9:23 AM on September 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I started knitting and quilting a few years ack because I needed something to do with my hands while I watched tv.
I started making jam this summer because I hate my job and wanted to produce something of value.
Sometimes a hobby is just a hobby.
posted by teleri025 at 9:23 AM on September 5, 2012 [12 favorites]


The tactile creativity element is key, at least for me. In occupations where no tangible evidence of your work generally exists, the concrete evidence of accomplishment that comes with cooking, cultivating food, knitting, or even home decorating is a refreshing psychic boost. I also find that many of these activities are conducive to "flow states," which are psychologically beneficial.
posted by amber_dale at 9:24 AM on September 5, 2012 [22 favorites]


And it's not such a surprise to see that people want to make quality things. It's good, though, now that it's not an obligation to know these things, it's a pursuit driven by someone's interests.
posted by inturnaround at 9:24 AM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


. . .the fascination with reviving “lost” domestic arts like canning, bread-baking, knitting, chicken-raising, etc. Why are women of my generation, the daughters of post-Betty Friedan feminists, embracing the domestic tasks that our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shrugged off?

Another guy here who cans, makes sauerkraut, gardens, etc.

One person's "new domesticity" is another's "survival skills" - I think many people, of both genders, are doing this as a response to the possibility of a much tougher, less abundant near-term future.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:25 AM on September 5, 2012 [24 favorites]


Why so focused on women?

I think the argument is not that these things are gendered, or that their bad activities to engage in - the problem she's identifying is that (in some circles), women specifically are again being judged based on their domestic appearance - how local is their food? How eco-friendly is their home? Do they preserve? Do they knit their own socks?

I don't move in those circles, so I'm judged on different appearances. But I'm still judged.
posted by muddgirl at 9:25 AM on September 5, 2012 [11 favorites]


Also, many people are unemployed or underemployed which can result in a lot more free time. That free time, left unfilled, can drive you crazy. Domestic hobbies are cheap and can involve very little initial outlay to fill that time.
posted by teleri025 at 9:26 AM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ok, more thoughts:

1) Absolutely agree with the tactile creativity angle. Spend so much time working keyboards and screens that anything else is a joy.

2) I'd *hesitantly* suggest that in the UK this stuff is more lady-centric than perhaps it is in the US - institutes such as the WI seem to be doing very well with the new domesticity, and dues seem to be less into it. But that's just my own experience.
posted by ominous_paws at 9:26 AM on September 5, 2012


Canning doesn't make much sense when you can afford fresh vegetables all year around. A lot of canning blogs seem to be people who are doing it for home economic reasons.

It's also tied into the local eating movement. If you're restricting the area your food comes from, fresh vegetables year round may not be possible.
posted by zamboni at 9:28 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't understand how an interest isolated to a few metropolitan areas amongst a very specific, mostly privileged demographic, reported in a bunch of self-congratulatory but minimally distributed zines and blogs constitutes a 'social movement'. Also, just as many dudes are doing this as girls. I guess I should probably RTFA.
posted by spicynuts at 9:29 AM on September 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Why are women of my generation, the daughters of post-Betty Friedan feminists, embracing the domestic tasks that our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shrugged off?

Because they don't _have_ to do it.

Making your own food, clothes, gardening, etc, is fun for a lot of people, but like anything, if you have to do it, it rapidly becomes drudgery.
However, if you've got the freedom to say, 'well, those tomatoes failed miserably, time for a grocery run', they become a hobby, and who doesn't like a good hobby?
posted by madajb at 9:29 AM on September 5, 2012 [53 favorites]


I think the wonderful thing about the feminist movement is that my mother's generation (she was born in 1951) rejected the "domestic arts" because they needed to assert themselves in a workforce and they wanted to be taken seriously so that future generations of women could have a choice.

I work AND make homemade buttercream icing from scratch, not because I need to prove my worth as a woman, but because frosting is so much better that way. I don't think it's bad to know how to sew or take care of your home.

Yes, sites like Pinterest can create unrealistically high expectations for what a woman should be able to do with her home, but in reality most of the women I know that use it never actually do any of the projects on there.
posted by elvissa at 9:30 AM on September 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm a feminist. I have chickens, grow food, bake, cook, freeze, knit, sew, spin, cross stitch, woodwork, do household DIY, brew beer, and god knows what else for practical reasons.

1. I'm lower middle class.
2. I'm bored and I have ADHD.
3. I need tangible, practical, and productive hobbies that have a purpose and provide me with something when I'm done.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:33 AM on September 5, 2012 [14 favorites]


I like this concept, I like the applications- I sew and embroider and bake bread and can and la la la. But "New Domesticity" is a term I refuse to accept. It relates to much to the submissive, femme, 50s housewife. Not that there's something wrong with being that person, but applying that to a whole array of home-making just doesn't seem to apply. As many have stated, it's not just women, and it's not just wives, it's not just mothers, and it's not just suburbians who are doing this.

I prefer "homesteading", which is how i've heard it been referred to in the chicken-coop building and canning and crafting books i've read.
posted by FirstMateKate at 9:33 AM on September 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


Just throwing in my view along with the tons of others that this is less a gender issue and more an economic one. I think it's silly to couch this stuff in issues of gender when there are clearly outside influences of a distinctly economic stripe that would, by correlation, contribute to a thriftier, more crafty approach.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 9:33 AM on September 5, 2012


I don't understand how an interest isolated to a few metropolitan areas amongst a very specific, mostly privileged demographic, reported in a bunch of self-congratulatory but minimally distributed zines and blogs constitutes a 'social movement'.

She wrote a blog post on Michelle Obama and domesticity that clarifies a lot of things for me.

There's a lot of content at that blog. Like I said, it's probably a mistake to judge the blog and the book based on a blurb.
posted by muddgirl at 9:34 AM on September 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


You beat me to it, madajb. I make my own butter sometimes, and once I ranted at a friend's grandmother, rambling about how much better it tasted, how evil the corporations were for making women "think" they could only buy store-bought butter, etc. etc. etc. She just looked at me stonily and said, "when they came out with store-bought butter, we were THRILLED to have one less thing to do during our busy, busy days."
posted by Melismata at 9:36 AM on September 5, 2012 [20 favorites]


But "New Domesticity" is a term I refuse to accept. It relates to much to the submissive, femme, 50s housewife.

From the Obama article:
A good liberal mother breastfeeds for an extended period, offers her children only the best handmade food, scrutinizes her home environment for chemicals. If she’s really a gold star crunchy mama, she grows some of her own food in the backyard, sews her kids’ clothes by hand from recycled fabrics, and homeschools.
I recognize a lot of this (from online communities - I don't like in a liberal enclave), and a lot of it IS gendered, although perhaps not submissive and 50s. Which is why it's "New" - her article on the history of domesticity shows a definition of that term far beyond 50s Happy Homemaker.
posted by muddgirl at 9:36 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Her defense of Gen Y is making this Gen X person sort of sigh and say "yeah, we tried before you and had to give up, so bless you and good luck...."

And speaking of someone who's arguably dabbling in the "New Domesticity" -- there is the feminist perspective that these "domestic arts" should be celebrated. One of the reasons some people advocated shrugging them off was precisely because they were seen as "lesser" ("Oh, it's just women's work"), but then a counter-movement came back with the argument, "wait, what makes women's work less important? It's still work, dammit!" There is an art and a skill and a talent at play when you meet someone who's very good at making clothing or cooking something or balancing the economic stability of a household, and shunning its importance just because "that's women's work" is belittling.

Or so the argument goes. And like all arguments, there are nuances. Because some of the lost domestic arts are lost for good reason (probably very few people know how to use a washboard to wash clothes any more, because using a washing machine is way easier and a washboard just plain sucked). And, everyone has their own specific skillsets and talents. There are women who are master woodworkers, and men who are heavy into knitting and cooking. And it's all good. (Hell, one of the big-name knitters in the knitting blogosphere is a dude.)

I do see her point about the whole judgy tone a lot of the blogs take - I'm actually seriously considering starting my own food blog right now, targeted more at people like me and my friends and my mom who are all impressed with the whole notion of canning and preserving and cooking and whatnot that other foodie blogs get into, but they're all put off by the fact that a lot of the foodie blogs are run by people who either have gorgeous kitchens or lots of equipment or are always coming up with elaborate recipes or whatnot, or with the perception that there is this snobbishness about it. We even joked that I should call the blog "my crappy kitchen" or something like that because I don't have an elaborately fitted-out kitchen (I'm way more like Julia Child than Martha Stewart when I cook), but I still am deep into canning tomatoes and making jam and baking bread. And I want to tell everyone "but this isn't hard, really, and you can totally do it without having the fancy-ass tools because that's what I do."

I didn't get into canning because of some kind of feminist or counter-feminist statement or some extreme foodie thing. I got into it because I was broke as fuck but still wanted to eat good tasting food. Being broke and still wanting to eat delicious tasting food is not a feminist statement, it is something EVERYONE can get behind. Yeah, some people get snobby about the "new domesticity," but some people get snobby about everything. I leave the preaching about how you need the proper kind of Weck jar to other people who think that matters, and quietly roll my eyes and then go on making my tomato juice in peace. (Sometimes I console myself with a homemade bloody mary because, hey, look, the tomato juice is right here in front of me.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:37 AM on September 5, 2012 [32 favorites]


Why are women of my generation, the daughters of post-Betty Friedan feminists, embracing the domestic tasks that our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shrugged off?

Partly because we need to, and partly because we can.

Yes, most women now need to earn an income, and we do, but we also need to maintain a clean, comfortable home, and feed and dress ourselves. Frankly, I don't think too many of us really had mothers and grandmothers who "shrugged off domestic tasks". They had to work and still look after the homefront. Some women may have had domestic help, but they weren't a majority — and the maids they hired would have had to go home at night and do all their own housework. And since we must do these things, why not do them in a way that's enjoyable and rewarding as possible? I don't much like to cook, so I streamline that as much as I can. I have two garden spaces on my property, so I put in a front and a back garden rather than have a wasteland in my backyard, and to grow some delicious fruit. I do love to do all types of needlework and decorate, so I go somewhat overboard on that. The result of my labour is high quality, long-lasting, unique items that are usually less expensive than anything I can buy in the store. It's totally worth it to me, and I see nothing anti-feminist about it. The whole idea of feminism was to free women up from gender-based restrictions, not to replace the existing ones with another set of strictures.
posted by orange swan at 9:42 AM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think this movement is rooted much more deeply in organic/natural, environmental/low-impact, and frugal principles than anything to do with feminism.

Agreed. I'm a (part-time) stay at home dad who does all of these things, with kiddo underfoot. It was much more to do with out socio-ecconomic standing than it does anything else. A huge part for us is that we don't make that much money, so when we DO spend money, we want to get as much out of it as possible. Yes, it costs "a bit more" to can tomatoes than it does to just buy them at the grocery store. But to purchase that quality of canned tomatoes, you'd pay out the goddamn nose.

We work those kinds of chores into our weekly routine, we can at minimum, peaches, tuna, tomatoes, jams, and usually pickles each year. We roast our own coffee, brew our own beer, make our own cured meat. And it's honestly because we love the shit out of really high quality stuff, but totally can't afford it...but being underemployed gives us plenty of time to invest in our goods.

We simply can't afford to have hobbies that don't yield us quality, utilitarian goods.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:42 AM on September 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


Hell, one of the big-name knitters in the knitting blogosphere is a dude.

So yeah, one dude is not really enough evidence that knitting isn't still considered a gendered activity (and I say that as a knitter and crocheter - I have one male knitblogger on my blogroll, and he's gay, meaning that other men can dismiss him if they want to).

What's the term for when we point to the only female executive in a room as evidence that there's no glass ceiling?
posted by muddgirl at 9:44 AM on September 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think the argument is not that these things are gendered [...] the problem she's identifying is that (in some circles), women specifically are again being judged based on their domestic appearance

That reads as a gendered argument to me, and I'm really not seeing that in the blog. I think the blog is focused on women because the author writes about what she's interested in and has a certain POV. There are as many similar foodie/car/maker blogs written from a male perspective as you would care to look for.

It's less about gender in my view, and more of an interest in reviving manual and craft skills by people who work office jobs and have only read about doing things with their hands. This is done by choice, not necessity. It's about the satisfaction of doing things yourself and being proud of the end result, rediscovering that handmade can be better than store bought.

The emergence of the "Domestic Goddess" archetype is unfortunate, in the same way that Power Women in the 1980s and Supermoms stereotypes in the 1990s and 2000s were unfortunate---they set unattainable goals which commentators can make their readers feel guilty for not living up to (and advertisers to make patronizing adds about).
posted by bonehead at 9:44 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


My wife does all of the sewing, but only because she's better at it than I am. I do all of the baking, cheesemaking, pickling, fermenting, and almost all of the cooking. Nice to know I'm not the only one.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:45 AM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Making your own food, clothes, gardening, etc, is fun for a lot of people, but like anything, if you have to do it, it rapidly becomes drudgery.
However, if you've got the freedom to say, 'well, those tomatoes failed miserably, time for a grocery run', they become a hobby, and who doesn't like a good hobby?


This, plus the "screw you monsanto" and "I'm helping the Earth!" factors.

I'm getting close and closer to being able to make an entire taco, including shell and cheese, from my yard. That'll be an amazing day.
posted by DU at 9:45 AM on September 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Did we crash the blog, or is it just me?
posted by muddgirl at 9:46 AM on September 5, 2012


I have to LOL at all this. What twenty- to thirty-something hipsters in Brooklyn are "reviving" in the twenty-tweens are what my fellow rural MN teenagers and I called "4-H" in the Eighties.
posted by nanojath at 9:46 AM on September 5, 2012 [21 favorites]


an interest in reviving manual and craft skills by people who work office jobs and have only read about doing things with their hands...

The emergence of the "Domestic Goddess" archetype is unfortunate


So let's promote the interest without the archetype.
posted by muddgirl at 9:48 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


So you were doing it before it was cool?
posted by theodolite at 9:49 AM on September 5, 2012 [10 favorites]


nanojath, why does that make it LOL-worthy? Only rural people can do those things authentically? It's a joke when city people do them? Urbanites should restrict their hobbies to cocaine and gallery openings?

Nobody in Brooklyn is claiming that they invented canning, you know. Good for you that you got to grow up with 4-H. Lots of people didn't.
posted by enn at 9:52 AM on September 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


Domestic Goddess.
posted by bukvich at 9:53 AM on September 5, 2012


I have to LOL at all this. What twenty- to thirty-something hipsters in Brooklyn are "reviving" in the twenty-tweens are what my fellow rural MN teenagers and I called "4-H" in the Eighties.

Yeah here's the thing that drives me nuts (speaking as a Brooklynite) - based on how quickly I see these fads rip through the 20/30 somethings, I have a hard time believing that these are 'movements'. They don't seem to be engaged in with what I would call purpose but rather seem to be, like all the other costumes 'hipsters' wear, a pose intended to relay tribal membership to others. If all these people are still doing this stuff, without the 'look at me I'm different' ironic positioning in 20 to 30 years, then I'll buy it as a movement. Until then, it's just another fad.
posted by spicynuts at 9:58 AM on September 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Knitting, canning, and gardening are conspicuous consumption of free time.

They are not cheaper or more frugal than their modern mechanized alternatives (though they are cheaper than having someone else do things in an artisanal manner for you). They make a nice alternative to TV or Internet as passtimes go, but lets not pretend that they are significantly economical (at least not in the way the leisure class is dabbling in them).
posted by idiopath at 9:58 AM on September 5, 2012 [32 favorites]


Back in the 1960s a lot of women got into the back-to-the-land groovyearthmother thing, growing food, nursing babies, making quilts, etc. they, for the most part got sick of it. (Anecdote here: in 1970 when I carried my baby on my back people stared at me, it was unheard of.) Then after that the far right folks did the back-to-the-land thing, except with more weapons and a reinvigorated sexism. So now once again college-educated progressive women are doing this stuff. don't worry, they'll get bored soon enough. Notice how few men we see reviving the lost art of wagon building or hog-butchering.
posted by mareli at 9:58 AM on September 5, 2012


So yeah, one dude is not really enough evidence that knitting isn't still considered a gendered activity (and I say that as a knitter and crocheter - I have one male knitblogger on my blogroll, and he's gay, meaning that other men can dismiss him if they want to). What's the term for when we point to the only female executive in a room as evidence that there's no glass ceiling?

So yeah, that's really not what I was saying. I was addressing the whole "embracing domesticity to prove you are a woman" argument that the blog was saying people were making. I wasn't saying "here's proof this isn't an activity that is gendered," I was saying "some people do it just to do it without it being a political thing". I only pointed to Brooklyn Tweed because, unless I've REALLY missed something, I don't think he's gotten into knitting to prove he's More Feminine Than Thou.

And the only reason I pointed to one guy is because I actually don't follow the knitting blogs, and only knew of one guy off the top of my head. I also only know of one woman knitblogger.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:59 AM on September 5, 2012


Thank you, showbiz_liz. I was just thinking about this today because several of my FB friends were in a tizzy over an article revealing that organic food is really no better for you than what's in the grocery store. The general response was a lot of huffing about how it couldn't be true because GMO, pesticides etcetera. Many responses about how their children would never eat anything but organic anyway. And all these people are squarely in the upper-middle-class attachment parenting farmer's market group. It really strikes me a more of a liberal upper-class morality crusade.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 9:59 AM on September 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


Unfortunately for me it will probably never be cool to stand in front of the open refrigerator, furtively eating Oscar Meyer bologna straight out of the package
posted by theodolite at 10:01 AM on September 5, 2012 [19 favorites]


Oh for goodness sake. Not everything has to have a Deeper Meaning. I make my own jam because I can't get jam that tastes as good at the grocery store, not even at Whole Foods. How did canning become symbolic of Martha Stewart-level time on one's hands? It takes less time and less skill to put up a batch of jam or pickles than it does to bake a cake or a loaf of bread, and people who bake their own cake aren't usually sneered at as conspicuous consumers.
posted by Daily Alice at 10:04 AM on September 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


And, yes, I do see this as a gendered issue, no matter how many guys out there can and make their own beer. Healthy food is female food. Indulgent/tasty/hearty food is male food. It's still perceived as a woman's job (more of that unpaid domestic labor) to keep the family healthy and oversee nutrition. Just look at the first question here: Dear Prudence.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 10:04 AM on September 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


I was addressing the whole "embracing domesticity to prove you are a woman" argument that the blog was saying people were making.

I don't think it's that simple, but at least with many motherhood blogs and IRL motherhood communities, there IS an element of "if you don't do it THIS WAY ('this way' often being super-domestic), then you're doing it wrong" and I think it's sort of spread from there.

I even find myself, sometimes, when I'm looking for craft tutorials, thinking, "Well, she didn't cut her own frame, and she had an upholsterer finish the minor details - it's not really handcrafted! What a fake!" But WTF, so it wasn't a helpful tutorial? Who cares! But maybe male-dominated craft spaces also have this problem?
posted by muddgirl at 10:05 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Guys it's all good, just as long as we know we're better than those gross hipsters right
posted by ominous_paws at 10:05 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


... the problem she's identifying is that (in some circles), women specifically are again being judged based on their domestic appearance - how local is their food? How eco-friendly is their home? Do they preserve?...
I read that as the author's point as well and I think the author is fundamentally mis-characterizing the phenomena. I don't see the anecdotes that she cherry picks as examples of a reactionary "focus on women in the home" among progressives but more of a reflection of an adoption of progressive trends or fads among more typically conservative populations.

I'm currently visiting my family in Oklahoma and in this town there are Whole Foods and a recycling program. One relative, a teacher has a counter that include more than a couple home canned items from locally sourced produce. One relative told a story how Nashville recently passed regulations concerning urban chicken coops. These are all pursuits that I originally associated with the hipster 20 somethings of Seattle and Chicago when I lived there, not the 40 something Red State mothers of two.

And I see this as a good thing. Ideals of locally grown food, recycling, minimizing environmental impact are reaching out to wider populations. You don't have to be a feminist to recycle.*

(*Also, contrariwise, I support everyone being a feminist, even if they don't recycle)
posted by midmarch snowman at 10:08 AM on September 5, 2012


Regards the organic report I'm surprised that anyone thought it would be genuinely more nutritious than chemical food the kicker from the report was this

"However, pesticide levels were generally within the allowable limits for safety for the conventionally grown foods."

Generally? Are you kidding me? Organic all the way.
posted by zeoslap at 10:09 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


don't see the anecdotes that she cherry picks as examples of a reactionary "focus on women in the home" among progressives

I think Michelle Obama gets a lot of admiration among liberals for being 'a mother' that Hillary Clinton didn't get because Michelle consciously picked home-grown food and healthy cooking as some of her First Lady causes while Hillary chose health care and historic preservating. I find that hard to explain in any other framework.

I mean, all those issues are important, but why is home-grown food more motherly than universal health care?
posted by muddgirl at 10:12 AM on September 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


(And again, I note that these characteristics don't really describe my social circle, but that doesn't mean I don't think they exist.)
posted by muddgirl at 10:13 AM on September 5, 2012


Making your own food, clothes, gardening, etc, is fun for a lot of people, but like anything, if you have to do it, it rapidly becomes drudgery.
However, if you've got the freedom to say, 'well, those tomatoes failed miserably, time for a grocery run', they become a hobby, and who doesn't like a good hobby?


I'm heavily involved in quilting, brewing beer, refashioning thrift store clothes, growing salad sprouts, and gardening. However, at all times I realize that I'm not dependent on any of these things for my survival, or to even function effectively. Most of them are money-losing ventures, given the costs of equipment/supplies (especially with the beer and gardening), and the insane retail cost of fabric (which means a simple double-bed size quilt costs at least $100 in materials).

It is fun. But then I think about the fact that my parents' generation ran like hell from those things, since they were seen as dead-end chores, or quaint.
posted by The Sprout Queen at 10:14 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


...with many motherhood blogs and IRL motherhood communities, there IS an element of "if you don't do it THIS WAY ('this way' often being super-domestic), then you're doing it wrong" and I think it's sort of spread from there.

Yeah, here I agree. That's part of what's prompting me to get into the fray myself as a sort of anti-disciplinarian alternative ("yeah, I know they say that a jar lifter is the only way you should do this, but honestly I was using my Ikea tongs and a steady hand for 3 years and nothing blew up so don't sweat it"). I think I sort of automatically write off anything that has that "if you don't do it THIS way you're WRONG WRONG WRONGITY WRONG MCWRONG" mindset anywhere I encounter it; and I've encountered it in a lot of other arenas before this one.

And, yes, I do see this as a gendered issue, no matter how many guys out there can and make their own beer. Healthy food is female food. Indulgent/tasty/hearty food is male food.

* snerk * Take a look at some of the recipes from The Pioneer Woman's website. She doesn't call herself "Pioneer Woman" because she's starting a commune either - that's a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that she grew up in Los Angeles but then fell in love with a cowboy and is now living the life of Eva Gabor in Green Acres. Her recipes are often unapologetically full of cheese n' meat n' butter n' cream n' fat n'grease n'stuff.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:14 AM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


"fascination with reviving “lost” domestic arts like canning, bread-baking, knitting, chicken-raising, etc. Why are women of my generation, the daughters of post-Betty Friedan feminists, embracing the domestic tasks that our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shrugged off?"

Probably because I get to choose to embroider and I find it a pleasant hobby I can pick up when I please, whereas my grandmothers HAD to sew, cook, can, etc., endlessly and on demand. Canning seems tedious to me, so I don't do it. Many of these tasks have been found pleasant by many people for many centuries (indeed, both my grandmothers liked to embroider, even though they HAD to sew clothes), so it's not strange that people would still find them pleasant, particularly when they get to choose to do them in moderation for fun.

Having thrown off all of the tedious awfulness of constant household work -- laundry is easy, cooking can be skipped, clothes come off-the-rack and don't need to be ironed -- it's no wonder that some of those tasks, performed in a recreational way instead as a daily mandatory drudgery, become nice hobbies.

That said I have a friend with a super-annoying domesticity blog, with all the thankfulness and handmade this and that and useless crafty crap. I think some of it is that many women who stay at home or work part-time are doing so because childcare is expensive and salaries are stagnant, so you have all these college-educated women who are at home Feminine Mystiquing hardcore, except that they had a choice about it, and the smart choice for their family was to stay home for a while. But they're bored, so they throw themselves into the tasks they have available, and they're lonely (because there are so few stay-at-home moms today, compared to the 60s or even the 80s), so they write about it on the internet.

I spent a couple months experimenting with industrial inventorying systems for my pantry after reading a big article exploring how various inventory systems impact profit in the retail sector. Not because I think this is the height of Awesome Living, but because I'm at home all day with two toddlers and I get freaking bored, dude. It was an interesting challenge and it actually did improve my limited pantry space situation, though I'm the only one who was amused by the process!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:15 AM on September 5, 2012 [13 favorites]


I don't see it as an overridingly feminine phenomenon; I think a reasonably even gender split of my acquaintances practice "lost arts", from canning to carpentry to sewing to beermaking and so on.

I see two reasons for it: 1) almost everything you can buy from stores these days is really damn expensive, and/or 2) almost everything you can buy from stores these days is really pretty crap. Usually these things overlap in the same product.

When labour was offshored, things got really cheap for awhile though they maintained moderate quality. But in the past ten years, trying to keep those "Everyday Low Prices" has meant cutting quality down lower and lower, till these days basically everything is either completely shit, and if it isn't shit, then it costs way, way too much.

So now if you want something that doesn't suck, you either have to pay an arm and a leg for it, or you have to make it yourself. Which really isn't a bad thing. The only bad thing is that the market is saturated with overpriced crap in an attempt to sustain a perpetual growth consumer culture that is unraveling before our eyes -- with thanks to that very process of offshoring that began it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:16 AM on September 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


What seems to happen with these blogs is increased visibility, but they feed into each other to create this 'New Domestic' type. Take the following: Homemaking. Domesticity. DIY. Homesteading. 'Going off the grid' and survival skills. Most of those terms are gendered. Who writes the homemaking blogs? Who write the 'off the grid' blogs? Hell, the creation of a blog to show off is definitely a kind of status. These canned tomatoes are our potlatch offerings, conspicious consumption to show our place. But the objects themselves are signifiers and the need to put up beautiful photographs - they must be perfect as well - shows that the image is more important than the tangibility. People who do these hobbies/crafts to have the resultant object are different than people who start out saying this but feel the compulsion to blog about them.

So let's promote the interest without the archetype.

I think this is really, really difficult because 'sets' of behaviors, actions, crafts, are created. The blog addresses the nostalgia-for-what-isn't ("catalog...like Thomas Kinkaide paintings for the Creative Class.") which can be very powerful when people are not comfortable in the way their own lives are going, based on economics or the persistence of artificial, non-mandatory but culturally persistent checkpoints of 'adulthood'.

So what's the problem? Well, creating sets and types can be very uncomfortable for those of us who don't want to be lumped into them. It starts with promoting canning and sewing and turns into trumpeting staying at home to do these things as 'better'. It is moral activism. It creates a class of women who define their activities as women's activities. Where does that put those of us who don't want to do them? Where does it put those of us who only do some of them, because of our personal interests? Hell, I sew and as a result I've heard repeated suggestions that I try canning, grow stuff in containers. Obviously, if I like one, I must like the other. My recent 'that's it, I'm quitting this knitting nonsense' declaration was met with bafflement. None of those things are personally worthwhile to me, so why should I do them?

Well, because it's part of the set.

why is home-grown food more motherly than universal health care

Because HOME is here, that's where women (mothers) belong. The UNIVERSE (well, rest of the country) is big and scary and has people we don't know in it.
posted by cobaltnine at 10:17 AM on September 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


Knitting, canning, and gardening are conspicuous consumption of free time.
They are not cheaper or more frugal than their modern mechanized alternatives


If you live in the city perhaps. Last week I bought a 1/2 bushel of pickling cukes from the farmstand down the road. Cost: $8.00. I now have 25 pints of pickles to last us all winter.
Total cost (est.): ~$15.00 That's $.60 a pint. I defy you to find me commercial pickles available at that price.
posted by Chrischris at 10:19 AM on September 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


I think I've seen every one of her dislikes in today's post on Apartment Therapy--done to death.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:19 AM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Notice how few men we see reviving the lost art of wagon building or hog-butchering.

I dunno about wagon-building, but hobby-butchering is big in my circles, generally but not only with men. And bike-building, too.

I'm persuaded that the New Domesticity is tied to various hobbifications, but I do worry about the way it becomes an axis of hierarchy and judgment among some women. I have a friend who has his own chickens, and he doesn't seem to mind that I don't.

But my wife has frequently noted that there's a strong social pressure in some of our social circles to participate in this kind of thing. It becomes competitive. Even though she'll do the occasional sewing project she just doesn't have the time to compete because she's a lawyer.

There's also a group of professional women who just decry the whole thing, taking on similarly judgmental tones. Our worry is that these decisions become the grounds for schism and the formation of exclusive circles: you're either domestic or you're a sell-out.

If we could get to the point where these were just hobbies without the moralizing purity talk, that'd be great!
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:19 AM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's not about domesticity proving you're a woman, it's that it proves you're the right sort of woman. You'll work 40 hours plus just like your husband/partner, then come home and steam organic locally-sourced sweet potatoes for your children, tend the garden where you grow the only tomatoes your family is allowed to eat, deal with the cloth diapers and hand-knit baby clothes. There was a reason labor-saving devices allowed feminism to flourish. Now it's less a matter of doing all this domestic work because there's no other option than showing that you're living in a morally correct fashion.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 10:20 AM on September 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


canning, bread-baking, knitting, chicken-raising

The world changed a lot with modernity and we are re-evaluating what has been lost if it was worth it or not. Remember all those commercials about pre-packaged factory food as good as your grandmother used to make. Well, that sold people on being grandma.
posted by stbalbach at 10:20 AM on September 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


" But maybe male-dominated craft spaces also have this problem?"

Oh hell yeah. My friend's dad fancies himself a wood-worker; when he brags about how he made some benches, we all scoff at him because in reality the wood was precut for the bench.

"I think Michelle Obama gets a lot of admiration among liberals for being 'a mother' that Hillary Clinton didn't get"

Yeah, that's a good point. I think the thing to remember is how extremely conservative the role/job of First Lady of the United States is. How many president's wives had jobs or careers before their spouse was elected? How many long standing institutions and traditions within the executive branch are focused on presenting the first lady in domestic roles? Hillary seems like such an aberrant case in the tradition of first lady, which is part of what makes me respect her, but also probably what has harmed public acceptance of her in the 90s.

Even though Michele was similar to Hilary in that she was likewise the professional spouse and a bread winner before election, compare her to Rosalyn Carter, or Jackie, or Ladybird, or Laura.
posted by midmarch snowman at 10:24 AM on September 5, 2012


Chrischris: " I now have 25 pints of pickles to last us all winter.
Total cost (est.): ~$15.00 That's $.60 a pint. I defy you to find me commercial pickles available at that price.
"

Does this include the cost of your time, jars and industrial sized pots you otherwise would not have needed?
posted by idiopath at 10:26 AM on September 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


Time has no cost if it was time well spent.
posted by TheTingTangTong at 10:31 AM on September 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


Surely I an not the only person here who grew up surrounded by Foxfire books, Whole Earth catalogs, and all the other detritus of the artisanal hippy era? Does it make me a curmudgeon-hipster to have the backyard chickens and canning fad remind me of my parents?

I love artisinal food and handmade knives, but this shit has been being rediscovered for generations; this is not a new phenomenon.
posted by Forktine at 10:33 AM on September 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


why is home-grown food more motherly than universal health care?

Because the framing of woman as Domestic Goddess is stronger than that of an effective leader? Would Martha Stuart have been a more acceptable first lady than HRC? In Boston or in Huston? It's gendered in that the more resonant stereotype for female success is still defined by conservative values of domesticity rather than progressive ones of equality of access to power.
posted by bonehead at 10:36 AM on September 5, 2012


Notice how few men we see reviving the lost art of wagon building or hog-butchering.

I don't know, I've taken a few carpentry classes and butchery classes and those seem to have plenty of men (and a good number of women as well).

There is also an intersection between the canning/butchery/carpentry/etc. communities and the hacker community. I know of one person who has worked on using Arduino to regulate temperature for canning baths and sous vide. 3D printing also shows a lot of promise for similar projects. There are also lots of people (like me) who work on apps for these things. NYC has the food + tech connect community which is where I worked on my first app ever with Will Turnage (and a lot of other really awesome), who has built several cool cooking related apps, the latest one for bread baking. Don't get me started on all I've learned about genetics, economics, and ecology through working with livestock.

It's fun, I learn lots of new things, and the end products are often higher quality than things you can get at the store.

It's only status quo if you want it to be.
posted by melissam at 10:37 AM on September 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


They are not cheaper or more frugal than their modern mechanized alternatives (though they are cheaper than having someone else do things in an artisanal manner for you).

First of all, the parenthetical there is tossed away but actually a critical point. I can make a pizza that is MUCH yummier than the pizza I could buy with the same cost in ingredients. When I get good at making canned salsa and such, the same will go there.

Second, there are many other points one might have than cost. Health, environmental impact (both of not buying packaged food and of improving local soil by composting, etc) , education (of self or others), etc. Even political statements. As a Linux user, you should recognize that.

There are other units than dollars in which to measure things.

Does this include the cost of your time...

Ugh, I am so sick of this argument. Nobody was willing to pay me for my time on Saturday night when I made a pizza. And even if they were, it wasn't for sale. My free time is free.
posted by DU at 10:38 AM on September 5, 2012 [9 favorites]


Does this include the cost of your time, jars and industrial sized pots you otherwise would not have needed?

My time costs nothing. Unless someone is standing there willing to hand me dollar bills to do something other than can pickles, there is no point in trying to valuate it in that context.

The other items did have some initial cost, but I guess you can say we have "amortized" them over several seasons of canning. So: add say $10/season to the mix. We're now up to a dollar a pint. And that doesn't take into account the homegrown tomatoes, beans, peas, and other garden items we also can in a typical season.
posted by Chrischris at 10:39 AM on September 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Remember all those commercials about pre-packaged factory food as good as your grandmother used to make. Well, that sold people on being grandma.

Except that now, grandma was the one who cooked nothing but packaged foods. Maybe we're reacting to that.

I remember talking to someone in a knitting store who said that knitting had popularity spikes every other generation, because people want to rebel against their parents and/or try something new and different.
posted by Melismata at 10:39 AM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


These will be good skills and much wanted, if the world carries on the way its going right now.

Also, domestic goddess and the Kitchen God.
posted by infini at 10:39 AM on September 5, 2012


Notice how few men we see reviving the lost art of wagon building or hog-butchering.

Without room to raise animals, I have little use for a wagon or butchering.

However, I have been learning a lot of manual machining (i.e. no electronic measuring or CNC), which is in the same spirit. Judging by the traffic on the South Bend Lathe mailing list, I'm not the only one.
posted by DU at 10:40 AM on September 5, 2012


Surely I an not the only person here who grew up surrounded by Foxfire books, Whole Earth catalogs, and all the other detritus of the artisanal hippy era? Does it make me a curmudgeon-hipster to have the backyard chickens and canning fad remind me of my parents?

It was Mother Earth News and Back to Basics here, but this. My parents use a wood cookstove to heat their abode and cook on. I did not shed any tears moving away from the hobby farm. Canning and cheesemaking is definitely "mom and dad" hobbies; I had my fill as a child. I'm happy eating food from Wegman's deli.
posted by peacrow at 10:41 AM on September 5, 2012


Chrischris: " I now have 25 pints of pickles to last us all winter.
Total cost (est.): ~$15.00 That's $.60 a pint. I defy you to find me commercial pickles available at that price."

Idiopath: Does this include the cost of your time, jars and industrial sized pots you otherwise would not have needed?


Well, if you wanna get THAT finely into it:

* The jars are only about $12 for a case of 12. Since you can re-use the jars, you may only have to buy the lids, which run about $5 for a box of 12. Either way, that is only an initial supplies outlay of about $0.50 to $1 per pint.

* "Industrial size pots" are not necessary, neither for the pickle brine nor for the water-bath step of processing. I've always just used the saucepan I use for heating up soup for the brine, and my big pasta pot for the water bath processing. So there is no need to include that cost, as it is not necessary.

* The time spent typically would only be a couple hours, about the length of your average movie. Movies run you about $12 if you go to the multiplex (and factor in the cost of gas to get there and back, the time spent parking, etc., plus popcorn if you want it), or $9.95 on Netflix. The long-term gain from the movie is important, of course, but you can still go see a movie after you can the pickles.

So maybe we're talking $2.25 per jar of pickle.

But for a real cost-analysis, you have to compare the cost of the pint of home-processed pickle to a pickle processed in a similar fashion and using similar quality ingredients. The most obvious example for that would be the artisinal brand Rick's Picks, which charges about 7-10 bucks per jar.

Even if you have to buy your jars yourselves, $2.50 per pint still a damn good deal compared to $7 per pint.

* sits back, folding arms behind head like Chewbacca in that one scene from Star Wars *
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:42 AM on September 5, 2012 [16 favorites]


Nobody was willing to pay me for my time on Saturday night when I made a pizza. And even if they were, it wasn't for sale. My free time is free.

My time costs nothing. Unless someone is standing there willing to hand me dollar bills to do something other than can pickles, there is no point in trying to valuate it in that context.

But this is, in fact, exactly how it works for women who take time away from their jobs or other pursuits so they can keep house in the manner that's become expected in their microculture. I thought this article, linked about halfway down the page, really clarified a lot of what the blogger is talking about. The "domestic arts" may be cheap moneywise, but they take an incredible amount of time as compared to their alternatives. And when they start getting pushed at women, at the price of time spent at their jobs or on their less-virtuous hobbies or creative pursuits, it's an indication that we think women do best to spend their time in the house, with the kids.

Basically, canning/sewing/carpentry/brewing are awesome hobbies, as hobbies. They become a lot less awesome when people start judging you for not doing them. And that process happens a lot faster with women's "home arts" than with men's. Home brewing and carpentry, for example, seems like they've been common, in-the-public-eye hobbies for men for somewhat longer than canning has been for women, and yet they have somehow not become an important aspect of the New Anticorporate Family the way canning has. Nobody is ever going to tell a man that he's less of a man for not brewing his own beer or making his own kitchen chairs, because what men do in the home is considered orthogonal to what really makes them men. But plenty of people have already started telling women that they're less of women for not baking their own bread, because what women do in the home is -- still -- considered the basis of being a woman.
posted by ostro at 10:43 AM on September 5, 2012 [22 favorites]


* sits back, folding arms behind head like Chewbacca in that one scene from Star Wars *

Always let the Empress win.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:47 AM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love artisinal food and handmade knives, but this shit has been being rediscovered for generations; this is not a new phenomenon.

But when my generation does something it’s Totally Different than when people before me did it. Plus, The Internets.
posted by bongo_x at 10:48 AM on September 5, 2012


I don't know how new all this is, didn't all the back-to-the-earth hippie farmer types have the full set of Foxfire books on their shelves and do this sort of thing back in the 70's?

Anyway, as a (male) potter, canner, seam-meister (?), shade-tree mechanic and general jack-of-all-trades it's something I do because I make a mere pittance at my day job, and I can stretch my paycheck further and get some extra cash on the side... just like my parents did, and my grandparents before them.

The occasional awesome Bloody Mary garnished with homemade pickled okra and green beans is just a bonus.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 10:48 AM on September 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Many of my friends have at least a small garden, and many brew beer, bake bread and so on. My hypothesis is that there is a vaguely apocalyptic mood circulating among younger people. We have lived through rolling brown-outs, endless wars, and numerous environmental catastrophes. It is not a specific sense that this or that apocalypse is imminent, rather a general sense that a way of life is coming to an end. What appears to be going away is the way of life that allowed people to have no awareness of how clothes, food, or other durable goods are produced.

We live in an era where popular tales of zombies, germ warfare, and utter collapse of social structures can be found on TV, in books, and in movies. We also live in an era where people are rediscovering how to can preserves, grow food, and cure their own bacon. This may not be just a coincidence.
posted by palindromic at 10:48 AM on September 5, 2012 [9 favorites]


A human being doesn't need a lot of stuff to thrive. Spending less money on factory products means one needs less money for factory products. Needing less money means more free time and/or a wider choice of employment situations. With more free time, you can make stuff, which for many of us, is also a means to enjoy our free time.

So, instead of working more hours doing something I don't want to buy more shit, I work less hours and can use my personal time to craft things I need in a way that suits me, which is by and large enjoyable.

Basically, making things doesn't do dick for my net worth.
But it does a lot of dick for my quality of life.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:49 AM on September 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


And when they start getting pushed at women, at the price of time spent at their jobs or on their less-virtuous hobbies or creative pursuits, it's an indication that we think women do best to spend their time in the house, with the kids.

I doubt any of these things takes as much time away from women as having children itself does. If we are going to get real about what is sapping women's time and harming their careers (even if it's a result of unfair societal structures), it's having children, not canning peaches. Even in countries where things are more fair, like Sweden, children still take up a large amount of women's time.

Not that I care. I don't live for a career after all, though sometimes I feel like that's expected of women, particularly women who work in careers where women are unusual.
posted by melissam at 10:50 AM on September 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


The jars are only about $12 for a case of 12. Since you can re-use the jars, you may only have to buy the lids, which run about $5 for a box of 12.

Not to derail, but I had to look up where you were. This is roughly twice what I would typically pay for canning supplies in MI. Since we have probably 100 pint jars and half as many quart jars already, we usually pay only for new lids every year. It never ceases to amaze me at how much more expensive--in absolute dollar terms at least --living in a large city can be.
posted by Chrischris at 10:51 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


But "New Domesticity" is a term I refuse to accept. It relates to much to the submissive, femme, 50s housewife.

From the Obama article:
"A good liberal mother breastfeeds for an extended period, offers her children only the best handmade food, scrutinizes her home environment for chemicals. If she’s really a gold star crunchy mama, she grows some of her own food in the backyard, sews her kids’ clothes by hand from recycled fabrics, and home schools."

I recognize a lot of this (from online communities - I don't like in a liberal enclave), and a lot of it IS gendered, although perhaps not submissive and 50s. Which is why it's "New" - her article on the history of domesticity shows a definition of that term far beyond 50s Happy Homemaker.
posted by muddgirl at 9:36 AM on September 5 [+] [!]


That paragraph you quoted didn't really sway my opinion at all. In fact, it reinforced it.This version of domesticity isn't new. The concept of what a "good mother" does isn't anything new. It's bull, in my opinion, and just a handy guidebook for ways to judge others. "You don't feed your child all natural baby food? Oh...."
I was annoyed by the gendered-ness of the topic at first, but now I'm pissed off. The is just the same-old gender roles gone organic.
If you want to reclaim domestic roots, I'll salute you. If you want to take control of your food supply, I commend you! If you just get bored in the summer and need something to do, then awesome. But this- this new-wave "here's what makes a woman a good woman" bullcrap? I can't get behind it.
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:54 AM on September 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


you can still go see a movie after you can the pickles

You can't go see a movie after you can the pickles if it's 10:00 and it's time to put the kids to bed and canning the pickles was your scheduled fun thing of the day. Making pickles is fun, I made some the other day and was totally impressed with myself (though they were the easy kind that you keep in the fridge. But still tasty). But I think there's a creeping expectation that women find fun and fulfillment in things that are useful and nourishing (rather than, say, things that are mindless and make satisfying explosive sounds) that harks back directly to the 50s ideal of the happy homemaker.
posted by ostro at 10:56 AM on September 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


ominous_paws: I'd *hesitantly* suggest that in the UK this stuff is more lady-centric than perhaps it is in the US - institutes such as the WI seem to be doing very well with the new domesticity, and dues seem to be less into it. But that's just my own experience.

I'm not sure. After all, the most high-profile person promoting homesteading/producing your food is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

madajb: Because they don't _have_ to do it.
And furthermore, for knowledge workers who spend their days in offices, a practical hobby makes a nice contrast.
posted by James Scott-Brown at 11:02 AM on September 5, 2012


Notice how few men we see reviving the lost art of wagon building or hog-butchering.

I'm not sure those two choices track - both of those have been specialized skills for some time now, but there are a lot of men and women doing things like making their own furniture with hand tools, in part for all the same reason that canning and beer brewing and gardening are considered fun and part because it's a protest against all the low quality crap that saturates the market these days.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:03 AM on September 5, 2012


I think we're probably agreeing with each other from two sides, FirstMateKate. I don't think anyone who's part of the "New Domesticity" enclave actually uses that term (although I'm happy to be proven wrong). It's a term that Emily Matchar uses to contextualize the phenomenon within the broader historical context of domesticity being elevated as the most worthy goal of women (and it's a long history). Maybe she could have called it "post-modern domesticity", but that has a lot of other connotations.
posted by muddgirl at 11:04 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ostro: I was more addressing the "but factor in the value of your time and tell me if it's still worth it." I just pulled "a movie" out of my ass in terms of "here's another thing you could do with the same amount of time you'd spent doing this," is all; I think the perception is that you have to buy all this fancy-ass equipment and spend an entire day working on it.

But I think there's a creeping expectation that women find fun and fulfillment in things that are useful and nourishing (rather than, say, things that are mindless and make satisfying explosive sounds) that harks back directly to the 50s ideal of the happy homemaker.

No, that's fair, but I think that that mindset only comes from some of the "I'm better at this than you" crowd doing it themselves. And you're gonna find people like that in EVERY group, sadly (hell, I once got accused of being a bad Democrat because I was only writing a letter to my congressman to protest Fracking rather than going to a demonstration in Albany). Such a mindset is a problem, I agree, but also nine times out of ten you can get away with just shaking off the haterz....Lots of people do this just for the fun of it, while other women are doing other things and it's all good.

I also have gotten a kick out of people who tell me they want me in their tribe when the zombies attack. If we ever do get into World War Z I will have my own personal army, by god.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:05 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also I think a lot of MeFites are more tied into very crafty/self-reliant cultural groups, and may not realize how upper-middle-class women are pressured about being a "domestic goddess," and if those become the values of the higher classes of society, they will trickle down to every else, and choices for women will be much more constrained. CHOOSING those activities is great, but the reason we do feel free to CHOOSE them (as I noted above) is that we're not FORCED to do them any longer.

But for many upper-middle-class women, it is competitive and mandatory in many cases. Around here it's throwing ridiculously over-the-top children's parties with themes and everything matching and making your own fabulously-decorated cake with perfectly reproduced Where the Wild Things Are. For children too young to care. I've had people make pitying comments when they found out I bought a cake! People constantly ask me if I make my own baby food. That seems like flat drudgery for not much reward to me, so I don't. But other moms will be like, "Oh, well, we only want little Keeley eating organic babyfood," "Well, you know you can buy that at Target these days," "Oh, but not from manufactuerers. It's just so important that they not get any chemicals." Which isn't a statement I disagree with, but these aren't people who are invested in food safety issues or know a thing about pesticides (AND THEY HAVE THEIR LAWNS BAREFOOT GRASSED), it's just competitive parenting. The more absurdly time-consuming it is, the more you love your children and -- the subsubtext -- the more money you have, to be able to afford such ridiculously time-consuming activities. It's STRONGLY a class marker.

The other thing that low-level bothers me is that there's no urge to mastery, only an urge to impress. So there's an impulse towards the sorts of "domesticity" that can be done quickly, are easy, and can be shown off (which is why ridiculous child party-throwing is so popular). But there's no praise for someone who spends several years mastering a craft and learning to do things very finely; the important thing is that you personally sewed your child's baptismal gown even if it's very thrown-together, not that you hand-embroidered it beautifully using techniques you've spent two decades mastering. I say low-level bothers because, first, I like to dabble and I don't presume to say mastery is the only thing that makes crafting worthwhile, it's okay to dabble; and, second, sometimes the important thing is just DOING something, not doing it beautifully -- it's probably more important that my kids get healthy (which means frequently home cooked) meals than that they get Julia-Child-worthy meals. But the fact that within this culture of upper-middle-class domesticity there is almost no recognition of mastery and no impulse towards mastery -- that makes me rather suspicious of the endeavor as an end in itself. The point is to show off and one-up.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:08 AM on September 5, 2012 [23 favorites]


blissfully domestic supermom overtaken the Sex and the City-style single urban careerist as the media’s feminine ideal

Not a lot of people commenting on this point. Here's a thought: demographics -- specifically the aging of the target market - is driving this change.
posted by rr at 11:10 AM on September 5, 2012


Only the wealthy or the very poor can live in the past;
only the former do so by choice.
-- Witold Rybczynski, Home: A Short History of an Idea
posted by nixt at 11:13 AM on September 5, 2012 [12 favorites]


I doubt any of these things takes as much time away from women as having children itself does. If we are going to get real about what is sapping women's time and harming their careers (even if it's a result of unfair societal structures), it's having children, not canning peaches. Even in countries where things are more fair, like Sweden, children still take up a large amount of women's time.

Yeah, this is totally true -- having children in societies that don't support or respect that work as much as they should (and even places like Sweden aren't quite there yet) is the big drain on women's careers. But idealizing domestic tasks chips away at the ways women have found to make a compromise between career and kids workable (prepared food, childcare, etc) and, maybe more importantly, it's ideological. It promotes the idea that Motherhood Done Right is necessarily a full-time or close-to-full-time job, because the more of it you DIY, the better you are. The Supermom ideal had a lot of things wrong with it, but at least it assumed that it was possible and even praiseworthy to live your life evenly split between the poles of career and family. This new ideal, by contrast, seems to assume that the home should be the center of a woman's (especially mother's) life, the appropriate outlet for her energy and her creativity and her anticorporate sentiments and on and on.
posted by ostro at 11:18 AM on September 5, 2012 [9 favorites]


I think that that mindset only comes from some of the "I'm better at this than you" crowd doing it themselves.

I think that was probably true up until pretty recently, but this ideal seems to be flowing into the mainstream pretty strongly now (Michelle Obama!) and as soon as that happens for any ideal, the mandatoriness/self-measuring aspect goes way up. The media and the corporate world seized on 50s homemaking as a way to make women feel insecure; they did the same thing to the Supermom ideal; they'll do the same thing for this. (And there's plenty to market even in a supposedly anticorporate movement like this; the publishing industry is clearly loving it, for example. Guidebooks for everything!)

I hope you're right and this won't happen, but I worry, especially since cultural conservatism/old-ways/women-back-to-the-kitchen is a pretty frequent reaction during economic downturn.
posted by ostro at 11:29 AM on September 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


(Also, if domesticity is 'women's work', then when we're evaluating pickle-making or pie-baking we should at least use the federal minimum wage. It took me about 3 hours of actual labor to make a pie from scratch this weekend, so not counting ingredients that's a $21 pie).
posted by muddgirl at 11:31 AM on September 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


I know people who don't have children who will do DOE studies in the pursuit of making better cheese. So there is more going on than one upsmanship or the desire to show everyone what a super parent one is.

For many of us our careers have become only a source of income, not a source of satisfaction. At the DJ30 pharmaceutical company I used to work for, I'd have gotten quite the hairy eyeball if I ever bothered with a DOE study for the things I was developing - there isn't room in the timeline for that sort of luxury! So the at home artisanal cheese maker is a better scientist than I was. Thanks corporate America.

But don't take my word for it. Here's Matthew Crawford on the subject:

The craftsman is proud of what he has made, and cherishes it, while the consumer discards things that are perfectly serviceable in his restless pursuit of the new. The craftsman is then more possessive, more tied to what is present, the dead incarnation of past labor; the consumer is more free, more imaginative, and so more valorous according to those who would sell us things. Being able to think materially about material goods, hence critically, gives one some independence from the manipulations of marketing, which typically divert attention from what a thing is to a back-story intimated through associations, the point of which is to exaggerate minor differences between brands. Knowing the production narrative, or at least being able to plausibly imagine it, renders the social narrative of the advertisement less potent. The tradesman has an impoverished fantasy life compared to the ideal consumer; he is more utilitarian and less given to soaring hopes. But he is also more autonomous.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:35 AM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I worry, especially since cultural conservatism/old-ways/women-back-to-the-kitchen is a pretty frequent reaction during economic downturn.

A fair concern. I may just be overlooking that as I may be coming more from a child-of-the-70's Whole-Earth-catalog perspective. (Which is all the more baffling, as my parents were SO not hippies.) Also I've already tended to brush off people taking the "ur doing it wrong" tack on anything back from when they were doing that to me in high school when I wasn't wearing the right jeans or whatever; but you're right that this is a bit more long-range than just brushing them off like the bratty high schooler-maturity people they are.

because they so are, aren't they?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:37 AM on September 5, 2012


TheTingTangTong: "Time has no cost if it was time well spent."

I have heard tell of pickling techniques that take up a whole weekend and render the house inhospitable for other activities. I know there is more than one way to pickle a cuke, but, to sum up the history of this subconversation:

a: it's a leisure / status activity, not a way to save money
b: jar of pickles for 60 cents
a: counting specialized tools and time?
c: time has no cost if it is time well spent

so, TTTT, you are reintroducing my original point: it is not an economic necessity (at least the way the fashionable folks are doing it), it is a way to use up your excess free time and grapple for status / esteem.
posted by idiopath at 11:41 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is just another way to leg out the "Second Shift" and convince women that their energies are best devoted to the home. Yeah, having kids and a career is hella hard. Add in all the organic handmade attachment everything and the ideal of motherhood is becoming yet another selfless creature; but one who still brings home that paycheck. For much of the anti-corporate sentiment there may be toward food producers, the people I know who practice this have no qualms whatsoever about working in huge corporations, investing in huge corporations, purchasing other goods from corporations that provide enough eco-lipservice.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 11:42 AM on September 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


it is not an economic necessity (at least the way the fashionable folks are doing it), it is a way to use up your excess free time and grapple for status / esteem.

For some, maybe. as you yourself admit when it comes to "the fashionable folks."

For others, it's partly a way to use up free time, partly a conscious effort to improve on one's diet in one way (hell, the reason I got into canning tomatoes was 80% because "shit, these taste so much better than Contadina"), and partly stubbornness ("if I am gonna be eating tomatoes I want them to taste this good ALL the time dammit").

There is only one person I will admit to feeling smug about doing better than when it comes to domesticity -- but that person is my own mother, and I'm sure you can understand there's probably a whole host of "that's a special case" conditions that apply. (My therapist can get you the file.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:45 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


it is a way to use up your excess free time and grapple for status / esteem.

Nah, I just really like pickles.
posted by Chrischris at 11:50 AM on September 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Another guy here who gardens, bakes, makes cheese, picks and jams wild berries, cans and cooks.

No, I don't have a beard. Or chickens.

I mostly do it because I really enjoy it, not out of any altruistic or economic reasons. For example, we recently moved to a house and I am in my second year of my ever-growing garden. I started from seed and am growing 30 varieties of tomatoes this year (along with beans, peppers, cukes etc). I grow varieties that are hard if not next-to-impossible to buy and I can a lot of the results. Not because I'm saving money, but because finding roasted tomatoes in oil as good as the ones I can make is not going to happen. Or will cost me an arm and a leg and be made by some hipster in Portland.

So does it make any sort of sense for me to spend hours with a sledgehammer hulling all the black walnuts that fall from my tree (at least those I can get before the squirrels do)? No, but I'm having fun, and dammit, that freeloading tree needs to earn its keep.
posted by misterpatrick at 11:52 AM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


And that's fine, as long as you're not looking down on the canned tomatoes your friend uses in her house. Which is sort of what we're talking about here.
posted by muddgirl at 11:54 AM on September 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


I find all of this very interesting, as someone who recently moved to the country and joined a CSA and got into canning and, like, making my own beef jerky and stuff. I have to admit that the blogosphere is an influence. Also that my husband doesn't do many of the stereotypically feminine crafty/kitchen stuff that I do (he still doesn't know how to sew a single stitch, which kills me). In fact, his country livin' thing was to go out and buy a motorcycle.

My parents were hippies, though, into macrame and yoga and tofu before those were things (though my diet growing up was, by and large, the kind of post-nuclear era processed foods my mom had grown up with--lots of storebought canned fruit for dessert). And his were much much much more mainstream, including in terms of gender roles (husband cooks and cleans but we visit his fam and division of labor is STRICT--men on the sofa watching sports, women in the kitchen).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:55 AM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


This sort of thing -- canning, baking bread, tending a garden and hens and in many cases livestock destined for the table -- never really went out of style in many parts of the country. It's more-or-less how my step-mother did things in rural Northern California in the 1970s, and it's how most of the neighbor moms did it, too. They combined the good old homemakey stuff with the good new labor savers. Homemade bread on the table right beside a pitcher of freshly stirred Kool-Aid, a clothes washer in the garage and a clothesline out back (and also a dryer for use during the rainy winter months)

I don't want to dismiss out of hand Machar's thesis that women are returning to an older, pre-Freidan, state of being. But it seems to me that the New Domesticity she describes is more about fashion among a fashion aware cohort than it is a reflection of the current state of politics and gender relations.

That said. Terrific blog.
posted by notyou at 11:55 AM on September 5, 2012


@misterpatrick: If you have a car and a paved surface, you can speed-hull black walnuts by driving gently over them with your vehicle. Added bonus: hulls are easy to shovel up from pavement if you use a flat-bottomed shovel.
posted by which_chick at 11:55 AM on September 5, 2012


...convince women that their energies are best devoted to the home

Butbutbut....a lot of MY energies are being devoted to our home! :7)

My wife stays home with our kids and I work in an office doing IT stuff. At night I often get to do prep cook work & wash dishes, or sometimes make the next night's whole dinner entree. For example, last night I chopped the onions and laid out ingredients while she made a chicken pie from scratch, and then I washed & chopped potatoes for the mashed potatoes, and then I washed all the dishes.

We make strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, and rhubarb jams together every summer (over a hundred jars before we got bored this year), but I have to pick the grapes for her end-of-summer experiment...but that's because she's shorter than I am!

But I don't complain much because we're both doing it. We want to pack lunchbox PB&Js with less refined sugar so we make our own jam; we want ice cream with less guar gum so we make ice cream; and I want pickles -- which no one but me enjoys -- so I made some refrigerator pickles last summer.

I don't care about the "value of my time" argument since I do derive (emotional & monetary) value from the work, and I disagree that it's strictly gendered since some of it is mine and for me.

I do sneer at cheap ice cream.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:59 AM on September 5, 2012


I've found that smacking them with a 5-pound sledge more satisfying that the driving over them method. I also learned to check if your gloves have holes in them after spending a week with two black thumbs - literally, not figuratively. I won't deny that I did some research on doing something with all the acorns my oak trees are giving up this year before I realized I might be going a little too far.
posted by misterpatrick at 12:00 PM on September 5, 2012


as long as you're not looking down on the canned tomatoes your friend uses in her house. Which is sort of what we're talking about here.

Well, hell no, because that'd be awful of me. I thought that was clear that I didn't do that; sorry if it wasn't. (Besides, I'm too busy grooving on how my female friends have got their own businesses or are pool sharks or are doing improv comedy or stuff like that.)

The only way that my particular thread of domesticity is a "feminist/how to be a woman" statement is that I was always taught that feminism was about choosing what you want to do with your time rather than being restricted to a given pursuit because it was women's work. The fact that one of the things I tend to enjoy and to be good at happens to be something traditionally thought of as a "woman's pursuit" is entirely coincidental; lots of other things I also do aren't. Just like lots of things that other women friends I do also aren't, and their skill sets are also different from mine and I'm to proud of them to be competitive about how they measure up to me. I mean, I'm proud when they say they're impressed with my pickles; but they're also proud when I say I'm impressed with their furniture restoration or whatever.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:00 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of her pet peeves: "Books covered in kraft paper/turned around the wrong way to look matchy-matchy"

Books shelved spine-in? What a time-saver. It's a highly efficient way of broadcasting to the world "I OWN MANY FUNNY WOOD-PULP SANDWICHEY THINGS WITH WORDS AND PICTURES IN THEM, ARE THEY NOT SPIFFY THOUGH THEY DO NOT TASTE GOOD TO EAT?"
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 12:06 PM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think we can work towards an ideal world where everyone is free to pursue whatever hobbies they want regardless of gender with no societal pressure of any kind, and at the same time recognize that we don't like in that world yet.
posted by muddgirl at 12:12 PM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I know several people through a group I ride bicycles with that are very into this. Several has chickens, one was written up on the local paper in an article about canning, some are car-free, and they have several Facebook groups that center on trade, barter and repurposing. Around here, though, it is not just a female phenomenon; there is a lot more emphasis on family life, community, simple pleasures, and doing things for themselves.

It gives me hope for the future.
posted by Doohickie at 12:14 PM on September 5, 2012


have. :\
posted by Doohickie at 12:14 PM on September 5, 2012


The way I see it, there's a huge resurgence of interest in crafts and hands-on activities of all sorts right now. I agree with others upthread that a lot of this is a response to the very hands-off (except via a keyboard) occupations that many college-educated people have today.

Without projecting too much of my own experiences, I think there are a lot of people who did what they felt they were supposed to do, following the best advice they got from their parents / relatives / etc., and ended up sitting in an office staring at a computer screen for 10 hours a day, doing something that doesn't feel very much like "work" in the sense of giving you any satisfaction in having created something of value at the end of the day. But it's a job and a health plan in an economy where those are pretty dear things, so you're not going to fuck it up by going on some sort of soul-searching expedition for a more satisfying job -- you have to get your creative jollies elsewhere.

This is the driving force behind much of the so-called 'maker' aesthetic, IMO. It's a lot of white-collar (or whatever passes for white collar today; more likely polo-shirt-collar) workers trying to find something that gives them a form of ownership and creative satisfaction from their labor, which their day jobs don't. I don't think this is really a new thing; it strikes me as basically the same sorts of motivations that created the Arts and Crafts movement during the Industrial Revolution. (And you don't have to be a raging Marxist to see more than a hint of "alienated labor" lurking under the surface.)

Except that while in the late 19th century, those involved in Arts and Crafts were trying to preserve skills from (in general) pre-industrialized Europe and America, today many people are trying to preserve what they see as dying -- or at least threatened -- skills: the domestic or industrial skills of their parents and grandparents' generation. In some cases it's very specific sets of skills -- home canning or knitting or blacksmithing -- while in other cases I think it's more of a way of life or thought -- self-sufficiency or the avoidance of disposable products or just general crafty make-do DIYness -- all of which tend to hearken back to a time when people were more connected to the fruits of their labor.

Where things become gendered are in the skills that various people choose to seek out and involve themselves in. There are certainly a lot more women than men who appear to be doing home-canning projects (and sharing them on Pinterest), and a lot more men than women doing metalworking. Not necessarily because I think either of those communities are particularly hostile to men or women, respectively, but that's what people are choosing to do. I think the sexism is largely unconscious and emulatory; it comes along for the ride when people pick out nearly-obsolete skills to practice in their spare time, because when those skills were in use there was a lot more sexism present in daily life.

In general I think the movement and mindset driving these interests is a really good one, and it's one of the few positive changes I've seen in my generation in the past few years. Insofar as it also seems to have led to a reinvention of "mens work" and "womens work" that's a bit icky, but I don't think that's anything that can't be carefully removed if people are made aware of it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:15 PM on September 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


I like this blog a lot. It feels very of-the-moment...very zeitgeisty, as a smart friend put it.
posted by limeonaire at 12:19 PM on September 5, 2012


Right - the "Apartment Therapy" collection of blogs gets a little bit of occasional guff from the OP's link, but they just posted this post today which I actually thought was quite lovely:

5 Free Ways to Make Your House Feel Like A Home

(Spoiler: the 5 things are things like "laugh" or "play cards instead of watching TV sometimes".)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:22 PM on September 5, 2012


Two things I learned from this post:
1. I like this blog! Thank you!
2. I am like the only person on this site who doesn't make ten million things from scratch.
posted by capnsue at 12:25 PM on September 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


I pretty much only make pies and half-finished craft projects. If you want one of the latter I'll put it up on my Etsy storefront.
posted by muddgirl at 12:27 PM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I pretty much only make dips.

Fucking good dips, though.
posted by ominous_paws at 12:29 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Also, I don't know if hand-made pies are really worth the trouble, or if I make them just because having a rugged-looking crust is a status symbol. I'm being pretty honest here.)
posted by muddgirl at 12:30 PM on September 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't think this is really a new thing; it strikes me as basically the same sorts of motivations that created the Arts and Crafts movement during the Industrial Revolution. (And you don't have to be a raging Marxist to see more than a hint of "alienated labor" lurking under the surface.)

I think one of the things that this blogger is reacting to, in addition to the gender issues, is that these hobbies—which are taken up (as you say) as personal reactions to workplace alienation—are often presented as some sort of broader solution to the problem of alienated labor in general. You know, the idea that by doing your own canning you're striking a blow against impersonal corporate factory food. And maybe within the context of your one individual life you are, but at the scale of a society at large, I don't think this stuff is going to save us from the problems that come with global capitalism and large-scale corporate production.

I know that most people do not take up these hobbies under the impression that they are anything more than hobbies. And, to be clear, I think it's great that people are doing these things and deriving satisfaction from them. But there is definitely a widespread discourse—even in the fact that this kind of stuff is often referred to as a "movement"—that ascribes this domestic DIY stuff a broader importance that I don't think is really merited.

And this matters because the problems for which DIY is presented as a solution—alienated workers, jobs that don't seem to produce anything, production processes that take away any control over or connection to the finished product, an unwillingness or inability to think about how the things that we consume are made (or by whom)—are real and important problems. Hobbies are fine but let's not confuse them with real solutions to these problems.
posted by enn at 12:43 PM on September 5, 2012 [12 favorites]


I don't know if hand-made pies are really worth the trouble, or if I make them just because having a rugged-looking crust is a status symbol. I'm being pretty honest here.

I've found that most people's reaction to being fed pie is "who gives a shit how it looks because whoopie free pie".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:44 PM on September 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


Handmade pies *taste* better. I know because I have tasted them.

There is nothing new under the sun, but that doesn't make it any less awesome to taste the results. For every wet-blanket Prospero snarking, "Tis new to thee," we will always have newly minted Mirandas loving their brave new world. And good for them.

Besides: corporations suck.
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:49 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's funny in that I spend a bit too much time dipping in and out of 'new domesticity' blogs, and looking at stuff on Pinterest and I have lived/socialised in the kind of areas where birthday parties are over the top and mothers are a bit too hung up on looking like the 'right' kind of mother, yet I don't think craftmanship - whether that is in regards to pickles, or knitting, or chickens, or whatever - is competitive to those of us who really enjoy it. I actually started making my own stuff because we went vegan, and finding edible baked goods was damn hard. So I learned how to bake. Then moving to where we are now, it is cheaper to make our own stuff like tofu. And I realised for the first time I could make stuff.

And then I learned to knit and crochet this year because I was sick of walking past yarn shops and seeing all that lovely stuff but having no reason to use it. Now I can do something, and have a tangible result (useful barely, unless not having to buy gifts for people is useful - I make them now).

But best of all is I have a creative outlet. And unlike wonky ceramics or a not-so-great watercolour, my creative outlet has something useful at the end - something you can eat, or wear or whatever. And I think that is what is missing from this discussion: if someone gives up all their 'passion' for a traditional creative pursuit like painting, that's great, they are following their passion, their vision, whatever. Yet if your creative pursuit is a bit practical, it seems to not be seen as 'artistic' enough to be considered special or something: you're just some competitive mother baking cakes to try and show up the rest of the neighbourhood or some sad wannabe hipster who knits.
posted by Megami at 12:49 PM on September 5, 2012


I think I linked it in a previous discussion, but the Times recently had an article linking the economy, stay at home dads, and "artisinal fatherhood".
posted by Forktine at 12:51 PM on September 5, 2012


I knit and weave and sew because I want high-quality things. And high-quality things have a cost; you can either spend more money, or you can spend your time. I choose to spend my time, because I get better returns on my time investment by getting better at making quality things than I would by working extra time at my factory job to simply get more money.

I just like having really nice stuff.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 12:52 PM on September 5, 2012


Does this include the cost of your time, jars and industrial sized pots you otherwise would not have needed?

What are you getting paid per hour to nitpick other people's hobbies? Because I would seriously like to get in on some of that sweet, sweet curmudgeon cash!
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 12:57 PM on September 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


You people who can - what, exactly, are you canning? Understandable if it's stuff you've grown yourself, but what's the point of canning something you buy at the grocery store or at the farmer's market?
posted by downing street memo at 12:57 PM on September 5, 2012


What are you getting paid per hour to nitpick other people's hobbies?

I think that's the whole point: this domesticity stuff is done not really out of necessity but out of a desire for entertainment, status, etc.
posted by downing street memo at 1:00 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Downing Street:

what's the point of canning something you buy at the grocery store or at the farmer's market?

The point is that it preserves things for longer than your fridge or your countertop would. The tomatoes are in season only for month or so, and a given tomato only has a shelf life of about a week on the counter or a couple weeks in the fridge; but if I can that tomato, it has a shelf life of two years. So I can get a bunch of tomatoes all at once right when they're in season -- which means a) they're cheaper, and b) they're fucking delicious - and keep them around for a whole year, taking my time eating them rather than being all "eat ALL the tomatoes because it's summer".

And as for what I can - farmer's market all the way. The supermarket stuff is crap because it's been bred to sacrifice flavor for the sake of surviving being crammed on a truck for three days before it gets to my supermarket. Feh.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:02 PM on September 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I used to volunteer at my CSA, and I'll cop to a low simmer of impatience with the bullshit of my fellow shareholders, some of whom latch onto buzzwords like shibboleths and end up wrecking things for the rest of us. Like, I come from the Midwest; my aunt and uncle went from being farmers to being the folks who certify organic farms. I know that a decent amount of the certification process is bullshit, that there are different standards based on the certification, and that it's just not worth it for a lot of smaller farms. Still, we get blueberries (delicious blueberries!) from a place that isn't yet certified and it's a scandal.

I'll also say that just from doing the CSA, it's definitely a gendered thing — I was one of the few dudes there. Almost all of the women are 30-something young mothers married to (or living with) producers and art directors and other shaggy dudes in Tom's shoes, and that there's definitely a competitive edge when they get around to talking, and that they really don't have any clue as to what the terms they bandy about mean — heirloom and biodynamic and organic are just vague signifiers of health and purity (Haidt's one good insight into liberals is the moral dimension of food).

The few guys that were there were almost always either gay — and therefore kinda exempted from the weird gendered expectations — or French dads who were way into breakfast radishes.
posted by klangklangston at 1:08 PM on September 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


Did anyone actually RTFA? She's not saying that everyone should go back to eating nuclear-era canned food, but the unacknowledged class markers in this New Domesticity are what sets it apart from people eating what they find growing out of the ground from pure necessity:

"As Rechter points out, so much of our food obsession is about the illusion of control in a scary and uncertain world:

"Perhaps we focus so closely on food because feeding our families creates an illusion of control. On Facebook, a friend posts about her son refusing to eat a conventionally-grown banana. He can taste the difference—he will only eat organic. What is the subtext of such a post? My child has been taught correctly? My child has learned what I’ve taught? We are good, we are safe, no harm will come to us? Perhaps also this: If your child cannot taste this difference between organic and conventional bananas, clearly our family is better than yours.

"It is undeniable that, intentionally or not, we use food as a way of “performing class status” (as a sociologist would put it). Breastfeeding and making your own baby food says “high-class;” buying formula at Target says “low-class.” Having the time and inclination to can your own jam says “educated and financially secure,” while grabbing fast food says “poor and ignorant.” Having a child who knows the difference (or thinks he knows the difference) between organic and conventional bananas proclaims “upper middle-class” louder than driving a Prius or vacationing in France."
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:11 PM on September 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also - there's a unique kind of luxury that comes of being able to come home from a hellashitty day at work and feel too tired to really think of anything to cook, and then realize that hey, what with all the stuff you've got tucked away in your closet, your freezer, and your cupboards, you could actually make yourself dinner just by opening things and pouring them into a pot and heating them all up together. (I totally did this last night - 1 jar of tomatoes + 1 handful of frozen meatballs I'd made up + 1 cube of chopped basil + pasta = supper.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:11 PM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


downing street memo: "I think that's the whole point: this domesticity stuff is done not really out of necessity but out of a desire for entertainment, status, etc."

Exactly - I don't claim that I metafilter out of economic necessity, I don't pretend that doing so makes me a better person than someone who chooses not to. It is done for entertainment, to occupy my time, and for the enrichment offered by having a good forum to read and discuss things.

If someone says they do this "new domesticity" for entertainment and enrichment, I have no argument. But when people with a middle class income pretend it is done for necessity or as a political act, that often seems a bit dishonest at best, and in my experience also carries some undesirable conservative baggage regarding homemaking and gender roles.

I grew up with this stuff, I split firewood and harvested apples and picked bugs off a huge organic garden. In our case there was in fact a mix of poverty and hippy idealism going on. Frankly if I had gotten a paper route I could have bought 8 times the vegetables that that garden got us, for the same amount of work.
posted by idiopath at 1:12 PM on September 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: "Also - there's a unique kind of luxury that comes of being able to come home from a hellashitty day at work and feel too tired to really think of anything to cook, and then realize that hey, what with all the stuff you've got tucked away in your closet, your freezer, and your cupboards, you could actually make yourself dinner just by opening things and pouring them into a pot and heating them all up together. (I totally did this last night - 1 jar of tomatoes + 1 handful of frozen meatballs I'd made up + 1 cube of chopped basil + pasta = supper.)"

So you are saying that you don't feel guilty about eating preprepared / processed food if you are the one that preprepared and processed it?
posted by idiopath at 1:14 PM on September 5, 2012


It's time for an artificiality backlash. All cyborgs eating protein gel cubes all the time!
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:15 PM on September 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


Man, this entry is great. I had a VERY DIY wedding ("glorified barbecue" is what my husband calls it) in my mom's backyard and while it was a great time, boy, did I feel a lot of stress over stuff back when I was reading offbeat bride all the time and looking at all the little handmade thingies that people were giving away and all the cool venues where people had their ceremonies. Our favors were awesome (brown diner mugs with little packets of tea and hot cider tucked into them), but ridiculously labor-intensive and not at all cheap. And the gluten-free vegan cupcakes we were supposed to have in lieu of cake were a failure (they ended up flat and kind of gelatinous) and I honestly felt kind of ashamed that my brother-in-law had to run out and get a regular cake for us. Also I was freaking out over those cupcakes a half hour before the wedding, so that was great. Honestly, there a few things I just wish I would have paid for instead of feeling the need to do it ALL MYSELF.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:21 PM on September 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


I am regularly interested in canning, but then I realise I don't actually have anywhere to keep the canned food once I have it. Also I'm lazy.
posted by jeather at 1:25 PM on September 5, 2012


So you are saying that you don't feel guilty about eating preprepared / processed food if you are the one that preprepared and processed it?

Precisely. Unless you are eating an all-raw-foods diet (and such a thing exists), all food has to be processed in some fashion in order to make it edible. I just think it tastes a hell of a lot better if I'm the one doing the bulk of that aforementioned processing. Others think it's cheaper/healthier/something-er if they're the ones that do the bulk of that processing.

The arguments you read against "processed foods" is more like "processed by a factory foods," as a lot of that processing either ads odd ingredients that you can't control for or which do weird things to the food, or aren't to your palate or particular taste, or the like; or they may include ingredients that are sub-par. (By which I mean - if I'm making my own peach jam, I make sure to cut ALL the bruised icky bits off the peaches; but I can't be certain Smuckers' is going to be as diligent about that.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:27 PM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would love if I could buy and consume protein gel cubes, but then again I have food competency issues.

That's one of the issues I have with the politization of domesticity - I have issues making food for myself from stuff I buy at the grocery store, much less taking a step back from that and growing/processing my own food. If buying packaged meals to keep calories in my body contributes to some terrible global corporatization of food, then so be it.
posted by muddgirl at 1:28 PM on September 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


(that comment sat in preview for a long time and wasn't a response to EmpressCallipygos's comment about factory foods).
posted by muddgirl at 1:29 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


No worries, mudgirl. (And hell, I also sometimes go for the Kraft Mac-n-cheese for dinner, because sometimes you just WANT cheese that comes in weird powder form, dammit.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:32 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tom said to himself that it was not such a hollow world, after all. He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it – namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do. And this would help him to understand why constructing artificial flowers or performing on a tread-mill is work, while rolling ten-pins or climbing Mont Blanc is only amusement. There are wealthy gentlemen in England who drive four-horse passenger-coaches twenty or thirty miles on a daily line, in the summer, because the privilege costs them considerable money; but if they were offered wages for the service, that would turn it into work and then they would resign.
posted by zamboni at 1:33 PM on September 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


New domesticity? Oh, f'cryin' out loud... My name is MonkeyToes, and I am a badass.

Because I have a farm, I do the things that go with that-- I grow and can my own vegetables, bake my own bread, make sauerkraut and pickles, split and stack firewood for the wood stove, grind my own wheat flour, raise my own pigs, and bring up turkeys from eggs so I can grow them out, process them, eat the meat, can the stock and compost the feathers. I rear my kids. I mow the pasture and unwrap bailing wire from the mower when I hit old fences. I cry when my animals die, dig their graves, bury them.

Does this make me a domestic goddess? Better than anybody else? Absolutely not. It keeps me busy and exercising and learning all the time. I get dirty and bloody, and am sometimes up to my elbows in entrails. There's nothing cute or endearing about a bucket full of blood, viscera and turkeys heads, and there's no Supermom in laying down a trail of marshmallows at the butcher's so that the pigs will go quietly from the trailer to the holding chutes. Hauling feedbags is definitely Not Martha. I don't do New Domestic. I farm. And this assertion--that back to basics is a holier-than-thou class-based maneuver cloaking itself in virtue--just pisses me off.

There's no political impact to what I do. But I do it because I want to take part in the systems of consumption much less than I did when I was younger. I want my kids to learn skills and self-reliance, and that resources should be conserved and not taken for granted. "Woman as moral center of the home"? How about the entire family pitches in, and Mama can wrangle livestock as well as Daddy can. Is it suddenly a hipster thing, that you should work hard, work with others, prepare for storms (whether actual or economic) and learn a variety of skills so you can do projects on your own and help the neighbors with their pursuits?

I am not a hipster. I am not a sweet and photogenic New Domesticity poster girl. Bucket opener in one hand and multitool in the other, I live this way because I think it's the right thing for me and my family to do. I'm a feminist and a Democrat and I think I had better hop on the mower for a while to work off the grar of being pegged as apron-wearing, traditional-gender-role oppressor devoted to making my peers feel bad about their potato chips. Honey, where's that .22?
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:55 PM on September 5, 2012 [9 favorites]


I don't see where anyone has said anything about farmers at all, much less the implication that anyone who raises chickens or cans their own food is an oppressor.
posted by muddgirl at 2:00 PM on September 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


this is not a new phenomenon.

Mahna Mahna
Do doo be-do-do
Mahna Mahna
Do do-do do
Mahna Mahna
Do doo be-do-do be-do-do be-do-do be-do-do-doodle do do do-doo do!

[artisanally crafted imaginary air muppetry by me].
posted by srboisvert at 2:01 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Home-made (hand-made, really) pie really is better. But that doesn't mean it can't be made by a corporation. Hell, even your most hipster vegan gluten-free bakery is probably organized as a S-Corp or a LLC.

I don't see/experience the growing popularity of a DIY ethos as gendered in and of itself, although the linked promotion of a New Domesticity (as an oppressive normative standard) seems like a possibly good exemplar of how gender invades and patterns such a cultural shift.
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:06 PM on September 5, 2012


Didn't almost all of this used to be called Home Economics? I'm not quite sure because it was never taught in either my, or my wife's high school. But seriously; we do most of this, and on everything run a cost analysis on we make in the house...because we're underemployed, and we're nerds about this kind of stuff. It usually pans out in our favor, and when it doesn't pan out in our favor, it is still usually remarkably better quality than we could normally get.

Home-brew beer? WAY Cheaper than the equivalent in stores.
Home-distilled hooch? Cheaper than anything in stores, even the shitty stuff.
Home-roasted coffee? Cheaper than the equivalent in the store.
Home-baked bread? Cheaper than the equivalent in the store. No, it's not cheaper than wonderbread.
Home-canned tuna? Not cheaper, exactly the same price, but we get the actual tuna from a dude we know, who line-catches it.
Home-canned tomatoes? Cheaper than the fancy shit at whole foods, because we use scratch and dent roma tomatoes from the farmers market that we buy at discount at the end of the day... However, it is not cheaper than something like Trader Joe's stuff.
Home-cured duck breast? uh, can't even find that shit at the store. But it's pretty cheap, and eats like HEAVEN.
Home-made baby food? ohmydearsweetlord, we saved hundreds of hundreds of dollars over the last year by making our own.

This kind of stuff started out as a hobby for us, but totally turned into a way of life, and unless either of us gets a good paying job that requires us to show up for 60+ hours a week, it will stay that way.

Admittedly, this is the realm of 'hobby' because we don't rely on it for survival, but that doesn't make it any less fulfilling or financially useful for us.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:27 PM on September 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


but we get the actual tuna from a dude we know, who line-catches it.

I can't get line-caught tuna in San Antonio. :( I think we can get line-caught stocked bass, but I don't really see why stocked lakes are any better than shipping it in from the coast.

The more I dig into this blog the more I like it and find her observations to be much more complex than characterized here, even by me. Here's one on the danger of Every Mother Is Her Own EPA. Here's a great one about the long history of equating food with morals. Here's one about the long history of professionalizing domesticity.

I think it's clear to me that Emily probably did or does classify herself as at least being on the outskirts of "New Domesticity" culture - she had a DIY farm wedding. She tried her hand at a food blog. She stalks Etsy and Pinterest.
posted by muddgirl at 2:37 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


>Canning doesn't make much sense when you can afford fresh vegetables all year around.

Yeah, sure, I can afford a grocery store tomato in January. But have you tasted a grocery store tomato in January? Same with blueberries. Blueberries suck if they're not super ripe. So, in the summer when #freshproduceofchoice is 1. Super Cheap and 2. Super Tasty, I preserve the shit out of it. (Plus, it's practically impossible to make tomato cans without the use of BPA, so hey, I can avoid that as well.) These past few weeks I've made four batches of salsa and sun (oven) dried tomatoes. I got a batch of marinara (for the freezer) up my sleeve in the next day or two. (I get tomatoes for $1/lbs plus a variety of free tomatoes from friends and co-workers, plus a few prolific pepper plants in my yard.) I made a few Alton Brown Frozen Blueberry Pies earlier in the summer, along with blueberry butter and blueberry syrup. Nothing's more impressive (or tasty) than busting out a frozen blueberry pie in January and bringing it to your Holiday Potluck. And damn if I won't be enjoying pancakes with homemade blueberry syrup come February. So yeah, I can. It's a pain in the ass sometimes. But stop by sometime, I've got 22 jars of salsa in my basement and I'll gladly share some with the skeptics. Bring chips.
posted by sararah at 2:37 PM on September 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


So, you know how in high school there are some guys who play guitar in a rock band because they love playing guitar or want to get better at playing guitar or bond with their friends by playing guitar, and then there are other guys who play guitar in a rock band because they think it will make them cool and they will thereby gain status?

Some people engage in craft/domestic stuff because they really enjoy it or want to try it or bond with their families through it. Other people do it because they view it as a status marker. Except this is a status marker that reflects on your fitness as a mother. And there are few things in this world as threatening as being told you aren't a good enough mother -- you are failing your children and can't adequately care for them.

So I end up with a friend of mine crying an hour before her kid's birthday party because the handmade goodie bags aren't perfect enough at a two-year-old's party. And another mother sniffed at me because I gave the preschool teachers gift cards instead of lollipops made to look like superheros with a poem written on them. Another woman (same preschool class) made handmade tiny bows and arrows to attach to pictures of her three year old dressed as cupid to hold candy for a toddler Valentine's Day exchange, and frowned on mothers who gave store-bought Valentines. It's not so much the ridiculous crafts (which are kinda cute), it's that these women are staying up until 2 a.m. fabricating lollipop superheroes to lord it over other mothers, and then other mothers are reciprocating with tiny bows-and-arrows because they don't feel they have any choice if they don't want to be socially outcast and -- god forbid -- have their children socially outcast as a result.

The worst part is, you not only have to do this stuff, you have to enjoy it and talk about it enthusiastically. You can't say, "God, I hate this stupid shit, what do 2-year-olds need goodie bags for? Do they really need more plastic crap? They're full of sugar from the cake, isn't that enough?" No, you have to say, "Oh, I had such fun picking out the handmade wooden toys for the twenty-seven goodie bags I fabricated out of craft paper to coordinate with the recycled streamers, and -- sugar? Oh no, it's a sugar-free all-organic cake. I would NEVER let little Keelie eat sugar."

People are covering water-bottle labels with scrapbook paper to coordinate with party decorations. It is a constantly-escalating battle of crafty showing-off, like the Gilded Age but without the servants to hand-thread the ribbons in the hand-written invitations.

It's great if you enjoy domestic tasks as hobbies or find them pleasant, important, or economical to engage in. I do too. But when it becomes a mandatory status marker and a tool of social exclusion, particularly when traditionally female tasks that were a part of patriarchal oppression are demanded of women, and especially when engaging in these tasks is a minimum required for adequate motherhood, it becomes a problem.

Nobody's saying, "Don't make your pie." Everybody's glad your pie is delicious, because pie. But there are women crying in their kitchens because they FUCKING HATE MAKING PASTRY and they don't feel they have a choice if their children are going to be invited to playdates. THAT is the problem with "new domesticity." It's just the same as the old domesticity, except you aren't allowed to complain about it, because now it's "optional."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:40 PM on September 5, 2012 [42 favorites]


I guess I was spoiled by growing up in the vegetable basket of the US. We did indeed get fresh fruit and vegetables basically all year round.

Plus, it's practically impossible to make tomato cans without the use of BPA, so hey, I can avoid that as well.

The issue of food safety is one that Emily talks about a lot. If BPA is in tomato cans, and it's really harmful, then it's great that some people can avoid it by home canning. But that's an individual solution to a societal problem. Is it really so hopeless that we can't provide BPA-free tomatoes to people without the time or inclination to can their own?
posted by muddgirl at 2:41 PM on September 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


(Also, I just realized that part of my food incompetence is that I don't really care if a vegetable is at the peak of its freshness/goodness or not. It's just Food to me. I should probably avoid proclamations about food.)
posted by muddgirl at 2:43 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that's the whole point: this domesticity stuff is done not really out of necessity but out of a desire for entertainment, status, etc.

Well, um, yeah. In the sense that anything not done out of necessity for survival is by definition done for "entertainment, status, etc." — if the "etc." is taken to mean 'everything else except for survival'. Taken that way I think the statement borders on a tautology, and I'm not sure how else to interpret it.

Is the criticism here that these hobbies are done mostly by economically-secure people with spare time? That seems like a weak criticism to me; virtually all hobbies are done by economically-secure people with spare time, since those are the people who can afford to have free time and income to spend on what is essentially entertainment.

But you could say the exact same thing about, oh, running marathons or bike racing or any number of other innocuous things. They require a surfeit of free time and energy, and are therefore mainly the province of the middle class and upward. I can't see how growing food is any more or less a status performance than someone who goes running around the neighborhood every day after work.

And the recent trend (and perhaps it's just a fad) towards retro-y DIY stuff seems a lot less offensive than previous decades' orgies of consumerism as status displays. Personally I'd rather that the leisure classes engage in their inevitable one-upmanship via canned goods than by buying bigger and bigger SUVs and McMansions to house them in, which was the 1990s in a nutshell.

I am regularly interested in canning, but then I realise I don't actually have anywhere to keep the canned food once I have it.

You give them away. By which I mean, you pawn them off on everyone who will take them. I know a lot of people who do their canning throughout the summer (strawberries, blueberries) and fall (cranberries, apples, etc.) and then give them away at the holidays. This was pretty traditional in my family when I was growing up, and it's interesting that suddenly — after a gap of years — I've suddenly started having a pile of mystery jellies lurking in a kitchen corner in January again.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:48 PM on September 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Just before the 1999/2000 switch then there was all that Y2K panic about the world descending into darkness, my friends and I were all standing around at a party discussing that possibility and we came to the conclusion that none of us really did anything useful or had any useful skills that would help us survive or rebuild a society. I mean, sure we produce work but as office and knowledge workers we don't really know any useful trades or make a product that could be used by anyone other than other office and knowledge workers. A few people knitted and someone knew how to make bread (but not grow or mill wheat) but that was about it. We would totally be fodder if thrown back to an earlier age.

Now, it's not that all of us went out and got beehives but since then I've noticed this trend emerging and I have wondered if everyone had the same revelation that we did and thought: I should learn to do some of this stuff just to have these skills if it ever all goes to hell. It may have started out as a slacker version of survivalism, people realized that it's actually maybe kind of fun and could be cheaper/more practical/less damaging to the environment. And then, like all things, it became "cool" and annoying.
posted by marylynn at 2:51 PM on September 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is the criticism here that these hobbies are done mostly by economically-secure people with spare time?

...And the recent trend (and perhaps it's just a fad) towards retro-y DIY stuff seems a lot less offensive than previous decades' orgies of consumerism as status displays.


I think one valid observation made by Emily is that DIY can be another form of conspicuous consumption - not better, just different. I think that's an important observation to take in stride.
posted by muddgirl at 2:53 PM on September 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


And the recent trend (and perhaps it's just a fad) towards retro-y DIY stuff seems a lot less offensive than previous decades' orgies of consumerism as status displays. Personally I'd rather that the leisure classes engage in their inevitable one-upmanship via canned goods than by buying bigger and bigger SUVs and McMansions to house them in, which was the 1990s in a nutshell.

This is a good point.

But why DIY and not those other things (or, since those things are marked as passe, why not other big consumery things like them)?
posted by notyou at 2:53 PM on September 5, 2012


I'll admit, I don't love canning tomatoes straight up (and I opted not to do it this year). I get a lot more satisfaction from salsa because you can really make it your own. Plus, I freaking love salsa. I know some people are ambivalent about out of season produce, but I was pretty ambivalent about tomatoes and blueberries until I tasted them in-season and super ripe. Now I love them.

You can buy a few brands of canned/jarred tomatoes in BPA free packaging, but the selection is really limited to pricey organic brands. Until the FDA bans it outright from all packaging, I imagine the societal problem will continue. (They just banned it from baby bottles, so who knows.)

I would argue that a lot of home food preservation/urban homesteading involves individual solutions to societal problems with the food supply.
posted by sararah at 2:55 PM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


It seems then that there can be "status seeking" in any activity. It's not the artisanal valentine's day cards or the home-made pie or the welded-out-of-your-own-dental-fillings fixie -- it's why you made it, and how you present it to others. Maybe you don't have a black Escalade, but if you try to make others feel bad for not having/doing whatever it is you have/do, then you are a douchebag.

So maybe let's focus on the metacontextual status-seeking behaviour instead of the form it takes, be that fancy cars, home-made pie or a chalet in the French Alps. It's all in how you present it to others.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:58 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I make sure to form the top crust of my pies to somehow convey "This pie was made in the soft afternoon light shining through my home-sewn kitchen drapes."
posted by muddgirl at 3:16 PM on September 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


EVERYTHING is faster and more convenient now. If I spent as much time washing dishes, mopping, ironing, etc. as my grandma did, no I probably wouldn't be making bread. Those chores take half as long now as they did when my grandma was raising a family, not to mention I've got a husband that takes care of 50% of it. I can throw wet clothes in the dryer and start a batch of bread to rise in the time it took my grandma to hang out the clothes on the line. Meanwhile, my husband is hanging with the kid and cleaning the living room, not just sitting on the couch with a beer.
posted by that's how you get ants at 3:40 PM on September 5, 2012


But the fact that within this culture of upper-middle-class domesticity there is almost no recognition of mastery and no impulse towards mastery -- that makes me rather suspicious of the endeavor as an end in itself. The point is to show off and one-up.

Quoted for truth.

Mastery is fun. Learning is fun. Creating something useful, beautiful, and/or edible is fun. But it should not be used as a cudgel against other women. That's just mean. Thanks for an on-point observation, Eyebrows McGee.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:57 PM on September 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, Eyebrows McGee has been awesome all through this discussion. Way to go.
posted by klangklangston at 3:59 PM on September 5, 2012


The problem with "no impulse towards mastery" is that a lot of these bloggers are just grasping for content and not necessarily interested in mastery. A lot of them are also 20. You dabble when you're 20. There are a few, thought not a lot, of "mastery" blogs out there, but some people have truly spent a lot of time on their craft. And some of those people are too busy crafting their cakes, jams, woodworking, knitting, chickens or what have you to blog about it.*

*speaking from experience, maybe
posted by sararah at 4:19 PM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am regularly interested in canning, but then I realise I don't actually have anywhere to keep the canned food once I have it.

This is why so many of my family members that I don't know what else to get them for Christmas are going to be getting little gift baskets of "Yay! I made three kinds of pickles!" or "W00t! Have some homemade peach hot sauce!" or whatever until I get my closet back.

Mothers especially love this kind of thing -- it's kind of the same impulse they have that made them love the macaroni necklace you made them when you were six, combined with "plus I actually really CAN eat it so it won't take up space forever".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:38 PM on September 5, 2012


This is why so many of my family members that I don't know what else to get them for Christmas are going to be getting little gift baskets of "Yay! I made three kinds of pickles!" or "W00t! Have some homemade peach hot sauce!" or whatever until I get my closet back.

Right, and since Christmas is immediately after tomato season in the northern hemisphere, I won't have to worry about several months of canned food storage!

I am sure that once I do it I will realise how easy it is and how even I am not that lazy . . . but I have to get there first, and I don't know where/how to start. I'd have to buy everything. I don't have a garden. It just seems so much easier to buy salsa.
posted by jeather at 4:54 PM on September 5, 2012


If you don't want to take up canning, though, you don't have to. It really is okay.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:00 PM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Canning in bulk in the absence of good storage space (or a plan to sell it, say) is just silly. It's like (referring back to my earlier comment) trying to follow the things in the Whole Earth Catalog without having a farmette -- designs for a split rail fence with brackets for solar hot water heating for the outdoor shower are pretty silly when you live in an apartment.

In other words, there's a context to a lot of these carefully selected "traditional" things, and often to make sense that context needs to include space (like a decently sized and equipped kitchen, as well as storage), access to cheap in-season produce and meat; enough close family or community to make putting down bulk food viable; lots of time that isn't allocated to paid employment, baby care, or commuting; and enough resources to not have it be a disaster on the occasions when your canning goes awry and all the jars explode.

The more of that context you erode, the less sense it makes to spend your time that way.

I can remember quite clearly the point in the very early 1980s when my mother decided that the dropping price of clothing and the increased demands on her time meant that it no longer made sense to sew clothing except as an occasional hobby activity, for example. (Personally I thought it was great, because I was getting tired of being made fun of for wearing homemade clothes, but that's a different issue, and sadly wasn't part of her decision making process.) And in an interesting revese of Eyebrows Mcgee's stories above, homemade valentines and crafts at school meant poverty or weirdo hippies, not high status SuperMoms, when I was in grade school. Either way, it functioned to make a lot of mothers feel bad, just like EM's stories.
posted by Forktine at 5:06 PM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I do want to take up canning, actually. I just think that, for various reasons, it probably doesn't make sense in my life, which is annoying because I believe I would enjoy it. So I sort of flail about it, because on the one hand, why not take up a hobby I think would be fun? But on the other, what's the point? I live alone, so I can't eat that much, and I don't have much space, and I don't have anywhere to grow things. (I could join a co-op garden, but I actively dislike gardening in any case.)
posted by jeather at 5:13 PM on September 5, 2012


And in an interesting revese of Eyebrows Mcgee's stories above, homemade valentines and crafts at school meant poverty or weirdo hippies, not high status SuperMoms, when I was in grade school. Either way, it functioned to make a lot of mothers feel bad, just like EM's stories.

Ah, but you have to be able to afford the right molds, paper, etc. to make home-made lolly pops, or valentines, etc. or your effort will still be found wanting. It's still based on what you can afford, but now it's also how much time you can afford to put into it. Luxury upon luxury.
posted by Gygesringtone at 5:18 PM on September 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Jam's a good quasi canning activity - you can do it in pretty tiny quantities, and jam is a good gift and looks nice on your shelf, and almost everyone can have a jar or two on the go without feeling like they are being oppressed by walls of canned produce. I did jam in my old house, but I don't feel any inclination really to do it now (I don't eat much jam any more, plus I don't have enormous cherry trees laden with fruit to use up). I collected jars and re-used them, and sterilised my jars in the oven. It doesn't have to be a Super Martha activity.
posted by thylacinthine at 5:35 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


It doesn't have to be a Super Martha activity.

Agreed. This is an awesome, low-stress recipe for making strawberry preserves (from Helen Witty's "Fancy Pantry"). "Makes about 5 half-pints," so it's a manageable project with a relatively small output. I've been picking raspberries so I can make more preserves this way.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:42 PM on September 5, 2012


Ah, but you have to be able to afford the right molds, paper, etc. to make home-made lolly pops, or valentines, etc. or your effort will still be found wanting. It's still based on what you can afford, but now it's also how much time you can afford to put into it. Luxury upon luxury.

I totally agree. My point, which I think is the same as your point, is that the issue at hand is demonstrating status and consumption (of both money and time), which can come from both homemade and store-bought paths.
posted by Forktine at 5:48 PM on September 5, 2012


I totally agree. My point, which I think is the same as your point, is that the issue at hand is demonstrating status and consumption (of both money and time), which can come from both homemade and store-bought paths.

Exactly, and much better said.
posted by Gygesringtone at 6:15 PM on September 5, 2012


I'm a bit late to the party...

there IS an element of "if you don't do it THIS WAY [...], then you're doing it wrong" [....] But maybe male-dominated craft spaces also have this problem? -- muddgirl

Many of them do. There are some tech communities that are full of dismissive comments about how "that's not a real hack, they used an Arduino", implying that any project that doesn't involve hand forming the transistors from raw silicon isn't worth reporting on. The other sort of comment that howto guides and tutorials seem to attract are the "I already knew that, therefore anyone who needs to read this is dumb".

As with many things on the internet, there is an xkcd for that.
posted by autopilot at 6:22 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I keep bees. I don't do it for money, or honey, or status. I do it because, man, FUCKING BEES!
posted by TheTingTangTong at 6:30 PM on September 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


Has anybody else watched that Economic Development as a complex adaptive system video where he starts off with the guy making a toaster (40 individual components) from scratch? The 40 minute lecture is a little meh but the intro about the toaster is pretty damn cool.

Here is a link to it.
posted by bukvich at 7:23 PM on September 5, 2012


This is a hot-button topic for me, that I think a lot about (so thank you for the props), because I am very much a person who likes to craft, likes to reclaim all these dying skills, sees a lot of feminist power in reclaiming traditionally-feminine "crafts" and housework as legitimate art and/or complex and valuable manufacturing/service work. I've always been pretty much the craftiest person I know, and while probably not the greenest, definitely in the top 5% of greenies among my peer group of upper-middle class suburban-raised folks. I was always the farthest outlier on the graph on this sort of thing.

So it has been super-weird to become a mother and suddenly I am not crafty enough. Not even halfway there. And this is the same peer group. Many of the same women I was interacting with five years ago. And suddenly I'm having these bizarro-world conversations where this woman at the park is getting all up in my face about how I don't make my own baby food because PESTICIDES and SHE drives 16 miles in a gigantic SUV to get organic carrots at the farmer's market and she literally just told me that she was at the park today because Barefoot Grass was "treating" her backyard. I'm afraid I'm having some kind of radical break with reality because this conversation makes no sense. And I have this gigantic vegetable garden and our yard is otherwise (almost) all native plantings and we haven't had any -cides of any sort in it in eight years but buying organic baby food at the store makes it full of SCARY PESTICIDES while dumping pesticides on your grass is somehow totally different.

The pressure to do these things, like making superhero lollipops, is just mind-boggling. I like crafting, I know what the pressure is about and I reject its premise, and I still feel the pressure and feel really unhappy about it. (I still feel bad that I got the preschool teachers giftcards instead of superhero lollipops even though, clearly, most known coffee-drinking adults would rather have a Starbucks giftcard than a lollipop with a face and a cape on it, because does that mean that I don't value my kid's teachers enough? Do they not like me (and by extension my kid) because I didn't put a ton of effort into their gifts and turn brownies into mini Statues of Liberty? Why do I feel bad about something so incredibly stupid? The crafty gift-giving economy of upper-middle-class mothers is like this relentless, incessant potlatch from hell.) I had a friend -- who seriously does a unique craft project every single day with her toddler, and posts about them to facebook and her blog, and it is crazy-train -- confess to me that she was so miserable and it wasn't any fun but she worried if she stopped her child wouldn't be getting as much enrichment as the other children.

And that's where it gets political: Sometimes people ask me about serving on the school board and how much time it takes, and I say, "Twenty or 30 hours a week, but only 8 or so is at meetings, mostly I'm just reading things during naptime." And one woman responded, I remember it so clearly, "Oh, good for you! (In the condescending tone that implies it is NOT good for you.) I could just NEVER take that much time away from my children!" Her message was clear, and I've heard it from other people, too: You are not spending enough time taking care of your children. And of course the implication of that is that by serving your community to make it better for ALL of the children, you're neglecting your own family. Political action should not get in the way of homemade organic baby food. It's an incredibly powerful way of suppressing women's political action, by threatening their competency as mothers, and by continually increasing the quantity of busywork they must do just to be "good enough."

As for conspicuous consumption, most of these high-pressure craft moms are living in McMansions, driving SUVs, and spending more on craft supplies (and generating more waste) to turn old wine corks into coasters than they'd spend (and generate) just BUYING SOME DAMN COASTERS. Someone said this upthread, but I think it's very key: This is, quite often, a very conspicuous way of consuming TIME, which makes a nice counterpoint to the conspicuous consumption of money.

I think it's so attractive partly because it DOES feel good to work with your hands, and it DOES feel good to make something, and there IS a sense of accomplishment in making bread from scratch. And a lot of these women are bored and their intellects are under-utilized. But it just balloons so fast into yet another form of "mompetition" (mommy competition) that loses sight of the original goal. It's depressing.

And I live in a community that's pretty low-key about parenting and most of the people I know are pretty awesome. (I saw the bow-and-arrow mom tonight and she's so nice, really. And I met her husband and he's lovely.) I can't even imagine what it's like in a more status-focused community or one where parenting pressures are more intense.

Okay, rant done. I just have spent an awful lot of time thinking about this. :)

I'm seriously sick of the homemade baby food thing, people ask me about it ALL THE TIME. My blender sucks, and my kids only ate baby food for four months, so it seems super-impractical AND I really just don't want to do it, okay??? Argh, I should not even be defensive about this and I am totally defensive about it after having the discussion 1300 times.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:54 PM on September 5, 2012 [22 favorites]


It's great if you enjoy domestic tasks as hobbies or find them pleasant, important, or economical to engage in. I do too. But when it becomes a mandatory status marker and a tool of social exclusion, particularly when traditionally female tasks that were a part of patriarchal oppression are demanded of women, and especially when engaging in these tasks is a minimum required for adequate motherhood, it becomes a problem.

Then be the change you want to see - don't buy in to it. My kid has never had a birthday party, and he's 8. In most communities we have lived in* most kids have production parties. I only every made stationery when I had a letterpress, now I buy it. So store bought cards all the way. I don't give a flying fruitbat about other women's craft efforts, and do care if they judge me on mine. And I am regularly told we are the most 'crunchy/alternative/committed(whatever that means)' people in the neighbourhood. My kids is doing alright. Do something because it means something to you, or you just damn enjoy it rather than because it is a competition, and you will probably do okay.



*We move every two years or so
posted by Megami at 9:26 PM on September 5, 2012


> Why are women of my generation, the daughters of post-Betty Friedan feminists, embracing the domestic tasks that our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shrugged off? Why has the image of the blissfully domestic supermom overtaken the Sex and the City-style single urban careerist as the media’s feminine ideal?

Why are our feminist credentials a little suspect for making the type of food that we'd prefer to eat? I'm not knocking prepared food, we eat plenty of that too, but I think it's worth noting that every tiny nuance of the experience of buying it is driven by marketing techniques that certainly don't hew to feminist identity ideals.

> Did anyone actually RTFA? She's not saying that everyone should go back to eating nuclear-era canned food, but the unacknowledged class markers in this New Domesticity are what sets it apart from people eating what they find growing out of the ground from pure necessity:

I get that some judge-y hyper-competitive circles have deemed "new domesticity" their fad flavor of the month, but eh, that doesn't perhaps mean as much in the grand scheme of jam as she thinks. Other than making jars and pretty yarn and heirloom veggie starts a little more widely available, it certainly doesn't really have anything to do why a lot of people are knitting or canning or brewing or gardening. For example, my circles have healthy doses of punk rock and hippie going on, so "what the hell, I'll try making it myself" is a pretty common attitude. I do a lot of canning and gardening, but have no animosity toward those who are just curious about the fuss, looking for a new hobby, serial dabblers, foodies, thrifty, lifelong devotees, or serious converts, or wouldn't give any of it a try if I paid them. I think I've been a little of all of the above.

(I do rather hate the term "new domesticity." Maybe we can agree to only call it that when talking about intentional performances of class status.)
posted by desuetude at 9:41 PM on September 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


> I am regularly interested in canning, but then I realise I don't actually have anywhere to keep the canned food once I have it. Also I'm lazy.

I keep mine in the drawers of my china cabinet. One friend keeps jars under her couch. Another stacks hers on the lowest section of a bookshelf. Awkward spaces in cabinets and closets are always a good bet. Under the bed is by no means verboten, but I'd advise maybe not doing this with the stash of empty jars, because the occasional "ping!" of a jar lid adjusting itself can be a little startling if you're asleep.

> I'll also say that just from doing the CSA, it's definitely a gendered thing — I was one of the few dudes there. Almost all of the women are 30-something young mothers married to (or living with) producers and art directors and other shaggy dudes in Tom's shoes, and that there's definitely a competitive edge when they get around to talking

Uh, maybe this is a regional situation? This bears not even the slightest resemblance to the CSAs with which I'm familiar here in Philly, which tend to break down pretty evenly for gender, with plenty, plenty of straight dudes, albeit with a penchant for some serious facial hair.
posted by desuetude at 10:00 PM on September 5, 2012


I think The Bloggess really encapsulated the status-driven-domesticity perfectly in one of her posts on Ill-Advised; I'll link it here and quote my favorite bits.

The circle of shame as overheard at a park:

“I can’t believe that you drank coke during pregnancy. I only drank warm milk. Your baby will probably have ADD.”

“You drank store-bought milk? That’s loaded with antibiotics and steroids. Your baby is like a tiny Incredible Hulk. I only drank milk from my own personal cow.”

“You drank raw milk during a mad-cow epidemic. How terribly irresponsible. I drank only purified bottled water from artesian wells.”

“Bottled water? Fabulous. So you’re the reason why my child will inherit a world filled with overflowing trash dumps. Way to shit on Mother Nature, asshole. I drank tap water from one, reusable cup. I even brought it with me to the hospital during labor.”

“You had your baby in a hospital? How cold and meaningless for you. I had my baby at home and my other children helped with the birth and then my husband cooked the placenta for us to eat.”

“So you forced your family to become cannibals. How wonderful for them. We planted our placenta with a sapling in the park to celebrate life.”

“You disposed of medical waste in the park. OUR PARK? Are you fucking kidding me? My kid is playing under a placenta tree? You don’t keep the placenta. You throw it away.”

“You threw away your placenta?! WHAT THE FUCK DID I JUST SAY ABOUT THE OVERFLOWING LANDFILLS? Why aren’t you composting? It’s like you’re TRYING to destroy the earth.”


I couldn't find the video of her reading it, which is freaking hysterical, but I think the biggest issue is not what people do but that our worth is so often judged based on what we do, and then people make up nonsense "mommy wars" trying to pit women against women as if one life was objectively the only way to live.
posted by Deoridhe at 10:16 PM on September 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


but the unacknowledged class markers in this New Domesticity are what sets it apart from people eating what they find growing out of the ground from pure necessity

There are a couple of things that need to be called out here. Firstly there is arguably a rhetorical sleight of hand being pulled here: just because something is not done out of economic necessity does not mean it is not done for reasons of affordability. (The contrast between those for whom this activities are a pure luxury, and those who compelled to them because of economic circumstance begins to echo, uneasily, age-old arguments about the “deserving poor”, and how these reflect, at root, a wish to see the lower economic classes as without agency).

Secondly if we are to talk about issues of ‘unacknowledged class’ we should acknowledge what class and whose values. For sure there are certainly women who experience in an atmosphere of hyper-competitiveness but that is centered on the upper middle class. If we are to make arguments around class surely it behooves to careful about the values our arguments rely upon, and whether these merely reflect, and reinforce existing class structures.

If ‘Breastfeeding and making your own baby food says “high-class;”’ it also says a lot about class, health and access to education, and talking about these puts on on a very different terrain. If breastfeeding acts as a social status symbol it is able to do so because it acts as a marker for privileged access to education. Thus it can say nothing useful about the activity itself only about its role as a stand-in for an issue of class privilege which is much wider and has gone on for much longer; so there can be little, if any, useful critique aside from mere sociological description.
posted by tallus at 10:49 PM on September 5, 2012


My half-baked theory on competitive mommydom is that you've got all these women who were very professionally accomplished - highly educated, climbed some corporate ladders -who are now separated from that environment while they raise their children. They still have the drive and competitiveness and strategic thinking that served them in the boardroom but they're channeling it into this new thing. I have friends whose Christmas newsletter reads more like an annual report than a friendly missive. That pivot is a hard one.
posted by marylynn at 10:50 PM on September 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


my circles have healthy doses of punk rock and hippie going on, so "what the hell, I'll try making it myself" is a pretty common attitude. I do a lot of canning and gardening, but have no animosity toward those who are just curious about the fuss, looking for a new hobby, serial dabblers, foodies, thrifty, lifelong devotees, or serious converts, or wouldn't give any of it a try if I paid them. I think I've been a little of all of the above.

I'm going to jump up and down and do the Kermit-arms thing and say "YES YES YES YES YES THIS!" because this is exactly how it is with me too.

You've seen that Williams-Sonoma has a whole line of DIY/gardening stuff now, yeah? I've been uneasy about that, because on the one hand I have my covetous "ooh new swag new source for stuff" but on the other hand it's a sort of "oh crap now the Professionally Smug have something new to be judgy about". (I mean, seriously, you don't need to use a hammered copper pot to make your jam in, a regular old pot will do fine, so why did they throw that in?)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:08 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I started sewing as a child and came back to it about five years ago - it's a relatively cheap hobby, it's relaxing, and I saw something I wanted to make for my mum for Christmas. I have mixed feelings about it being 'fashionable'. On the one hand, the patterns available for cross-stitch now are much better than when I learned in the early '90s, making things is a nice thing because you can have something that's good quality and to your exact specifications rather than adapting disposable cheap clothing or similar to your needs, and, if I can get a little Marxist, you have the means of production right there in your hands, which is great.

On the other hand, there's this weird idea that to be a full woman you have to not only be attractive and capable but also able to make all your food from scratch, give your kids handmade toys, and raise a garden. There's a class element to it - women who have the time avaialble to do this stuff and the money to be able to purchase, say, a bespoke hen-house, rather than women who work very hard and barely have the time and money to heat up a ready-meal. And for those of us who have done this stuff for years, it's become a bandwagon, where being a crafter suggests you are part of the cliche - a bunting-and-cupcake person - and even charity-shopping has been turned into a Lifestyle Choice rather than just something you do to save money or hunt out interesting things. The Lifestyle Choice is the one that pisses me off most. I just want to do things, not make them part of something I'm not.
posted by mippy at 4:16 AM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


The pressure to do these things, like making superhero lollipops, is just mind-boggling. I like crafting, I know what the pressure is about and I reject its premise, and I still feel the pressure and feel really unhappy about it.

I live in an area where there's far, far less upper-middle-class mompetition pressure, and socialize with reasonable mothers, and I still experience that invisible pressure to sacrifice my personal time to making superhero lollipops. Over the last two years, I've tried to opt out of it by presenting as competent and too busy managing my own rural craziness to have any interest in participating in mompetition or judging those who do. "MonkeyToes, why are you all dressed up at the park?" "Because I'm not covered in pig poop." My friends and mommy acquaintances have learned not to invite me to scrapbooking parties, but call me for help when the basement floods, or when there's a baby bunny to be rescued, or when they need canning advice. I'm pretty careful to hide my social and educational markers, and I tell a lot of amusing and self-deprecating stories about the crazy farming projects I take on. Everybody laughs, and I get to bow out of making superhero lollipops. And when I get home (and mow the pasture, process turkeys, etc.), I *still* have this nagging sensation of not doing contemporary mommyhood correctly. It doesn't change what I do, and I love developing mastery for its own sake, but I still wish that I felt more comfortable in my rejection of being the socially good mommy.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:30 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Monetizing the craft-based "status seeking" impulse has brought us Michael's (arts), Lee Valley (tools), Williams-Sonoma (kitchen) and I'm sure many others. This is not to say the products these companies sell are bad, but that way they are marketed is towards avocative shoppers with lots of disposable income who are on the opposite side of the price/performance curve than someone who makes a living with those tools.

On one hand it's kind of gross to see businesses spring up to take advantage of primate status-seeking behaviour, but on the other hand that's kind of what successful businesses do: find a niche and exploit it.

And at least with craft, unlike personal care products, their marketing isn't focused on making you feel like you're ugly. Just inadequately prepared.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:30 AM on September 6, 2012


On the other hand, there's this weird idea that to be a full woman you have to not only be attractive and capable but also able to make all your food from scratch, give your kids handmade toys, and raise a garden. There's a class element to it - women who have the time avaialble to do this stuff and the money to be able to purchase, say, a bespoke hen-house, rather than women who work very hard and barely have the time and money to heat up a ready-meal.

Maybe this is why my comments in here have been kind of one-note "but I don't/but no it isn't/but it's not about that" comments -- because I am honestly not personally seeing this. I don't deny it's happening -- people reporting that it happens and my own experiences with human nature in general are enough for me to know full well it probably is.

I'm more baffled by the fact that I've somehow managed to have not been confronted with any of it personally, which suddenly strikes me as really, really weird. Where is this happening? Is it only in some communities, or is it mostly among mothers? Or mostly on certain blogs?

Again, I'm not asking because "I'm not seeing it, so where is this supposed shaming happening," I'm asking more from a place of "wait, that's weird I haven't seen it, is it only in some place that I'm usually not anyway or do I just have really good jackass radar?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:39 AM on September 6, 2012


Maybe this is why my comments in here have been kind of one-note "but I don't/but no it isn't/but it's not about that" comments -- because I am honestly not personally seeing this. I don't deny it's happening -- people reporting that it happens and my own experiences with human nature in general are enough for me to know full well it probably is.

I'm more baffled by the fact that I've somehow managed to have not been confronted with any of it personally, which suddenly strikes me as really, really weird. Where is this happening? Is it only in some communities, or is it mostly among mothers? Or mostly on certain blogs?


Man, you're lucky you haven't faced it personally. I had a friend act this kind of way to me recently. She's an old grad school friend, and means well--lives halfway across the country now with her partner and two kids. She was chatting about how she's planning on unschooling them. I've been interested in alt-schooling models for a long time, and mentioned that there's a decent-looking (but expensive) free school near me. But I mentioned that the public schools in my town are very well-regarded, too, so that's a good option for my Eventual Children. I got an email back about the evils of public schooling, how she would never do that to her kids--and an offer on a reading list about why I was wrong to even consider it.

(If that seems irrelevant, I don't think it is . . . it's another home-related activity that is both labor and time intensive--one that many lower-income families may not be able to afford to do because both parents work. Home schooling is very popular in domestic blogs either because of conservative/religious reasons or because the bloggers, like my friend, are liberals who think schools are bad news.)

So I think a lot of these conversations do happen around childrearing but they don't come exclusively from moms. I have a friend who had a c-section years ago now who was once lectured by another mutual friend about how, if she'd only had a home birth, it could have been avoided.

The people in question were both smart, educated people from fairly wealthy backgrounds who also skewed fairly hip/crunchy.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:01 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


And as for it being present on blogs, I think you see it a lot in comments when issues like organic food, education, that sort of thing pops up. I think it can also be subtle, too: which sorts of people do lifestyle blogs focus on? Which weddings on offbeat bride get featured--what sort of homes are shown in pretty house blogs and pinterest boards? It's not always a matter of saying "wait! you're doing it wrong!" as it is a matter of ignoring those who are doing it differently.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:10 AM on September 6, 2012


How different is what I'm reading here from all of you from peer pressure in high school?
posted by infini at 7:15 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


How different is what I'm reading here from all of you from peer pressure in high school?

In high school, you're worried about not being good enough. In competitive mothering, you're terrified that everything you do or fail to do is going to screw up your children's lives and prove that your not good enough.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:26 AM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


"you're," urgh, sorry.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:29 AM on September 6, 2012


Y'all turned out fine, didn't you? More or less ;p just like home made.

Competitive mothering isn't an Olympic sport.

It doesn't change what I do, and I love developing mastery for its own sake, but I still wish that I felt more comfortable in my rejection of being the socially good mommy.

MonkeyToes, don't let them get to you. None of the other kids probably even know what a farm is, anymore.
posted by infini at 7:51 AM on September 6, 2012


I am one of those mothers who put a lot of effort into crafting stuff for my toddler's birthday party. On reflection I would wait until she is old enough to better appreciate the time and thought I spent on things (she was three), but going into it I knew she loved this children's book (Eastman's "Go, Dog. Go!") and whenever we went to the park would ask to look up into the trees for the tree parties that dogs must be having. So I cut out leaves and photocopied pictures of dogs from the books and taped them to cupcake trees, then I made dog cupcakes from YouTube videos I found, trying to make the cupcake trees look like the dog tree parties in her imagination, or my imagination of her imagination. I made tiny feathered hats on toothpicks to stick into the dog cupcakes, and photocopied pages from the book to use as placemats. The whole thing took one or two hours of work every day after she went to bed for about two weeks, while I watched Netflix, plus a day for the cupcakes.

Of course as it turned out Carina was so excited by her birthday and all the kids that she didn't care that much about the dog party in the moment and mostly wanted to play and eat cupcakes and open presents. The vibe that I got from some parents at the party was sort of, "this stay at home mom is a little wacky to put so much effort into a toddler party, is she trying to make us feel bad?" but in general I thought people thought it was nice or cute or age appropriate or whatever. The kids really liked the dog cupcakes, and liked picking our their own dogs and then eating their faces, heh.

I wasn't trying to make anyone feel bad. I didn't have birthday parties growing up because my mom loved us a lot but she just didn't do that sort of thing and we didn't have the money. I never actually even had my own cake because I was born five years later, to the day, as my older brother, so we shared a cake. I don't care what other parents do with their kids' birthday parties and whether they buy their own cakes or make them from scratch. I wanted to put effort into my kid's birthday party with my free time so that she could feel that effort surrounding her like a warm blanket of love, because it's something I didn't have and I wanted as a kid, though I knew my mom loved me. Is this what parenthood will be for me, plugging up holes from my own childhood and probably unknowingly opening up others for my kid that I don't see?

Fwiw, I show my daughter I love her in lots of other ways, none of which have to do with crafting. And now she plays with the cupcake trees and feathered hats and we have little dog tree parties with them at home. Maybe someone earlier had a point that attachment parenting and supercrafting might be coming from a feeling that we ourselves wanted to spend more time with our own busy moms, or wanted to feel them spending a certain kind of time or attention on us. That is where my toddler's crazy birthday party came from, and although I could have volunteered my time on something more useful, I don't think the crafting impulse was coming from a bad place. Although it would be easy for someone to interpret it that way.
posted by onlyconnect at 7:57 AM on September 6, 2012


Again, I'm not asking because "I'm not seeing it, so where is this supposed shaming happening," I'm asking more from a place of "wait, that's weird I haven't seen it, is it only in some place that I'm usually not anyway or do I just have really good jackass radar?"

I see it most in (upper) middle class parents in their mid to late thirties with kids in preschool or elementary school. Also, "Parenting" magazine and others like it. (We somehow got signed up for a bunch of those when our first kid was born), which seem to be aimed at upper middle class parents in their mid to late thirties. It's the same kind of Mom that I get a hostile vibe from because I happen to be a dad that takes his kids to the library, during the day.

I wasn't trying to make anyone feel bad.

For what it's worth, it sounds like it was a great party, and it probably came across exactly like you meant it. I've done little 30 min. kids music things for tons of kids b-day parties, and it always shows when the parents genuinely want the kids to feel special and loved.

It's not the big production that people are complaining about, it's how some parents behave towards people who don't do the big production that's the problem. My wife does REALLY cool birthday cake, but neither of us would think badly of somebody who bought a cake.
posted by Gygesringtone at 8:23 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


My mom's phrase about this kind of one-upsmanship is, "The first liar doesn't stand a chance."

When I was a boy, my mom & aunts & grandma would go down to the St. Paul farmer's market to buy stuff to can. Sometimes they would also go around the corner to the big, commercial-looking produce place (Eisenberg's? something like that) and buy ten or a dozen cases of pears or peaches. And they would spend the entire day in our kitchen, blanching and peeling and coring and packing and boiling, boiling, boiling.

We had an entire basement closet full of canned peaches, pears, and tomatoes all winter long, and a touchstone of my childhood is carefully bringing up a new jar of canned fruit from the basement and eating two or three pieces (drowned in their syrup) as my breakfast.

Then again, mom also taught me to saute plain Cheerios in sweet butter until they were lightly toasted -- and, dusted with salt, they are better than popcorn and were still considered breakfast.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:26 AM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


One of my son's friends went to a birthday party where the mom got every boy a white t-shirt. She sewed a rough red cape onto the shoulders, and the boys put them on as soon as they arrived. The dad painted cardboard boxes to look like rocks and then let them "knock down a brick wall": they had a bunch of sticks in the ground where they boys used squirt guns to shoot pictures of bad guys off the top of the sticks; and there were a few other super-hero themed activities.

This wasn't an exercise in self-congratlations for the parents, it's just that they wanted their kid to have an awesome party. And it was! I have been talking about it for years!
posted by wenestvedt at 8:29 AM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


My wife does REALLY cool birthday cake, but neither of us would think badly of somebody who bought a cake.

I just realized that could be read like I was accusing onlyconnect of that attitude. To be clear, I'm not. Sorry for the sloppy phrasing.
posted by Gygesringtone at 8:31 AM on September 6, 2012


Wenestvedt, that sounds freakin' awesome.

I wasn't trying to make anyone feel bad.

Honestly, if the people who are planning the party are into crafting because they're having fun with it or they think the kid will love it, then fantastic. I remember for one of my brother's birthday parties, we rented a reel-to-reel projector and a copy of Yellow Submarine for the party, and eleven-year-old me got seriously into the idea of making "movie posters" and fake tickets and things because I thought it would be way cool fun. I wasn't trying to show up anyone or win any kind of big sister award; it truly was about "oh, this would be really cool if this were there." I have no idea what anyone else thought about it, but hell, I had a good time. My brother was just glad to have all his friends at our house raising hell and coming up with naughty lyrics for the songs.

It sounds like you were getting into your party for the same reason I did; if anyone did come away from that with any kind of "oh, she's just showing off," that may be more about their own insecurity. Same with if anyone asks you later what you did and you just get all excited about how cool everything looked.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:43 AM on September 6, 2012


I think we have to be careful not to mix up critiques of a culture with critiques of individual decisions. Like I said before, I love to make pies from scratch. It's a lot of work but I think it's fun to do and the results are edible. There's nothing wrong with the act of making pies. The problem comes in certain US subcultures where making baked goods at home is seen as more moral, more responsible, more "authentic" than buying even an equivalently wholesome pie, and using those three pie-hours to do something else. Or using slightly less perfect ingredients (a storebought crust, precanned filling) and still saving 2 pie-hours. There's nothing inherently immoral about paying someone else to do something I don't want to do. There's nothing inherently moral about DIY.
posted by muddgirl at 9:17 AM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


(And I feel lucky that I don't live in that kind of culture, although I went through a Craftster/Pioneer Woman/lifestyle blog phase where I thought I was a failure because I don't sew my own t-shirts).
posted by muddgirl at 9:18 AM on September 6, 2012


I can recall feeling oddly excluded (as the still quite rare at-home dad) in the mom-o-sphere, not so much purposely as by it just not knowing where to put me (characteristic would be a group I contacted early on that facilitated neighborhood gatherings that informed me that they didn't really have a context for including dads because the groups were meant among other things to be "safe places for breastfeeding". I'm not arguing with this logic at all but I just didn't fit). Given some of these stories maybe it was partly a blessing though.

I mean I certainly heard a lot of the super-parent talk, people who pretty clearly felt like sending your kids to the public school system was equivalent sending them to a reeducation camp in North Korea, but I guess I internally chalked it up to the sort of one-uppery you see anywhere. There's always going to be somebody who doesn't drive and doesn't have a television and hasn't eaten McDonald's in 20 years. Yeah you got me beat pal. I don't know how much of this reaction is me interpreting through the lens of being a man or me getting subtly different feedback because I'm a man.
posted by nanojath at 9:34 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


My brother was just glad to have all his friends at our house raising hell...

Empress, last summer both of my boys' birthday parties were 50s-square, old-fashioned games, then cake & presents and assembling their own marshmallow-shooters from pre-cut lengths of PVC pipe. We hung up big targets and the kids ran around the yard shooting drool-sticky miniature marshmallows at each other and at the targets.

Not only was this awesome, clean fun, but the looks on the faces of some of the parent was very satisfying for me as a person who has retrieved their kids from someone else's house with a fistful of plastic crap and a blood glucose level higher than a kite.

posted by wenestvedt at 10:04 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think Michelle Obama gets a lot of admiration among liberals for being 'a mother' that Hillary Clinton didn't get because Michelle consciously picked home-grown food and healthy cooking as some of her First Lady causes while Hillary chose health care and historic preservating.

I don't think it was a conscious choice. Maybe Michelle just isn't as ambitious as Hillary, and these are her interests.
posted by gertzedek at 10:09 AM on September 6, 2012


I don't think it was a conscious choice. Maybe Michelle just isn't as ambitious as Hillary, and these are her interests.

On the contrary, I think that Michelle Obama saw the blowback Hillary Clinton got, and decided to dedicate herself to things that do matter but won't generate the heat Hillary Clinton did. Michelle Obama is every bit the shrewd politician her husband is.
posted by ambrosia at 10:15 AM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't think HRC is "more ambitious" than Michelle Obama - they're ambitions lie in different directions. I agree that MO is a shrewd politican, but a reluctant one (note that I have the biggest, genuine girl crush on both H. Clinton and M. Obama).
posted by muddgirl at 10:31 AM on September 6, 2012


This is why so many of my family members that I don't know what else to get them for Christmas are going to be getting little gift baskets of "Yay! I made three kinds of pickles!" or "W00t! Have some homemade peach hot sauce!" or whatever until I get my closet back.

Will your family adopt me? I would love all sorts of homemade jams and pickles and hot sauces, but I am not physically capable of all the work involved.

Seriously, anyone who is out of space, send Suzy some jam!

On the note of this, I cook from scratch, I bake, I craft, I sew. I do all sorts of things like that, but it is solely out of enjoyment and preferring food that is homemade. None of my friends do any of those things, so I am alone in my "Suzy homemaker hood."
posted by SuzySmith at 5:13 PM on September 6, 2012


"The problem comes in certain US subcultures where making baked goods at home is seen as more moral, more responsible, more "authentic" than buying even an equivalently wholesome pie, and using those three pie-hours to do something else. Or using slightly less perfect ingredients (a storebought crust, precanned filling) and still saving 2 pie-hours. There's nothing inherently immoral about paying someone else to do something I don't want to do. There's nothing inherently moral about DIY."

There's nothing immoral, it's just that a good 80 percent of storebought pie is terrible, over-sweet and gloopy, and that nearly any homemade pie is so much more tasty that it's not even a question.

Cake, you can buy that at a bakery or a store pretty easily, as long as you don't get that diabetic sheet cake bullshit. Pie? You can cheat a bit with the crust, but the filling really should be homemade. Otherwise, just make/buy cake or cookies or brownies.

(Sorry, I know I'm probably coming across as reflexively judgmental — I'm just a pie snob and conflate my aesthetic preferences with moral imperatives.)
posted by klangklangston at 5:32 PM on September 6, 2012


Cake, you can buy that at a bakery or a store pretty easily,

You can buy it, sure, but it rarely deserves to be given the name cake.

(If you don't enjoy baking, of course, it's not worth making cakes or pies or cookies. But really, there is a significant difference in homemade vs not homemade. It might not be worth the time or energy for everyone -- there are things that aren't worth it for me, though not a single one of them is a dessert -- and to choose to spend your time elsewhere is not an immoral evil choice. But it's also odd to pretend that there isn't a difference in quality, at least until you get to the quite expensive stuff, in which case pies work fine too.)
posted by jeather at 6:33 PM on September 6, 2012


klangklangston - A $20 store-bought pie (a very low estimate of what my pie 'cost' me) is going to be pretty freaking delicious.
posted by muddgirl at 6:38 PM on September 6, 2012


But it's also odd to pretend that there isn't a difference in quality, at least until you get to the quite expensive stuff, in which case pies work fine too.

Exactly! For some reason we're comparing $8 pies to $20 pies and declaring that home-made is better. Of course it is!
posted by muddgirl at 6:40 PM on September 6, 2012


Fruit pies are freaking expensive. Other pies aren't so bad, but I can put 15$ worth of strawberries in a single pie easily. Even apples, which are cheap, add up when you need enough of them to fill a pie.
posted by jeather at 6:44 PM on September 6, 2012


Pie is crazy cheap. It takes about two hours to make one, but almost half of that is just waiting for it to bake; the crust must cost about a dollar (I have never tried to price it out, but there just isn't anything expensive involved), and the filling can be as cheap or as expensive as you want. Out of season berries are going to cost you dearly; on-sale apples won't.

This kind of gets back to doing something as a hobby, versus something done as a background part of life. I can make pie so many times that I could probably do it blindfolded, so I'm going to be incredibly efficient any time I make one. There's no wasted effort, no extra cost, and I know exactly how it will taste compared to a store-bought one. Something I don't do often, like bake cake, is going to play out very differently -- it will take more time, require ingredients I don't have, and there's a good chance I'll screw something up and need to start over.

That's true of all these crafty/artisanal things -- there's no way to do them efficiently or reliably as a hobbyist, and most of us have lives that prevent us from becoming expert at a whole bunch of artisanal skills. The time (and money) to develop those skills even at the hobby level is absolutely a form of status display. I don't mean that as a criticism -- my life is full of class and status markers, and my enjoyment of baking pies is probably the least of it.
posted by Forktine at 6:52 PM on September 6, 2012


Those are in-season berries or apples. I have no idea what out of season berries might cost. Maybe they're more expensive here, but the last time I made a strawberry pie (this summer), I absolutely put in over 10 dollars worth of strawberries. Apples aren't going to reach the price of berries, of course, but enough of them to properly fill an entire pie crust (over 2 dozen) isn't exactly free.

I use butter crusts, and the butter costs me more than a dollar per crust. The flour and sugar needed are minimal, sure, but nothing else is. I'm not complaining about the cost. I can afford it. I've made pies since I was a teenager, and I have no problem doing it, and I know how long it will take me and how it will taste and I think the time and money are worth it. But it isn't all that cheap unless you have really easy access to much cheaper fruit than I do. (There are other fillings which are cheaper.)
posted by jeather at 7:02 PM on September 6, 2012


I put about 7 medium apples in a pie. On the other hand they have to be peeled.
posted by muddgirl at 7:05 PM on September 6, 2012


US apples are a lot bigger than the ones in Canada, I have learned. I also like a LOT of fruit in my pies. But they don't need to be peeled! I always thought they did, but a friend sliced up all the apple for a pie once and the peel was still there and though the colour and texture were pretty different, the taste was just as good.
posted by jeather at 7:07 PM on September 6, 2012


"klangklangston - A $20 store-bought pie (a very low estimate of what my pie 'cost' me) is going to be pretty freaking delicious."

You obviously live in a better pie economy than LA or Michigan. A $20 pie here in LA is likely to be bullshit; a $20 pie in Michigan was OK but not great.

I suppose the way I'd write it out is that where P=Pie and C=Cake, for equal $ P>C; and that if x is the base amount of improvement for a homemade pie or cake (HP or HC), HC=C+x, while HP=P+3x. HP is obviously > P; HC is obviously > C. But the ratios of improvement are better for pie.

THIS IS MY PIE NERD PEDANTRY
posted by klangklangston at 7:25 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


where P=Pie and C=Cake, for equal $ P>C

Sir! I challenge you to a duel! This travesty shall not stand.
posted by jeather at 7:29 PM on September 6, 2012


Yeah, I tried being lazy and not peeling the apple, and it was pretty much just whole apples in a crust - it didn't get that nice slightly saucy texture. But that could be that I'm using *gasp* store-bought apples!

Isn't a $20 pie in LA also going to be hand-made? Is the only difference that you can make a pie exactly to your own tastes?
posted by muddgirl at 7:31 PM on September 6, 2012


Yeah, I tried being lazy and not peeling the apple, and it was pretty much just whole apples in a crust - it didn't get that nice slightly saucy texture. But that could be that I'm using *gasp* store-bought apples!

You still slice them, though, right? Thinner than usual, even. But my mother also didn't like the texture difference with whole apples, while I was fine with it.
posted by jeather at 7:48 PM on September 6, 2012


Shit, last time I made a pie I used a store-bought crust. But I also used a plum pie filling that i had canned myself a few months before, and THAT cost only about $8 worth of plums, some lemon juice, a spoonful of cloves and some sugar, plus a few minutes trying to find where that one quart canning jar had gotten to.

But then all I had to do to bake it was unroll the storebought crust and dump the filing in and bake it, and I had a pie that didn't look perfect (I didn't seal the crust quite fully) but which my friends ate up so fast they were practically cleaning the pan with their faces.

Yeah, a homemade or even semi-homemade pie is gonna taste a little better than Sara Lee, and a homemade pie may be ugly if you don't know what you're doing, but people are still probably going to eat it anyway because IT'S PIE, so I say do whatever you feel you can or want to do, don't feel guilty about going storebought with the rest, and just remember people are still going to eat it because YAY FREE PIE.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:21 PM on September 6, 2012


You still slice them, though, right? Thinner than usual, even. But my mother also didn't like the texture difference with whole apples, while I was fine with it.

I don't slice them at all. I just put whole apples in a pie crust. Sometimes I hit them with a hammer first, but nobody complains.
posted by cmoj at 8:27 PM on September 6, 2012


I am a person who does a lot of crafting, purely on a being-an-artist/hobby level. I am super UNdomestic everywhere else--I hate the traditional womanly arts of cooking and cleaning like mad. But it is a little annoying when I realize that all of my hobbies are traditionally girly and I just don't want to do anything unstereotypical like welding. (Seriously, how do they even see in the helmets? And woodworking is just loud, man.) Though I do know a lot of dude crafters thanks to my volunteer job (craft center). Hell, some of them even knit. But there is more of a "you go, dude!" 'tude to a guy who takes up spinning yarn or sewing than there is another girl does it, in a way. Of course, the same goes the other way--I used to know a female blacksmith. I always have to appreciate the "rebel" folks who do the non-stereotypical behavior--and I wish I had more interest in manly hobbies to compensate or something. I used to do rock climbing before I lost my rock climbing buddies to a move, does that count?

It's kind of an "I choose my choice!" thing, isn't it? It's like name changing: technically nobody has to do it any more upon marriage, but last I heard the statistic was something like 95% of women change their names in some way to use their husband's (even if they hyphenate or double barrel) and hardly any men do it at all. When almost everybody does it, and there is peer pressure from your social world and families to do it, then is it so much of a free choice, or is it more social blackmail? This whole domestic goddess crunchy mommies from hell thing really, really sounds like social blackmail to me. It also makes me terrified of mommies. Does giving birth really turn you that insane? Apparently the answer is yes? It makes me glad I'm out of the Best Mom competition, though I certainly fail as a woman in other ways, like not having kids in the first place.

As for people who craft their own weddings: I have known several people who have done this. One of them made it on the news for the amount of it she did. I've seen several couples make their own wedding rings. Hell, I've been watching one guy and his fiancee make their own stuff all summer. And yet, dear god, I wouldn't want to craft my own wedding. HOLY SHIT, NO, TOO MUCH STRESS. Especially if you're the damn bride and have to come up with the clothes too. I once met The World's Most Insane Crafter who told me that she had to make around 12-ish extremely fancy dresses (most of which had velvet or tulle or sequins, and there were also CORSETS), which had to be mailed to the location of the wedding ahead of time in a few days, and were being made to the measurements of people who didn't live here, and she had oh, a day and a half to do ALL OF THEM. I used to think I'd be groovy enough to design my own wedding clothes--god knows I own "Sew A Beautiful Wedding" because I was designing bridesmaid's dresses for a home ec competition in high school--but nowadays I'd be like, "fuck this, store bought for me, and let the ladies wear whatever the hell they want, even if it's a suit or a turd brown dress." You gotta know where to draw a limit on the workload you force upon yourself, and keep in mind what your strengths and capabilities are.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:43 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sometimes I hit them with a hammer first, but nobody complains.

Hard to imagine why they're not complaining at the scary person who is menacing their pie plates with a hammer.
posted by jeather at 8:52 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just checked, and Safeway has crappy apples (crapples?) for $1.69/lb this week. Everything is cheaper in bulk, of course, but then you are back to the problem of having the time, kitchen and storage space, and resources to deal with forty pounds of apples at a time.

(But unpeeled apples in pie? That gets the sad trombone every time. People keep making it that way, and I smile politely and eat it, but...)

But absolutely -- even with an extraordinarily low valuation of your time, it's almost always cheaper to buy a premade pie, just like with most other foods. (I can't make a burger at home that competes with McDonald's dollar menu on cost, for example.) People do these things for other reasons, including taste, status, or for fun.
posted by Forktine at 9:22 PM on September 6, 2012


> You've seen that Williams-Sonoma has a whole line of DIY/gardening stuff now, yeah? I've been uneasy about that, because on the one hand I have my covetous "ooh new swag new source for stuff" but on the other hand it's a sort of "oh crap now the Professionally Smug have something new to be judgy about". (I mean, seriously, you don't need to use a hammered copper pot to make your jam in, a regular old pot will do fine, so why did they throw that in?)

Oh, I didn't even realize. I have a wonderful local kitchen store a couple of blocks away and I find WS to be kinda professionally smug in general, so I only stop in there when I want something purposefully fancy-pants.

And oh gods, how I hate the elevation of interesting principles/traditions/tools that may be nifty or even food chemistry into smugsmugsmugsmugsmug The Only True Way. Gods, how many people never put up their refrigerator pickles because they think you need a giant Official Canning Pot and Lifting Rack, when they could be makeshifting a perfectly good small-batch setup with a stockpot and a dishtowel.

(I'd also like to point out that I wasn't wearing "punk" as a "cooler than thou" thing. I know some seriously dorky-ass punk rockers; my crowd is averaging folks in their mid-40s at this point.)
posted by desuetude at 9:45 PM on September 6, 2012


"Isn't a $20 pie in LA also going to be hand-made? Is the only difference that you can make a pie exactly to your own tastes?"

Nah, $20 will get you a House of Pies chain pie that's, again, oversweet and gloopy. To get a whole pie of "artisanal" (another bullshit word lately) quality, you're looking at $35. It's around $5 per slice.

The only place I've successfully seen tasty bargain baked goods — and only cake, no pie — is panaderias in the neighborhood. There you can get pretty good cake for a reasonable price.
posted by klangklangston at 11:29 PM on September 6, 2012


Pies, people--how do they work? (I'm going to take this to the green when I'm ready. For the moment, MeMailed suggestions on pies for beginners who are intimidated by the very idea of pie are welcome. My bagels rock. But I'm afraid to try making pies, and I'm soon going to have a lot of apples. Tutorials? Favorite recipes?)
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:34 AM on September 7, 2012


Pie? Twice as much fruit as you think you need, half as much sugar. And slightly scorch the top.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:56 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


So I just went out and got lots and lots of apples because after this particular thread, I need pie.
posted by jeather at 12:40 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


you're looking at $35

OK, so that's probably $5 less than I'd charge to sell my homemade pie - $20 for labor, $20 for materials and profit.

Pies, people--how do they work?

The two hardest parts of a pie are the crust and the filling :)

For a fruit pie crust you basically need to make about a million of them. Ok, maybe 5-10 before you get the ratio right. It's all chemistry and your environment plays a huge roll - it took me 5 crusts to realize that we need to use a lot more water in San Antonio than most recipes call for. Or you can just buy a premade crust and maybe 10 people will be able to tell the difference.

Honestly I haven't quite figured out the filling yet. Mine never sets right (but again, maybe 10 people in the world care that their pie is really more like a crumble).
posted by muddgirl at 12:51 PM on September 7, 2012


"OK, so that's probably $5 less than I'd charge to sell my homemade pie - $20 for labor, $20 for materials and profit."

Come to LA! You can be the Pie Queen!

For non-fruit pies, I find a graham cracker crust the easiest to do consistently (pumpkin pie especially, but also pecan), but for fruit pies I found that adding a little bit more of the whole wheat baking flour to the finer pastry flour than the recipe calls for actually helps stabilize it and give it more of a structure.

The hardest filling for me to get right is when I'm doing apple pie with the top crust — an open apple pie seems to work out well, but I've never hit the right balance of holes to get the filling to set right without making the top uneven.

Man, now I'm having fantasies of a black cherry pie, even though it'll be next May before I can get any decent black cherries (especially without paying an asston for them).
posted by klangklangston at 1:16 PM on September 7, 2012


Next time I make an apple pie I'm going to just cook the filling first and then add it to the crust. It's a little more work but I really, really love closed-top pies.
posted by muddgirl at 1:29 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


> the crust must cost about a dollar (I have never tried to price it out, but there just isn't anything expensive involved)

Butter? Unless you're shopping at Trader Joe's or stocking up when it's on sale.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:40 PM on September 7, 2012


Butter? Unless you're shopping at Trader Joe's or stocking up when it's on sale.

Pffft. Butter is for amateurs and tangoing in Paris, not crusts.
posted by Forktine at 9:45 PM on September 7, 2012


There is no way vegetable oil will make as flavorful a crust as butter. Might as well use the pre-packaged stuff.

I will die on this hill.

(Also, why vegetable oil and not vegetable shortening? It seems like shortening would be just as flaky and easier to roll out).
posted by muddgirl at 5:54 AM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are you weirdos really having an oil vs. butter fight to the death when everyone knows the best pie crusts are made from lard?
posted by elsietheeel at 6:16 AM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


(Mmmm I would totally try lard but my very good friend can't eat lard, and it seems cruel for the rest of us to be all "Omm Nomm Nomm pie you can't have any!")
posted by muddgirl at 6:33 AM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is no way vegetable oil will make as flavorful a crust as butter. Might as well use the pre-packaged stuff.

I'd rate it as about 90% as good as a butter crust, for about 2% of the work. That kind of pie math works for me, because it changes a pie from a special-occasion-only treat to a quotidian food. I like crusts to be thin and unobtrusive, with the filling as the main event; a lot of people like thick crusts that are serious pastry events in their own right, and for that you need lard or, failing that, butter, plus a lot of work. Different strokes, different folks, etc.
posted by Forktine at 9:02 AM on September 8, 2012


There is no way vegetable oil will make as flavorful a crust as butter. Might as well use the pre-packaged stuff.

So....we all think that it's ridiculous for people to be snobby about domesticity except when it comes to pie crust?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:12 AM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


(I was being intentionally inflammatory. I thought "This is a hill I will die on" was an obvious enough tell, but I apologize if I was wrong.)

(But seriously, use the grocery store pie crusts sometimes found by the butter. They're thin and pretty tasty and save a lot of time.)
posted by muddgirl at 9:22 AM on September 8, 2012


Alton Brown: pie crust.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:29 AM on September 8, 2012


If you have a food processor, the bulk of the pie crust creating work is cleaning out the stupid food processor.
posted by jeather at 1:08 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fruit pies are one of those amazing poor-food dishes that evolved when you need to feed a lot of hungry farm hands and you have a couple of fruit trees in your front yard.
posted by bq at 11:24 AM on September 9, 2012


« Older The world's hardest radio quiz is back....  |  The only authenticated photgra... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments