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Radical Homemakers
June 14, 2010 12:20 AM   Subscribe

Meet the radical homemakers. Shannon Hayes tells the stories of men and women with ecological and feminist sensibilities who leave behind the world of academia and careers in favor of simple living and "reclaiming domesticity from a consumer culture."
posted by velvet winter (57 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think it's great that there's less of a stigma against "educated" people going into sustainable agriculture, or at least there should be.

That said: "Abandoning the job market, we re-joined my parents on our small grassfed livestock farm and became homemakers."

I don't think she's a hypocrite by any means, but how many people have a family farm to fall back on?
posted by bardic at 12:50 AM on June 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


I would happily abandon "the job market" it's health insurance that I can't abandon. What are these people going to do when their kid needs his appendix out or one of them gets in a car accident? A short stay in the hospital = one small grassed livestock farm these days.
posted by fshgrl at 12:56 AM on June 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


Excuse me while I get my Marx on.
While there was a division of labor among the sexes in these early households, there was also an equal distribution of domestic work. Once the Industrial Revolution happened, however, things changed.
I've rarely read a more ahistorical pair of sentences. There was a different division of labour in feudal economies, but gender inequality raged just as hard as it ever did. Serfdom wasn't about labour or property as much as it was about networks of obligation, and very different obligations fell upon men and boys as to women and girls. Could girls apprentice, or join guilds? Which religious orders could they enter? Were women's crimes punished as men's were? I don't think we'll find the answer here or by imagining up a Medieval, pro-feminist Fred and Wilma Flintstone.

In modern times? Domesticity's about less privileged work, that's the whole point of it, you can't make it radical just by buying free-range eggs and using cloth nappies which are by the way just different consumer choices. We live under a capitalist economy, not a feudal one, and romanticising serfdom—perhaps history's most inefficient means of production—doesn't strike me as a very realistic praxis, especially for the increasing proportion of the globe which lives, out of necessity rather than choice, in cities. And the guff about the industrial revolution's a half-lie at best: yes, during the industrial revolution especially in Northern Europe there were huge industries in workshop and artisanal production at home (Hi, EP Thomson!) but there was no shortage of dividing economics into women's-work and men's work.

Finally, there's no end today at the moment of people who make the economics of domesticity into livelihood. I understand that in the United States, where the article was written, there's a major industry in domestic servants working without citizenship papers in the households of the rich. Radical householding or just alienated labour?

When I was in high school, my best mate's parents were Vietnamese migrants sewing clothes together in the garage for piecework rates. Radical homemaking or plain old home-based oursourced sweatshops?
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 12:57 AM on June 14, 2010 [60 favorites]


Serfdom wasn't about labour or property as much as it was about networks of obligation

Serfdom was about continuing the facts of slavery without the label.
posted by rodgerd at 1:10 AM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't think she's a hypocrite by any means, but how many people have a family farm to fall back on?

Exactly. She's extremely lucky to have land (and a house, I'm assuming) that she and her family could simply move into (rent-free, I'm assuming). She'll probably inherit it all from her folks, so in that regard, they're pretty well set up. That's very fortunate for her, and because of this rather extraordinary situation, she has been able to do what she's doing. I reckon it'd be a damn sight harder if she didn't have that family farm to slide back into.

Now, later in the linked article the author offers nothing concrete about how these other folks (seemingly there were many) that she interviewed got started on this road: did they all have family farms to move onto? Or, did many of them have a stash of cash to buy a house and some land? To set themselves up, as it were? No way to know. Maybe the author goes into more depth on these crucial points in her book. I'd really like to believe these "Radical Homemakers" the author gushes about aren't all basically people who already have a leg up in the first place. Forgive me, though, for assuming that they mostly do.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:22 AM on June 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm glad people do things like this. They will fail at some things and succeed at other things. Maybe one little thing they do will prove useful to you. We could all benefit from their experiments in living as long as they publish the results for us to consider.
posted by pracowity at 1:37 AM on June 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


My aunt has a master's degree in chemistry and she has been housewife her whole life. I wouldn't exactly call that radical.
posted by Joe Chip at 2:48 AM on June 14, 2010


There's a community of people in my town who did this (Largely centered on Helen and Scott Nearing, also Stanley Josephs, author of the book Maine Farm) and basically, the only people who could pull this sort of thing off were the people who had family money or a trust fund of some kind to fall back on. The books they wrote saying otherwise were basically fairy tales.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:51 AM on June 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


I'm currently doing this (though I wouldn't really say that I'm super educated like these folks nor was I doing really well in the job-market before hand), and the folks who have pointed out that it's nice to have a family farm to go to are pretty much spot on.

I lucked out in that a friend of mine was happy to take me on as a partner to his one-man operation. He too, though, had the family farm to start out with 10 years ago.

We grow rice on a small island off the western coast of Japan. And in the year that I've been doing this, I've come to realize that it must be nigh impossible for someone just to up and decide "hey, I'm gonna be a farmer." There is a ton of initial investment involved--land, equipment, supplies, etc.

It's cool that they're doing this, don't get me wrong. And for those that are looking to do this, definitely explore the options. Speaking for here in Japan, most of the farms in my area are run by folks in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and even 90s. I'm in my mid 30s, and I'm in the minority age bracket. Anyone younger is a rare site indeed. However, there are programs run by local city and state governments to help out people who want to get started in farming. You just have to do a bit of research and visit your local city agricultural office. I would think similar options would be available in the States.
posted by snwod at 3:23 AM on June 14, 2010 [8 favorites]


ye gods, this is a terrible article. I love how she does those good old shitty journalism watermarks of 1) establishing a strawman in order to set it on subsequent fire, or 2) build more fictional conclusions from an unambitious fictional base until you have this fantastic structure of unquestioned assumption. e.g:

"In the minds of many..." (who? how many people? where?)

"Homemaking, like eating organic foods, seemed a luxury to be enjoyed" (seemed a luxury to who? Oh yeah, the many)

"At the other extreme, homemaking was seen as the realm of the ultra-religious, where women accepted the role of Biblical “Help Meets” to their husbands. They cooked, cleaned, toiled, served and remained silent and powerless." (what other extreme? what was the first extreme? Who saw it this way? The same many that saw it as a luxury? Note, also, how the - cliched - view of religious housewife starts out as simply a view, but in the space of one sentence becomes a description.)

Her subsequent contention of the role homemakers played in America's past both belies her point that the industrial revolution was responsible for "bad", sexist homemaking, and ignores the demographic reality of the times, and any concrete examples of either home-makers or workers or the change they engendered. Furthermore, calling 18th century subsistence farming "home-making" is wildly distorted and posits an inherent choice that neither existed at the time (be a home-maker vs be not a homemaker, or worse; be a home-maker vs the value-less empty 'modern' life), nor acknowledges that if it did, the vast majority of her laudatory home-makers would undoubtedly choose the "wrong" modern representation.

Not to mention her horrible mischaracterisation of Friedan. Terrible piece: ignorant, poorly constructed, poorly argued, empty intellectual calories written in an ever-more popular type of journalese - I should know, I used to write pieces like this before I quit in disgust with myself and the industry.

It's ironic that it's for "Yes Magazine". Yes is exactly right. A positivist, feel-good piece performing cheap card tricks with history, legions of voiceless people current and past, and the readers' assumptions. Yes, what you believe is right and just. Yes, your lifestyle choices are the most valid. Yes, there is a horde of people - we can call them The Man - who are shiftless, grubby, materialistic, greedy and wrong, not like you sweet reader. Yuck yuck yuck. No thanks.
posted by smoke at 3:33 AM on June 14, 2010 [17 favorites]


I feel obligated to note, I'm not attacked the lifestyle per se, merely the article. The choice is a valid one, and can be life-affirming, life-changing, and wonderful as many other life choices - and one or the other doesn't have to be the "right" one, which I feel is what she's arguing.
posted by smoke at 3:36 AM on June 14, 2010


Yes, a terrible piece. The history's absurd, the writing is terrible and it all feels hollow. I laughed aloud when I read the part where her fingers "trembled" when she searched for other "radicals," as if in doing so she was striking a hammer-blow to generations of oppression. I shudder to think how the world will quake when all the over-educated heirs to family farms assemble to write greater numbers of self-serving Yes magazine articles. Yikes.

Living simply is a positive attribute, but all around the world there are people who live like this and have for their family's entire history. In Bosnia, we just called them "people from the village," and respected their hard work and delicious food, their warmth, crafts and stories. They weren't "reclaiming domesticity from a consumer culture," they were just living their lives

Over-educated, privileged yuppies making moves to a simpler lifestyle (via the convenient family farm) aren't reinventing the wheel, and the fact that they - like this author - perceive this change as "radical" only shows how fucked-up their thinking must have been to begin with. The author had big advantages that allowed her to realise her dream. She doesn't really address this issue much (which many above have alluded to.) It's not hard for me to see her "radical" choice as just another aspect of consumer culture, in a way.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 4:45 AM on June 14, 2010 [10 favorites]


I have a Ph.D., 40 chickens, four pigs, six cats and a tractor. I can my vegetables, cure and smoke my own bacon, and, in short, do a lot of the back-to-the-land chores that have experienced a revival in the last few years. Does it make me feel better to have the label "radical homemaker"? I'll have to remember my sexy new title next time I'm carrying five-gallon buckets of water to the pigs in the snow, or picking maggots out of a cat's open sore, or shoveling befouled coop bedding into the tractor bucket in high summer. The work is the work, and it needs to be done. How I construe it--or what anyone else calls it--is a luxury that has very, very little to do with the concrete and immediate necessities of the work itself.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:48 AM on June 14, 2010 [14 favorites]


Before long, the second family income was no longer an option. In the minds of many, it was a necessity.

This so completely misses everything. It's not about money. it's about gender equality.

Women don't work because they are greedy slaves of consumerism. Women work because a gender neutral society requires them to do so. And there is nothing wrong and everything right about that.

As a practical matter, 60% of marriages end in divorce. What person in her right mind would allow herself to become financially dependent on spouse? Oh yeah, right, she's just greedy.
posted by three blind mice at 4:50 AM on June 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Imagine women with masters degrees and PhDs who choose home over career advancement.

While we're griping, I just wanted to note that these are privileged people by definition and at the outset -- people with masters degrees and PhDs tend to have resources that others don't, from their backgrounds to their adult social networks to a history of good dental care.


For almost ten years now, we’ve been able to eat locally and organically, support local businesses, avoid big box stores, save money, and support a family of four on less than $45,000 per year.


How hard is it to eat locally and organically when you live on a freaking farm and pay nothing for housing?


The more I understood about the importance of small farms and the nutritional, ecological, and social value of local food, the more I questioned the value of a 9-to-5 job.

That's right. The rest of us work 9 to 5 jobs because we're too dumb to have figured out they actually have no value.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:11 AM on June 14, 2010 [13 favorites]


snwod, I don't think that there necessarily is the same sort of program available in the US, because IIRC one of the reasons why small farms (or any kind of farms at all) still exist in Japan is because the government wants to be as food self-sufficient as possible. That's not really a factor here, and while there's a lot of political pandering to family farmers (it was used as an excuse to roll back estate taxes, for example), big agribusiness has way more political clout.

And on the general topic: is Hayes at all aware that what she's proposing is really not all that much different from what numerous back-to-the-land hippies tried about forty years ago? She should take a really good look at how that worked out for the majority of the people that tried it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:20 AM on June 14, 2010


Halloween Jack, I figured as much, but since I've never really looked into farming options in the States I thought I'd give it the benefit of the doubt. When I decided that I'd like to give farming a try, the local, small farm thing Japan has going on was a reason I stayed. That and the fact that I could join up with my friend.

Sucks, though, that there isn't something like that in the States. Maybe there will be in the future.
posted by snwod at 5:30 AM on June 14, 2010


This article reminds me of the sort of crap that appeared during the heyday of Utne Reader. MBA's, corporate lawyers, trust funders, etc. etc, all "leaving it all behind" to move onto some farm in Connecticut to go make artisinal cheese or something (or, in this case, to "rediscover" homemaking) All told in that sun-dappled, joyful "You can do it to!" tone, but somehow leaving out the "once you've amassed an enormous mountain of cash like us" part.

I know people who raise their own chickens. They do it so they can afford to pay their bills and not to make any kind of hipster statement about the beauty of self-reliance.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:50 AM on June 14, 2010




I would happily abandon "the job market" it's health insurance that I can't abandon. What are these people going to do when their kid needs his appendix out or one of them gets in a car accident? A short stay in the hospital = one small grassed livestock farm these days.


She discusses that in her book and some basic options. It's one of the reasons most farm families have one person working an off-farm job. Others in the book were on the government dole. Hayes then skirts the health insurance issue by discussing how eating healthy can lead to lowered disease rates. It's definitely one of the sections of the book that left a sour taste in my mouth. No amount of organic kale or grassfed beef tenderloin can save you from being gored by a cow or having your arm crushed by a potato-sorter.

What I did like about the book is that it gave me ideas for what to do....if you are smart, but not interested in conventional careers. I totally understand my friends who work 9 to 5. Many of them like their jobs- I HATED mine. I thought there was something wrong with me, but the rat race isn't for everyone.

I never understand the kind of negative reaction that this gets. Shannon Hayes & her family are not "Over-educated, privileged yuppies." They are farmers that work very hard. It's actually pretty hilarious to call them yuppies since that stands for young urban professional...

The fact that it's hard for the non-privileged to do this is true, but the movement includes many urban organizations like Growing Power and in fact, some of the best places to do urban farming are cities like Detroit.
posted by melissam at 6:23 AM on June 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


The local library's book club had a poster up about how they were reading a book called something like "The Joy of Carrying Buckets". I laughed, because my family has been hauling water in buckets (and using an outhouse, and going without housecurrent) for more than 20 years.
Not because it makes us "more in touch" or something, but because we haven't been able to afford to get our house plumbed and wired. It's not fun.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:30 AM on June 14, 2010


These hippies will get jobs when they see the new iPhone in the pages of the Whole Earth Catalog.

I know some broke-ass hippies who have tried this route, and while they've survived, it really ain't pretty. Think living with minimal heat in an old school bus, hauling a lot of firewood and getting your water by breaking a hole in the ice in the river. Sure, it'd be easier on premium farm land, but they can't afford good land. Them, I respect. I think it's insane, but I respect them for sticking to their ideological guns. Milking the society for your education, land and social safety net and then pretending to be pure and noble when you "drop out" of the system? Not so much.

The more I understood about the importance of small farms and the nutritional, ecological, and social value of local food, the more I questioned the value of a 9-to-5 job.

Hah. I'll try to convince all the suckers at the hospital where I work to drop what they're doing and pick up farming implements. Good luck to you when your kid needs heart surgery. Oh, and have fun trying to grown your own food when you're 65 and crippled by arthritis.

Ingrates!
posted by pjaust at 6:36 AM on June 14, 2010


How is it possible to become "over-educated?" Do each of us have some kind of personal knowledge limit? Are we in danger of damaging our brains, if we pass that limit? Might we pull our frontal lobe the way one might pull a hamstring?
posted by oddman at 6:39 AM on June 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've rarely read a more ahistorical pair of sentences.

Yeah, but that's not an excuse for an equally ahistorical view that all was darkness, ignorance, stupidity and misery until Karl Marx, Adam Smith, or whoever recieved the holy revelation of the Great God Progress. That's Whig history right there. In reality, many industrial reformers a century ago pushed for high wages explicitly so that women could be pushed out of the workplace.

Also, the process of urbanization wasn't all a story of hick farmers not being able to keep their kids down on the farm - it was chock-full of the enclosures of the commons, dispossession, foreclosures and of the exact same processes going on in the Third World today in our name. There are no mass demonstrations of farmers begging to be driven off of their land in the name of IMF structural adjustment, but there sure are quite a few against their lands being taken and against First World agribusiness.

So I read the article, and while it's not exactly going on my shelf next to Wendell Berry's "The Unsettling of America", I just don't see what's so offensive about it (or about "Yes" magazine, for that matter - again, I'm not itching to subscribe, but I'm not feeling the desire to burn it or anything). Edumacated people deciding they'd like to have a go at farming - so what? If it works out, great. If it doesn't, it doesn't.

Sure, the author's a little bit precious, but frankly, her preciousness is not all that extraordinary compared to, say, five minutes on Pitchfork. So what's with all the attitude?
posted by jhandey at 6:39 AM on June 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


I feel like I have been reading this same article all my life.

Locally, I know four couples making their livings by operating small, CSA-style, organic, farms. One couple I don't know well enough to speculate; the other three were able to start with either family farm land or with financial support from family "investors" that allowed them to buy good land, equipment, and make mistakes while they learned. I don't begrudge them that -- but I'm also smart enough to know that their success isn't exactly opening the door for anyone else.
posted by Forktine at 6:45 AM on June 14, 2010


You can hardly do an article on this topic without mentioning Sharon Astyk. She's done a wonderful job tying together homemaking with peak oil, climate change, and the financial crisis in her book Depletion and Abundance. You'll like it if your issue with Radical Homemakers is that what she is doing isn't feasible to people without a lot of money or strong social networks.

Milking the society for your education, land and social safety net and then pretending to be pure and noble when you "drop out" of the system

Yeah... cite? Or maybe you want to explain why you think that? Maybe it's because you milked society for your education, job and social safety net and then pretended to be all pure and noble when you talked about how terrible it must be for everyone who lives outside of industrial society.
posted by symbollocks at 6:54 AM on June 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


I never understand the kind of negative reaction that this gets.

It seems pretty straightforward to me - and is tangentially related to a lot of anti-hipster rhetoric that focuses on trust funds and the like. Many people dislike their jobs and would love to leave and follow their dream, however ill-defined or unformed that idea may be. They stay at jobs they dislike because they have obligations to others or do not want to be a burden on others, recognizing that blazing your own path often requires huge subsidies, especially upfront. When people see others doing their own thing, they wonder how those people are able to pay for health care, or support their parents, or whatever costs the readers feel are keeping them chained to the rat race.

Most of the anger ought to be directed at an economy that alienates and crushes people like this, instead of targeting those who've found a way to make their dreams work. When those people are largely tone-deaf and disingenuous about their own privilege, however, people get mad. When the same people are perceived to be acting haughty or imply that anyone could do what they're doing (and therefore those who don't simply do not wish to leave the rat race), well, the anger intensifies. And that's one big reason why people hate on the subjects of this article, the stereotype of hipsters in expensive neighborhoods who spend a lot on fashion and bikes, ivy league call girls with blogs, etc.
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:56 AM on June 14, 2010 [27 favorites]


We live under a capitalist economy, not a feudal one, and romanticising serfdom—perhaps history's most inefficient means of production—doesn't strike me as a very realistic praxis,

The other day I was lunching with the neighboring barons and Bob admitted that he's increased his estate by 200 souls by taking on peasants as unpaid interns. Applicants are evaluated by academic background (Ivy League preferred) and clarity of statement of purpose. I couldn't hide my envy. I mean, I have to rely on the same boring old serfs I inherited from my parents, while Bob has young, hip Harvard grads digging up his potatoes and signing away their lives into this protection.
posted by thivaia at 7:05 AM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


The article isn't great, and we all hate hippies. I get that, but I still think what they're doing is important. To me, the point of the story isn't that we should all move back to the land, it's about reskilling and the revaluation of domestic labour. It kills me that things like gardening, canning, sewing, knitting, fixing your own appliances, hell even cooking your own food are framed as yuppie pursuits. Those are basic survival skills! The kind of knowledge that got my grandparents through the Depression. Is there no value in these things aside from acquiring neo-hippie social capital?

I don't know how to understand the backlash. It's like you guys are saying "Good ordinary Americans eat at Friday's and buy all their shit from Target, and that's how we like it!" Depressing.
posted by Freyja at 7:23 AM on June 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


It kills me that things like gardening, canning, sewing, knitting, fixing your own appliances, hell even cooking your own food are framed as yuppie pursuits. Those are basic survival skills! The kind of knowledge that got my grandparents through the Depression.

I think it is this view that irritates people, because the world is not as it was in the 1930s, and these things are just not survival skills anymore. Food doesn't cost what it did when my grandparents did their own canning and clothing does not cost what it did when they made clothing for my mother and her siblings. Industrial economies of scale mean that even someone working at minimum wage is better off buying commercially-canned food and commercially-made clothing than making these things themselves in purely economic terms.

Of course there is nothing wrong with doing these things for ideological reasons or just as hobbies. But it is off-putting when people searching for some kind of legitimating claim to authenticity try to paint their hobbies as motivated by utilitarian concerns.
posted by enn at 7:38 AM on June 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oh, I'm not saying homemaking isn't a worthy pursuit.

The people who annoy the hell out of me aren't the young couples driving Volvo 240s living in a cabin in New England- it's the rich twits with brand-new Volvos who like to read articles like this one and talk about the "simple life" while they buy their eight-dollar gallons of milk at the local co-op.
Yes, they can have a "simple life", but they've also got enough money that they can afford to give things up- and they can always stop doing it if they want to. Have they been stranded in their house in the winter with no more kerosene for the lamps, an old Subaru that suddenly won't start any more, some food stamps and an assortment of change from under the couch?
posted by dunkadunc at 7:43 AM on June 14, 2010


I think it is this view that irritates people, because the world is not as it was in the 1930s, and these things are just not survival skills anymore. Food doesn't cost what it did when my grandparents did their own canning and clothing does not cost what it did when they made clothing for my mother and her siblings. Industrial economies of scale mean that even someone working at minimum wage is better off buying commercially-canned food and commercially-made clothing than making these things themselves in purely economic terms.

That's very similar to the logic of the extreme free-trader position that only looks at the end price of cheap goods, not at the externalities of environmental damage, jobs lost domestically, the costs to subsidize cheap fossil fuels and a military willing to secure our access to them, etc...

Also, these sorts of economies of scale rest on the availability of certain kinds of resources at a reasonable cost that make them possible. They also rest on certain kinds of political decisions - i.e., agribusiness subsidies - and economic arrangements that aren't laws of nature. They are choices made by our society, and our society can make other choices.
posted by jhandey at 7:50 AM on June 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


This weekend I picked up a hot chick. By which I mean I lifted small poultry from an incubator to marvel at its fuzzy little body. Then I stopped terrifying it and put it back.

Some friends have bought a non-small portion of land, with its very old beat-up barn and neglected stables. So much stuff came with the house and the outbuildings. Boxes and boxes of mason jars. A manure spreader, useful for farming or politics. Even though the place had not been used as a farm proper through several owners, even a casual examination reveals the enormous amount of investment in infrastructure and equipment. You can feel that the land had been managed.

The chickens will, should any survive to adulthood, hopefully be useful at plucking up ticks and the like. The wife eyes the blackberry brambles and wonders if she can do some canning with those old mason jars. The husband thinks about selling the eggs. Nothing serious, just as a hobby. Two and one generations removed from rural life, they wonder if they can manage the things their grandparents and parents once did.

They, at least, are under no illusion that they are going to quit their jobs and somehow "radically redefine" anything; bless them for that, for few things are as tiresome to endure as the wild enthusiasm of someone who has "discovered" something, then proceeded to pretend they have recovered the lost secrets of the ancients and will now illuminate the rest of us poor, ignorant folk.

Don't teach your grandmother to suck eggs, in other words.
posted by adipocere at 7:51 AM on June 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


Also, these sorts of economies of scale rest on the availability of certain kinds of resources at a reasonable cost that make them possible. They also rest on certain kinds of political decisions - i.e., agribusiness subsidies - and economic arrangements that aren't laws of nature. They are choices made by our society, and our society can make other choices.

That's true, but having everyone canning their own food is not one of those choices that society can make at this point in time. That's what makes it a hobby. If more people spent their energies working to get society to make different choices in how its agriculture is organized and less time aping the lifestyle of their antecedents in the hope that this will bring about the second coming of John Frum magically have some mitigating effect on the excesses of industrial-scale agriculture as it currently exists then maybe something would actually change.
posted by enn at 7:59 AM on June 14, 2010


I should add that I don't really buy your premise that industrial scale and (reasonably) cheap food and clothing are incompatible with sustainable agriculture and manufacturing — you can buy the fancy local free-range eggs and still save money over keeping your own chickens. The division of labor does have its moments.
posted by enn at 8:10 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


How is it possible to become "over-educated?" Do each of us have some kind of personal knowledge limit? Are we in danger of damaging our brains, if we pass that limit? Might we pull our frontal lobe the way one might pull a hamstring?
Anyone who disagrees with me for reasons I understand is uneducated. Anyone who agrees with me is educated just right. And anyone who disagrees with me for reasons I can't comprehend is overeducated.
posted by verb at 8:13 AM on June 14, 2010 [9 favorites]


How is it possible to become "over-educated?" Do each of us have some kind of personal knowledge limit? Are we in danger of damaging our brains, if we pass that limit? Might we pull our frontal lobe the way one might pull a hamstring?

Apparently. But "over-educated" is a perfectly fine word used to describe when someone's education or rarefied upbringing ("educated" also means "cultured," with all the classist overtones that go along with it) overtakes more fundamental qualities, such as basic common sense or an objective understanding of how things are for most people. I think the term fits the author.

By way of comparison, look at the post by monkeytoes - a PhD who puts things into a more realistic perspective. Educated yes, but not over-educated.

It's actually pretty hilarious to call them yuppies since that stands for young urban professional...

Well, "stood for" would probably be more correct. Most etymological dictionaries claim the word was coined in 1982, but by 1985 it had already taken on a negative connotation. A quarter of a century later, it has many nuances beyond the original one, though most meanings reflect it in some way. "Yuppie" is a generational word - those original yuppies were The Yuppies. They are now mostly in their 40s and 50s.

The author may not be young, urban or that professional, but she has every psychological hallmark of the Yuppie generation - self-absorption, lack of perspective, the need to wrap personal decisions in the cloth of a Big Issue, a seeming unawareness of her own luck and given opportunity, preachiness. She advocates a lifestyle that would simply be impossible for the average American to enter into with any like the ease that she did. Also, she named her daughter Saoirse.

But nothing displays the yuppie sense of self-importance more than this passage:

What, exactly, would be the repercussions for taking a pro-homemaker stand and seeking out others? Was encouraging a Radical Homemaking movement going to unravel all the social advancements that have been made in the last 40-plus years?

Be careful what you type, Shannon. 'Cause you're a revolutionary.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 8:24 AM on June 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


How, exactly, do we "get society to make different choices in how its agriculture is organized"? That's way outside my sphere of influence, and I actually don't really care to change how other people live. I'm mostly interested in my own relation with the system.

It feels good to have a freezer full of kale that I grew myself without spending a dime. I realize that I'm privileged compared to the majority of the world population, but in my immediate community I'm hardly well-off: unemployed, unstable housing situation, very little economic assets. Learning how to do things for myself gives me a sense of control over my life that has nothing to do with my job or income, and that's a pretty rare feeling. Self-reliance is a value that my parents tried really hard to instill, it feels wrong to call it a hobby.

I realize I have to buy into the system on some level to keep the lights on and the bandwidth coming, but I like to know that I have some tools to take care of things when the economy collapses or the zombies rise. Sucks that it makes me a hipster hippie.
posted by Freyja at 8:34 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: perhaps history's most inefficient means of production
posted by The Whelk at 8:58 AM on June 14, 2010


I should add that I don't really buy your premise that industrial scale and (reasonably) cheap food and clothing are incompatible with sustainable agriculture and manufacturing — you can buy the fancy local free-range eggs and still save money over keeping your own chickens. The division of labor does have its moments.

I'm not aware that I expressed that premise, or that I dissed the division of labor. I said that economies of scale depend on decisions made by human beings that are not inevitable as well as on natural resources that are objective realities. I also said that, based on how you expressed it, your logic wasn't all that different from that of many extreme libertarian free-traders I've both read and known in real life. Your argument, in fact, was almost word-for-word identical to a statement made several years ago by someone I knew defending sweatshop child labor and the destruction of the American textile industry.

The choice isn't Wal-Mart+Monsanto+Happy Motoring Nation vs. dirty yuppies/hippies who romanticize farming (sorry, can't keep the pejoratives straight). The answer isn't going to be either - we're all not going to live on communes, but Happy Motoring Nation is not going to continue forever, and the Singularity isn' t coming to save us from our sins. Humans can be pretty creative, though, and it does a lot of good people whose ideas can help make a better world a grave disservice by dissing them all as waiting for John Frum - which, I'd argue, describes the mindset of the anti-farmers, as I think I'll call them, far more than those of those dirty yuppie/hippies whose greatest sin seems to be not conforming to the Whiggish Spirit of History.
posted by jhandey at 8:59 AM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


I also said that, based on how you expressed it, your logic wasn't all that different from that of many extreme libertarian free-traders I've both read and known in real life. Your argument, in fact, was almost word-for-word identical to a statement made several years ago by someone I knew defending sweatshop child labor and the destruction of the American textile industry.

Well, that's nice. To my mind you're the one who sounds like the free marketers, with your fondness for the individual consumer choice as a means of effecting social change, and I am not here defending, nor would I in general defend, sweatshop child labor, the destruction of the American textile industry, factory farming, or your "Happy Motoring Nation," but it's pretty hard to refute your "argument" that I sound like some anonymous person you talked to several years ago, so I don't see that there's any response I can make.
posted by enn at 9:10 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have a Ph.D., 40 chickens, four pigs, six cats and a tractor. I can my vegetables, cure and smoke my own bacon, and, in short, do a lot of the back-to-the-land chores that have experienced a revival in the last few years.

*adds as colleague*

We churn our own butter, but we use a kitchenaid to do it. Does that still count?

Y'all do know it's possible to bootstrap a farm with damn little capital right? And that, within an hour or two of Seattle, one can lease farmland for ~$200/ac/yr, right? And, unlike healthcare, you can pay for pasture rental with poultry.
posted by stet at 9:26 AM on June 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


The thing is, you can do this kind of thing by degrees. I have a friend who married a man who, as it turned out, was remarkably unsuited to salaried work outside the home, by personality and temperament. My friend is a high-powered ambitious-as-hell executive. They first rented and then bought a house on a small suburban lot, .11 acres, and her husband proceeded to turn that tiny postage-stamp lot into the most productive garden I've ever seen. It didn't provide all their produce; they always had to buy onions, for example, and pickings were pretty slim in the winter (we live in a mild climate where year-round gardening is possible), but they literally pulled thousands of pounds of food out of the garden.

He probably worked 2-3 hours a day on this urban homesteading in the winter, pulling up through 6-8 in the spring and the fall, and in the summer, he would work hard for 12-16 hours a day (plus she would pull a second shift in the kitchen, canning and pickling). He baked all their bread and baked goods and cooked all their food from scratch. It wouldn't have been possible for him to do this without being married to a person with conventional employment, but they didn't have to chuck it all and move to a brokedown bus to pull it off, either.
posted by KathrynT at 9:37 AM on June 14, 2010 [9 favorites]


few things are as tiresome to endure as the wild enthusiasm of someone who has "discovered" something, then proceeded to pretend they have recovered the lost secrets of the ancients and will now illuminate the rest of us poor, ignorant folk.

I don't agree with this, even a little bit.
posted by ServSci at 9:37 AM on June 14, 2010


Yes, they can have a "simple life", but they've also got enough money that they can afford to give things up- and they can always stop doing it if they want to. Have they been stranded in their house in the winter with no more kerosene for the lamps, an old Subaru that suddenly won't start any more, some food stamps and an assortment of change from under the couch?

Or, as a friend of mine who actually DID grow up in a brokedown bus puts it, "Of course they call it voluntary simplicity. There's no such thing as INvoluntary simplicity; that's just poverty."
posted by KathrynT at 9:42 AM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


I would happily abandon "the job market" it's health insurance that I can't abandon. What are these people going to do when their kid needs his appendix out or one of them gets in a car accident? A short stay in the hospital = one small grassed livestock farm these days.

That is a problem with the system you live in, not a general sustainability problem with small farms.

Single-payer healthcare (socialized medicine if you will) in Canada began in the province of Saskatchewan in the 1960's. In those days, Saskatchewan was full of small, family-run farms and was primarily an agricultural province. Somehow they managed to scrape up the tax money, and the idea was later adopted by the rest of Canada.

Taxes paid by farmers, and the businesses servicing farmers are enough of a tax base for universal, single-payer healthcare. It was a great model in Canada.

I'm not sure why some of the discussion in this thread tries to paint small, independent farmers as freeloaders. I don't care if those farms are run by yuppies who've filled their heads with fantasies.
posted by Intrepid at 9:43 AM on June 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


That is a problem with the system you live in, not a general sustainability problem with small farms.

QFT.
posted by KathrynT at 9:46 AM on June 14, 2010


with your fondness for the individual consumer choice as a means of effecting social change

Yeah, I think you're right. There's not much of a response for either of us to make, because I feel like we're arguing in completely different languages.

I'm saying that not only are there other, possibly better ways to organize society than the industrial model, but there are basic facts about our world that make organizing on an industrial scale in the way that we have been doing simply impossible to sustain indefinitely. I'm also saying that, however irritating some of these radical homemakers are, there's some good ideas there, and very possibly some absolutely necessary ones for our future. And that maybe we shouldn't crap all over them.

Thinking out of the box is good. If anybody's interested, there's some great blogs discussing those kinds of possibilities. Kind of like the concept of radical homemaking, in fact.

Shareable
On the Commons
posted by jhandey at 9:51 AM on June 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


smoke: "A positivist, feel-good piece"

FYI, that is not what positivist means.
posted by idiopath at 12:10 PM on June 14, 2010


Am I a Radical 9-5er if I read this while on the clock?
posted by WeekendJen at 1:23 PM on June 14, 2010


jhandey, I'm quite aware of whig history, and I'm certainly not trying to express the idea that twentieth century primary production is somehow superior to that of past centuries, or to small-scale part-subsistence cropping.

No, wait, yes I am, it is, and you can measure it. Agriculture at any efficient scale, especially in relatively infertile and/or water-insecure countries is really quite difficult to do efficiently, and especially difficult to do efficiently when you're undercapitalised and unskilled. There are schools set up for it, there's an entire science dedicated to it. The idea that more people should simply drop out of white collar urban high-skilled jobs to plough the land and see what grows is patronising, contemptuous nonsense. Short of blackjack and cocaine I can think of few ways urbanites would be more sure of distributing their money to the wind.

I've had a think about it overnight and my real "attitude" is to the idea that a couple simply changing their employment and economics of livelihood necessarily correlates to a change in their domestic division of labour, or the valuation of that labour. It's especially dangerous when it's wrapped in superficial talk about how important menial chores are. Cleaning a toilet on a left-wing permaculture farm is exactly the same job as cleaning a toilet in a city flat full of IKEA, and I'll be willing to bet it's wives and daughters in both places who do more of it.

I've met quite a few Australian farmers, and with a few honourable exceptions they outdo most urbanites for shallow grabbing materialism and chauvinist knuckledragging. Neither the land or poverty is ennobling.

I'm not a big fan of industrialised agriculture. In my country the big irrigators in the Murray-Darling basin are some of the biggest environmental vandals ever to suck on the diesel subsidy. I'm just aware that a) the kinds of large housing blocks that this kind of smallhold farming requires are unsustainable, and would make my city Sydney stretch halfway to Yass, b) actually it's not a joke, the gains made by the second-wave feminists breaking widespread assumptions in household chores genuinely are at real risk when people undervalue the effort or dress patriarchy up in Alternative clothes.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 2:50 PM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


To me, the point of the story isn't that we should all move back to the land, it's about reskilling and the revaluation of domestic labour.

See, this is my problem: the 'point' is based on an unquestioned premise that domestic labour requires reskilling and re-evaluation, in a broad societal sense. That it hasn't been done, isn't constantly happening, hasn't been a huge part of activism, governance, etc for decades if not centuries - and I just don't think it's as clear cut as that. Her ignorant reading/construction of history and important figures like Friedan does nothing to convince me otherwise.

People complain about this being bourgeois self-obsession, because largely this kind of discourse - as opposed to the actions themselves - can only be a bourgeois discourse.

This doesn't render the actions themselves as worthless for the people doing it, but it does call into question her blithe assumptions about the heroism of the act, its broader social utility, and the presumed ignorance of a shadowy other, waiting to 'see the light' of home-making, unaware and/or unable to do any of these things, and requiring a rich white person to tell them that their current lifestyle is worthless, retrograde, harmful and greedy, and what they should be valuing instead.

I contend that her "other" doesn't exist - some of these skills and ideas about home-making are largely extant in many homes, urban and otherwise, all over the world - and when people reading her article see that they tick her demographic boxes, they feel judged, slighted and maligned. And that's why I think people have such a problem.

Idiopath, I know what positivism is, I was using it in the hermeneutic sense as the opposite of negativism, which this piece desperately needs.
posted by smoke at 4:31 PM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


No, wait, yes I am, it is, and you can measure it.

Actually, I'm not so sure about that. I'll have to look them up, but there's at least a couple of rather reputable studies, including one sponsored by the UN, done in the past couple of years that dispute that conclusion. Like a lot of things, there's some evidence that, past a certain upper limit, things get less efficient. And in a world of, what is it now, seven billion people and increasing demand for water, soil, oil, and anything else you can name, Earl Butz' famous dictum "get big or get out" isn't going to cut it anymore.

Otherwise, you're right - there's plenty of farmers out there who certainly haven't been ennobled by it. Dumb agriculture isn't good, whether it's dumb substinence agriculture or dumb industrial agriculture. And second-wave feminism was very important.

But again, I'm sensing a serious false dichotomy being set up here using the supposed trend of urbanites moving back to the land. The choice isn't a) industrialized agriculture or b) substinence agriculture, and it's not a) a dark, dingy past or b) a bright, shiny future. Just because some urbanites are annoying doesn't mean that the whole thing is useless. North American hipsters are some of the most irritatingly smug people you'd ever have the misfortune to encounter, but that doesn't mean that their urban habitats are automatically inferior to an autocentric suburb. That's a basic logical fallacy. Same with the "radical homemakers".

No, everyone should not move out of the cities tomorrow. But that doesn't mean that there's no value here, or that no one should. Context matters. One size does not fit all, and that will only become more and more true over the coming decades.

Like I said in the beginning, the author may be a little precious, but that's no reason to condemn everything she's writing about.
posted by jhandey at 4:39 PM on June 14, 2010


Grueling Household Tasks Of 19th Century Enjoyed By Suburban Woman
posted by Rhaomi at 6:11 PM on June 14, 2010


Ugh, agree with what others have said - this is a very poorly written article, she is ignorant of history, and really glosses over how this isn't a realistic option for most people.
posted by agregoli at 6:38 PM on June 14, 2010


I feel really bad for all this hating on Hayes. I've met her and she is a really nice person. Her Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook is genuinely useful. Unfortunately, she has the Middle Class East Coasters Syndrome (MCECS), which leads to people alienating others by unwittingly seeming elitist and unrealistic.

As far as having to have a family farm or lots of money to do this, the world is peppered with large amounts of Intentional Communities. I spent time on one and none of the people on this farm can from wealthy families. All of them lived below the poverty line. They had pooled their resources and learned how to make actually pretty lovely straw bale houses. In many places, particularly the Great Plains, land is kind of cheap right now, particularly if you pool resources.

Another run-in with MCECS has been in the various young farmer groups on the East Coast that I've encountered. Most of them are young earnest people trying to raise money to buy farms on the East Coast. Of course they really really really struggle- renting land for exorbitant amounts and then getting evicted because their gentry landlords want to build bigger polo fields or something. For the price they are renting they could BUY their OWN land in the Midwest.
posted by melissam at 7:42 PM on June 14, 2010


I didn't think housekeeping was radical, I thought it was what everyone who didn't have servants (ie, like me) did. Seriously, today I made biscuits from raw ingredients and it was more about not having anything else in the house to pad out dinner.

It's very satisfying to make a good dinner including produce from my balcony garden and see the house set in order, but I'm also happy to make a sale at my day job or snuggle up in my machine made, washed and dried bed sheets that cost me $15 (about an hour and a half's wages).

Of course a lot of the fashionable, moral trappings involved with food are currently beyond my financial means, even if I had the physical living space to home can and store food for the nine month of unfriendly to growing weather we get up here.
posted by Phalene at 8:44 PM on June 14, 2010


I agree that the Yes Magazine article isn't likely to win any awards for good journalism, and that the book has its shortcomings, including a certain tone-deafness. Be that as it may, I think it's well worth reading. I very much respect the feminist sensibilities, ecological awareness, and critical thinking skills that motivated her to leave behind her high-powered career, move onto her family's farm, and pursue a book project like this.

the 'point' is based on an unquestioned premise that domestic labour requires reskilling and re-evaluation

In the academic and career world I was groomed and educated for (as a white middle class female), people aren't regarded very highly if they announce their intention to leave behind the rat race and focus their energies on domestic life. Homemakers get no respect. And many career-oriented people rely almost entirely on take-out and convenience foods, for example, and do not have the skills to do otherwise. From this vantage point, it seems quite clear (to me, at least) that a broad-based movement to value and respect domestic labor could be a worthwhile endeavor.

To me, the point of the story isn't that we should all move back to the land, it's about reskilling and the revaluation of domestic labour.

Yes. Hayes is arguing that the life skills involved in homemaking have been unfairly marginalized. She makes the case that these skills are worthy of widespread respect for a host of good reasons - reasons that are too often overlooked or summarily dismissed by a culture in which the value of one's work is determined largely by one's earning power in a market economy.

Furthermore, she is calling attention to what it suggests about our culture when educated, feminist women and men with professional skills and high-powered careers decide to opt out of the academic and career-driven life as much as possible (if not entirely). She calls radical homemaking "a movement seeking justice on all levels." She quotes Glenna Matthews: "if such work is despised, it will be performed by someone whose sex, class, or race - perhaps all three - consign her to an inferior status."

In Hayes' words: "For there to be true social egalitarianism, then the work of keeping a home must be valued for its contribution to the welfare of all. However, homemaking must also allow room for the self-actualization and creative fulfillment that was missing from the lives of so many housewives of the last half century, who suffered under the tyranny of "the feminine mystique." Sounds thoroughly feminist to me, on individual and social levels alike.

She clearly supports Friedan's point that self-determination and independence are important for women, but she departs from Friedan in that she questions the way this independence is framed only in terms of wages earned and participation in the market economy. She agrees with Friedan that women can be trapped in repressive domestic roles, but she also argues that they can be equally trapped in repressive job roles, and that the latter is often overlooked. A domestic partner can end a relationship without notice and leave one with no means of support; so too can an employer. Everyone can be vulnerable if their skills are limited to whatever they can do for a paycheck, and they have no social safety net. Hayes sees radical homemaking as a way to promote healthy interdependence, rather than economic independence per se.

No, not everyone can live like she does. That does not invalidate any of her points. As allen.spaulding points out, too often people who choose paths like this become lightning rods for criticism that should rightly be directed at social systems, rather than displaced onto individuals and families who just do whatever they can, with whatever skills and resources they have available, to work toward a better world.
posted by velvet winter at 9:15 PM on June 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


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