In the Green Revolution, Going Without Doesn't Mean Having To Do It All

Trust me, I’ve made jam. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds.

Strollerderby blogger Madeline Holler has written a funny and revealing piece for Salon called I Am a Radical Homemaker Failure.  In it, she chronicles the struggles she and her family have gone through as her husband transitioned from “earning piles of gold shoveling rocks for Satan” to the life of an academic, and challenges the idea that everyone is suited to embrace poverty, living happily as a hippie farmer.

Holler spends most of the essay discussing the book “Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity From a Consumer Culture” by Dr. Shannon Hayes.  Hayes has a Ph.D. in sustainable agriculture and is a wife and mother.  (Just reading her credits exhausts me, so Holler, despite her unwillingness to can fruit, is even sturdier than I am.  At least at one point in her life, Holler made homemade yogurt.  I feel like a champ when I buy the big container of Stonyfield vanilla and not the individual-sized six-pack.)

Holler says, “Central to the Radical Homemaker agenda is the idea that we don’t have to rely on nameless, faceless corporations to feed, clothe, shelter and entertain us.”  I’m all for that.  But I like my locally grown products to be sold at the Union Square Greenmarket so that I’m in the East Village for an 8 pm show.  Holler, too, scoffs at the notion that one should be able to “survive on home-grown food, old-timey skills and a willingness to help the neighbors.”  Unlike Hayes, Holler did not grow up on a farm, which may explain part of her resistance to fully succumbing to Radical Homemaking.  I didn’t exactly grow up on a farm, either, but I was raised by a father – and mother, for that matter – who could harvest a yard full of vegetables.  Plus, when I was younger, my Dad often hunted deer and caught fish that he would skin and cook himself.  As a result, I get to be a smug adult who thinks things like, “Oh yeah, I totally get the idea of sustainable eating,” without having any actual survival skills of my own. 

My favorite part of Holler’s piece is when she references French feminist Elisabeth Badinter’s book “Le Conflit,” in which Badinter accuses “today’s new mothers of falling for eco- and bio-mumbo jumbo. They willingly breast-feed their kids, give birth at home, leave careers and forgo conveniences like disposable diapers and painkillers during labor. The modern baby, she writes, is “the best ally of masculine domination,” love-struck mothers accomplices in their own demise.”

How true is that?  It depends on where you live, of course.  If, like my friend Carly, you’re drawn to reside in a place like Ithaca, NY, you can kind of drop out and still be a part of what’s happening at the same time.  Moms there have the best of both worlds.  They’re hip hippies.  They can run a start-up company and find time to breastfeed in the local cafe, because the pace and style of life there doesn’t preclude those things from being mutually exclusive.  But in a city like New York, where the stakes and cost of living are sky high, mothers often have to choose.  Do you work or are you a SAHM?  Are you a slave to your child or do you feed them on your schedule the way you want to?  Yes, many women – myself included – have tried to shut out the noise and live a more nuanced, freelance lifestyle, but it’s not easy.  In fact, it seems just as difficult and to require as much investment as living off the land.

Holler sums her perspective up nicely when she says, “Not spending money is an incredible amount of work.  I had considered — sometimes seriously — canning produce as a way to keep costs down.  Just thinking about putting up a winter’s worth of green beans and apricot jam, though, made me want to take a nap.  Even baking all of my own bread sounded dreadful.  For me, kneading dough was the physical manifestation of pushing and pressing all of life’s ambitions into one yeasty ball of carbs.”

Amen, sister!  If you’re baking homemade bread, I’ll buy it.  But I’d rather bring in the dough than sit and watch it rise.