Hipster Homemakers and “Extreme Domesticity”

photo by surlygirl on Flickr Commons

Women are taking on burdens their grandmothers rejected: growing organic food, canning, baking bread. Is this movement a way to take care of one’s family properly or a symptom of an overly wealthy and neurotic society?

Emily Matchar, in Sunday’s Washington Post,  explores modern hipster homemakers, women who happily reenlist for the domestic chores which our mothers and grandmothers abandoned with glee.

Is it an advancement or reversal of the feminist movement? Matchar writes:

I recently spent some time with Megan Paska, a 31-year-old Brooklynite whose pixie-cut hair and inked-up biceps make her look like she should be fronting an indie rock band. But Paska’s daily life more closely resembles a 19th-century farm wife’s: soaking beans for stews, feeding her backyard chickens and rabbits, drying herbs, baking bread, keeping bees on her apartment roof.

Most of the urban homesteaders Paska knows are female. “Women find this lifestyle very empowering,” she says. “Some people assume that this is a backlash against the feminist movement, but I see it as a continuation of it.”

Some women engage these tasks as a way of “knowing how to take care of yourself,” Matchar speculates. Others do it out of a mistrust of our food system.

As a young stay-at-home mom in Pennsylvania recently told me, “The only way to know what’s in your food is to make it yourself.” A stay-at-home mom in Iowa said she wants to try home schooling her son because she’s worried about the school environment: the cleaning supplies, the food in the cafeteria.

Or are they just type-A personalities that carry their overachievement to the home front?

As work-life balance scholar Joan Williams tells me, extreme domesticity can be a refuge for educated women who’ve left the workforce: “You’ve been trained your entire life in a high-pressure, high-achievement atmosphere, and you need somewhere to put that,” she says. “So you turn your household into an arena for dazzling performance.”

As someone who sewed her own wedding dress, intermittently gardens, and still has a half finished quilt in the basement (circa 1994), I can tell you…these charming old-fashioned chores are a lot of work. I can’t imagine the responsibility of owning chickens or milking a cow. Heck, we’re lucky if the dog gets walked between soccer and homework and my work and Dancing With The Stars.

I also see silliness in rejecting the most efficient, safest food production system the world has yet created. Those great-grandmothers who butchered hogs and always had bread rising? They saw starvation – real starvation – in their communities, American communities. Hunger was a real threat to them, as it still is in parts of the world. In addition, they suffered food poisoning more frequently than we do when they milked their own cows and butchered meat in unsanitary conditions. I don’t know why we would insist on making food production less efficient or less safe.

Worrying about the effects of red dye and additives is a First World problem, and one for which I see little evidence. Study after study shows that, by and large, the problem with our food supply is that we have too much of everything. Our waistlines and our hearts bear the burden.

In the sense that gardening and canning encourage us to exercise and eat more vegetables, then they are good things. I can buy vegetables, however, in the freezer aisle, which are just as nutritious and beneficial as homegrown. If a hipster mom enjoys the production, by all means, carry on. Just, please, don’t make it a moral imperative.

It is a symptom of great wealth that a nation of educated women have time and money to spend on going back to time and labor intensive tasks. If the safety and provision of their children were truly at risk, they would be back in the workplace providing in the most effective way they could: by earning money.

What do you think? Are the moms Matchar profiles right?

  • Jackie F

    Wow. I have to say, you approached this subject with unapologetic abandon. Good for you.

    I have always worked outside of my home – I don’t think the term, “working mom” is fair, because let’s face it – we ALL work; 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. I won’t even say tirelessly, because we’re ALL exhausted. Mix that with the guilt of waking up in the morning, knowing at some level you are going to fail as a parent at some point during the day, there is truly no rest for the weary. OK – now you have a tiny bit of background on me.

    This extreme domesticity…. I like it. I think if you’re a mom that wants to take on agri-business, then KUDOS! I try my part – I’m more of a 60% pragmatist, but I try. I did not inherit my blessed grandmother’s green thumb, therefore I have stopped attempting to grow my own tomatoes, peppers, what have you… But I am a little envious of the folks that do.

    You say the food issues we have are a 1st world issue – bingo on that one! But it is because of all the crap that we call “food”. Take out three-quarter of the garbage in any supermarket and you will find that there is still PLENTY to choose from without having to subject yourself to high fructose corn syrup, mechanically separated chicken parts, petroleum and yes, red dye #5. Once these garbage products are removed form the shelves, all that’s left is FOOD. Now the next thing that happens, when all there is left to buy is food, the cost of eating a healthy meal goes down & a single mother of two is no longer forced to go through a drive-thru because it’s cheaper to fill her children with crap than it is to feed them a well rounded meal. At the end of the day, this keeps the family healthier while keeping the waistline in check.

    We have found a way to bastardize just about every food product out there – either through making chemical snacks with zero nutritional valie, genetically altered chickens stacked in chicken houses spreading disease through the eggs, cows that are infected with E-Coli because they are being fed corn & forced to live in their own waste – we are more prone now to food born illnesses than ever before and on a MUCH larger scale because of how far & wide these food items are shipped.

    These women you are referring to as extreme domestics… I think they are just trying to do the right thing for their children – are there extreme cases? Of course there are…. The canning and home-schooling martyrs that make the rest of the moms making these choices look like fruit cakes; there’s no help for those people. The majority of these women are just trying to make a better life for their children – and to me that is the ultimate inner lioness, the ultimate in feminism.

    Which begs the next question; when did being a feminist mean you had to stop being feminine? Why can’t we, as women, embrace these traditional roles without it backfiring on us? Why do we have to be more like men to be counted?

    (typed on a mobile device – please forgive any typos)

    • Rebecca Cusey

      Thanks for the comment, Jackie. I’m nothing if not unapologetic. Just ask my husband. (ba-dum-dum!)

      Personally, I’m less concerned with whether women need to be like men to be feminist, although I think it’s an excellent question, than if women put unnecessary burdens on themselves. I remember, early in my domesticity, having a conversation with a friend about whether or not to rinse out and reuse ziplock baggies. I remember thinking not only did I not want to spend three minutes saving a cent, which seemed like a bad deal to me, but nor did I even want to spend time thinking or talking about it. I remember thinking, “is this what it means to be a stay at home mom?” Washing ziplock baggies? Thinking about whether to wash ziplock baggies? So I nixed that whole concept and spent my time taking my kids to museums and on hikes and swimming and concerts in the park. I just bought the darn baggies.

      If a woman enjoys and finds satisfaction in these tasks, she should enjoy them and enjoy doing them with her kids. But I’d be the voice of saying, “hey, it’s a choice!” and not a necessity.

      Finally, as I commented to another respondent, I know we doubt the food system, but by every measure statistics provide, it’s helped to make us live longer, live healthier, and live safer. Life expectancy has doubled since the industrial revolution. Food illness, despite what we hear in the news, is remarkably rare. We die of old-age and abundance diseases like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes instead of hunger and deprivation related diseases. Modern medicine, in particular antibiotics, are partly responsible for this, but so is a safe and abundant food supply. We have strawberries in December, for Pete’s sake. Laura Ingalls Wilder could only dream of that.

      • Kristy G.

        “We have strawberries in December, for Pete’s sake.”

        Strawberries coated in pesticides farmed across the world that used up who-knows-how-much oil and resources to be shipped to our local grocer, yeah.

        • Ashley

          Bravo, Kristy G., Bravo.

        • Rebecca Cusey

          Still tasty! I don’t have a problem with most pesticides. They keep bugs off things and bugs eat crops and make them more inefficient. I’m not afraid to stand up and say I think pesticides, used properly, are good.

          Also, most of our strawberries in America come from central California, so that’s creating jobs here in the US.

          Plus, they’re yummy with whipped cream.

          • Anne F

            I think the real problem is with food safety is that we don’t know what is causing cancer, etc. We really don’t know the long-term effects of the pesticides. We really don’t know the lasting effects the dyes have on our systems. We do know that our country (and those who eat like us) are sick and fat…hmm. Could it be the food? Could the additives, preservatives, processes be a cause of the cancer that is so prevalant?! And the government will the VERY LAST to issue a decree that it is the cause. The food industry would take a hit like no other! So the government and corporations, and food industries are staying away as long as possible.

            I think women who choose to do the “extreme” homemaking are to be admired. I do what I can and say no when it’s too much. But kuddos to them!

      • http://homeschoolgoddess.blogspot.com/ Chasa Cochran

        Diet and lifestyle is linked to every disease you listed. If our food system was so wonderful, would the link be so common place?

        • http://homeschoolgoddess.blogspot.com/ Chasa Cochran

          Excuse me, ARE linked….coffee hasn’t kicked in apparently.

        • Rebecca Cusey

          Diet is certainly related to diabetes and heart disease. Too much food, to put it simply (although I know there are genetic factors as well). That was my point.

      • Deanna

        Yup. You are right we have learned a lot since the industrial revolution. Now, it is time to combine the knowledge gathered from our Grands and the knowledge gathered since and put the two together to make a responsible and sustainable system for our food. Yes, they saw starvation. Yes, our kids will see less bio-diversity. Both facts. I personally thing we are smart enough to fix both.

        A lot of those pesticides that you are ok with (in comment below) cause the very diseases you have listed. This is proven fact. Several have been removed in recent years just because of how dangerous they are.

        The fact that the question ‘is this moving feminism forward or backwards?’ is asked means that movement has not gone far enough to begin with. This entire article is sad to me. All of the women in my family preserve food. Always have, always will. They are some of the strongest females I have ever known. Some of them have their Masters degrees others have been homemakers their entire life. Wasn’t the point of the Movement to give us choices?

        • Rebecca Cusey

          I completely agree with your first paragraph. We are smart enough to fix both. I’m not convinced that pesticides used properly cause disease.

          And the women in your family sound lovely.

  • http://scotttroyer.com/ Scott

    First, I’m a man and I want to do these things. Does that make me effeminate or just a feminist in disguise? And although I’m not married, many of the homesteaders/homegrowers/organics/newfarmers I know are husband and wife teams that are working hand-in-hand. So making this a “women’s thing” is purely sexism.

    Second, I’m not rich. In fact, I’m very poor by U.S. standards. I’ve no home, no healthcare, no insurance. Still, I find domestic endeavors rewarding and practical. This “fad” is not simply a hobby for the wealthy. Actually, most of the people I know that are DIY, are doing it to make ends meet.

    Third, describing our food supply as “safe” is quite relative and awfully trusting. Our national food system still includes regular E. Coli and salmonella recalls, ammonia washed ground meat, mislabeled products, and other contaminations. Corruption and deceit are status quo under the questionable oversight of the FDA and USDA. Fear of food not created by the food industry is one method the big guys use to keep us buying their products.

    Fourth, complete and utter reliance on a large system is foolish. Every empire eventually falls. Renewing interest in the methods our grandparents used to survive is not simple nostalgia, but a manner of future-proofing our lives à la seed banks. We never know when the system will collapse. It could happen over night. If it does, do you have the skills and tools to survive?

    Fifth, are we not short-sighted in believing our “new” methods are superior to those perfected over many millenia of agricultural development? New is not always better and time is not on the side of the new methods. We’ve yet to seen the true long-term effects of what modern techniques will do to our species.

    Sixth, how about the artistic side of things? Would we poo-poo resurgences in “antiquated” art forms like letterpress, origami, painting, furniture making, home brewing, music making with non-electronic instruments, etc.? These are not foolish activities to pursue. Even if the drive to do such things comes from boredom or desire for self-expression, who’s going to be the jerk to squash that? Domesticity is an honorable artistic and intellectual expression that requires a diverse skill set. It is on par with any “high” art form.

    Seventh, often, all these domestic efforts result in products that are superior to what we can buy on the shelf. People will pay money for great things. That’s called demand. Demand creates business. Business generates jobs and money. In this economy, who thinks that’s a bad idea?

    I could say more about all this, but I gotta go to work.

    • Rebecca Cusey

      Hi Scott. Did you click through to the Post article? Because Matcham addresses the issue of women vs men and seems to think women put these burdens on themselves more than men do.

      As for wealth, people who do these things as a matter of stretching their dollars….that makes perfect sense to me. Personally, I’ve always found that I end up paying more than I would just buying, but I’m probably doing it wrong. I’m sure with practice and thriftiness, people could cut down their expenses. Hard work to get ahead…that is the scrappy American way.

      Reading the rest of your comment, it seems you fall into the “wanting to know how to take care of yourself” category. I’ll be coming to your house when it all goes down! I have a hound, so at least I’ll be able to catch squirrels.

      Finally, I think your point about art is a good one. If someone enjoys what they do and makes something they find beautiful, there is inherent goodness in that. But I enjoy creating words, not working with my hands. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that at all, but bristle at some more-domestic-than-thou attitudes.

      I would argue, however, that new is better by any measure that statistics can provide. Our life expectancy has doubled since the industrial revolution. Food contamination illness, despite what people claim, are way down and remarkably rare. People die of what I call long-life-and-excess diseases. Heart disease. Cancer. Diabetes. In earlier generations, people didn’t have time to die of these diseases because they were cashing in their ticket in their 40s. Some of this, of course, can be attributed to medicine, particularly antibiotics. But food supply is a huge factor too.

      • http://www.confessionsofapagansoccermom.com MrsB

        “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that at all, but bristle at some more-domestic-than-thou attitudes.”

        As many of us bristle at the “less-than-me-because-you-are-domestic attitude this article seemed to imply.

        Can’t we stop judging women on what the do or don’t do at home for a change? I thought by now we’d be over the “if you aren’t like me, you’re wrong/pretentious/wealthy/insert-random-insult-here” by now.

      • Ashley

        You do realise that Cancer, Heart Disease, and most other ‘illnesses’ are directly related to all of the processed filth that we consume on a daily basis, correct? You also realise, that even though our ancestors didn’t live as long (which turns out to be a positive, considering the overpopulation problem in the present day) they didn’t suffer from all of the aforementioned illnesses that are currently deteriorating our healthy cells. I agree completely with Scott, “We’ve yet to see the true long-term effects of what modern techniques will do to our species.”

        This is coming from an Evolutionary Biologist/Naturalist point-of-view. Though corporate agriculture would like you to ‘think’ it is deemed ‘safe’, this is all just an elaborate hoax to control and play puppetry with the typical, average, american.

        • Rebecca Cusey

          Feel free to have a shorter life span. I’ll live as long as I can, thanks.

          Show me evidence that food causes these illnesses.

          • Rebecca Cusey

            Other than, of course, simply too much food.

          • http://www.confessionsofapagansoccermom.com MrsB

            “High Fructose Corn Syrup Linked to Liver Scarring, Research Suggests”

            “A seven year study done by the University of Hawaii revealed that people who consume processed meat products had a 67% higher risk of falling prey to pancreatic cancer than those who ate few to no processed meat products.”

            “Researchers in Britain have discovered that feeding your children junk or processed foods can actually lower their IQ.”

            “Yannick Chenet, a French winegrower, died after contracting leukemia, becoming the first farmer to have his illness officially linked to the pesticides he used for years on his crops.”

            I tried to post the links to these articles, but Word Press thought my post was too “spammy” with the links.

          • Rebecca Cusey

            Thanks for the ideas. They should be enough for Google to get started with. We do get a lot of spam, so that’s nothing personal (you can’t imagine how many lotteries I’ve won in Germany recently!) I’ll check out these stories. I am, as suggested, doing more research.

          • Deanna

            The food doesn’t, it is the crap in the food, or just plain chemicals that are used to make something ‘taste’ like food.

        • http://www.nancyfrench.com Nancy French

          Ashley, you make me want to eat a Twinkie.

          • Tara Edelschick

            Someone has to MAKE YOU want a Twinkie?

  • http://mylifeasprose.com ann @ my life as prose.

    why do you care? why can’t each person live out their own convictions, for themselves and their families, without garnering judgment from others? these women aren’t harming themselves or their children. and if it is, as you say, a symptom of wealth, it’s a much better alternative to what we see on whatever version of the “real housewives” happens to be on bravo this season.

    i find your assessment flat and without any real investigation into this issue. have you met any of these women? have you talked to them about their life choices? quoting others doesn’t count if you’re going to serve up value-laden remarks. do yourself a favor–meet some of these women. you don’t have to make the same life choices they do to respect what they do.

    • Rebecca Cusey

      I’m a writer. We assess and reply. Raise questions. It’s what we do.

      Thanks for reading.

      • http://danceofthegoddess.blogspot.com/ Sheralie

        “I’m a writer. We assess and reply. Raise questions. It’s what we do.”

        We also do our research on the subject we are writing about, before we publish things. Many mothers here are up in arms at the blatant judgement you showed in this article.
        Many of us are trying to feed our families affordably AND healthy.

        I choose to be a “hipster homemaker” and carry on my “Extreme Domesticity” because mine and my children’s health demands it.
        Years of eating the food you deem perfectly fine has caused me to have a multitude of health problems including asthmatic bronchitis, fibromyalgia, a kidney that keeps dilating , rashes, and now I have to get a camera shoved into my stomach to access how much damage has been caused to my stomach lining.
        The very stomach lining that has been bleeding every time I have eaten “foods” filled with preservatives and the like.
        I have to be so careful with what I eat or I wind up in crippling pain. Which means food grown and prepared from the beginning to end by me…it’s necessary.

        This entire article came off as you being holier then thou and snarky about the life choices of others. Don’t use being a writer as your justification for being judgmental. We have more then enough writers out there who do this.

        • Amy

          I have become healthier and healthier the more I make my own things, instead of trusting what corporate food tells me is true. It took losing my health completely to understand what I had to do, and that was cut sugar, consume less refined foods and diversify my life style.

          The only way to control how safe the safest food production in the world is-is to be the safest and have control. Just because we have all this food doesn’t mean the rest of the world does and just because you can eat a box of Oreos doesn’t mean you should. Nor should we become arrogant enough to think we’ll never have to do it from necessity again either. And I guarantee MY family won’t starve if when the zombies strike.

          I’m not anti pesticide, having married into a farming family, I understand the necessity. Nor am I into completely organic food, although I like it better. I am interested in knowing that we didn’t burn billions of gallons of oil eating fruit from a country that doesn’t regulate the chemicals they put on produce. I am interested in eating from and therefore financially supporting local farms. I am interested in the people you meet whilst picking berries, the communion that happens when you brave a bee-heavy field of lavender. Using that lavender in a gift to a friend, and sharing the love. I am interested in proving to my children that some things are more important that living forever. Like life.

          Thank you for opening a discussion, and I hope you are merely playing a devils advocate and not deliberately insulting a measured and deliberate style of life that you clearly don’t understand..

          • Rebecca Cusey

            You make a lot of sense. I like your balanced approach. Emphasis on the balance. Thanks for the comment.

    • Annie

      Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. It’s too bad the vast majority of the comment thread consists of defensive, conspiracy-minded, and often willfully ignorant drivel.

      I’m an historian who specializes in 19th century America. The notion that Americans’ quality of life has diminished since the industrial revolution is completely absurd. The evidence that food dye is causing cancer is non-existent. And the assumption that one can prepare food more hygienically in one’s home than corporations do in factories is hubris, at best.

      The most terrifying suggestion, however, is that Americans should simply be permitted to pursue their own paths because, supposedly, extreme domesticity isn’t hurting anyone. That’s nonsense. At base, extreme domesticity is a profound waste of human resources, a supremely inefficient use of individual labor, both physical and intellectual. Just as importantly, extreme domesticity and related movements in favor of home schooling and against vaccination, encourage a conspiratorial worldview that rejects empiricism–the very basis of science–and encourages clannish behavior that contributes little to anything to the common good.

  • http://valleygirl99.blogspot.com/ Tiff

    One thing you didn’t mention was old-fashion cleaning tools/supplies. Those are usually huge money savers, aren’t very complicated, and are probably better for us (no inhaling toxic fumes while cleaning the bathroom, etc). I know I’m a bit upset I didn’t find out earlier that instead of using Drano to clear drains, I can use baking soda, white vinegar and hot water and get the same result without the horrible stench in our bathroom or kitchen. Yes, anything can be (and usually is) taken to extremes, but sometimes newer isn’t always better.

  • Lusi

    I’d like to begin by complimenting you, Rebecca, on addressing the topic with honesty and verve. :) I agree, trying to pushing domestic production as a moral imperative is neither useful nor courteous.

    However, to address a few points from the comments:

    “Our life expectancy has doubled since the industrial revolution.”

    That may be true, but it doesn’t automatically follow that our *quality* of life has increased proportionately. (I’m not idealising the past, merely suggesting that it’s likely we have only swapped one group (or more) of stresses and problems for another.)

    Yes, the so-called First World no longer has the same starvation-based diseases, but malnutrition-based health problems are still quite present. When children as young as 5 are testing as pre-diabetic and sugary carbonated beverages are cheaper than milk, when large numbers of teenaged girls and women (and a rising number of men!) are calcium-deficient and/or anaemic, I query the success of the modern commercial food system.

    Many malnutrition-based illnesses – poor nutrition, rather than insufficient volume of consumption – are the result of industrialised foodstuffs, and have been since Victorian times and the introduction of large-scale refining and chemical preservatives (rickets is the common chestnut here). I would argue that it is not the industrialisation of the food industry that is of benefit to us, but the *understanding of nutrition* (that enabled the industrialisation) that has boosted our health and longevity.

    On another note, regarding the objections of “preaching nutrition” at one another:

    People tend to normalise their own situation. Someone with anorexia/orthorexia will insist they’re still “perfectly healthy”, because they’ve become used to feeling dizzy and tired. Someone with long-term unmanaged diabetes still functions (not thrives!) with a Blood Glucose reading of 20 (364), because they’re used to it. Preaching at either one of these people will not necessarily get results; both may feel “normal” and will see interference as subjective, not objective.

    To bring this back to people choosing the old-fashioned food route: Someone who is used to living on refined and processed foods, but has a vaguely balanced diet and exercises occasionally, probably doesn’t feel there is anything wrong with them – they’ve normalised their situation. Take someone who is used to a whole-foods diet, however, and subject them to just 10 days of ordinary white bread, sugared cereal, processed meat, carbonated drinks, and “[milk/meat/cheese/wheat/corn]-based snack product” and they tend to end up with digestive upsets, fatigue, mood swings, and sometimes skin reactions such as eczema, acne, psoriasis, etc.

    With that in mind, I would say that painting “the modern food system” as positive is simply using too broad a brush. Food hygiene, refrigeration, etc. have proved a great boon for mankind. Bleaching, refining, and heating the nutrients out of a food, and then adding synthetic vitamins back in to boost the advertising claims? Not so much.

    I’ve unfortunately lost the references just now, but I recall reading a study last year, where the nutritional content of two apples was measured. One was an average supermarket apple, bred for increased shelf-life, ease of transport, and appearance (uniformity, symmetricality, size, colour). The other was a heritage apple, the nutritional information of which had been recorded in 1940. The study found that in breeding for modern commercial qualities, at the expense of nutrition, a person was required to eat *three* modern apples to get the nutritional equivalent of one heritage apple. It is this sort of finding that makes many people question the usefulness of modern commercial food production.

    Additionally, it is virtually impossible to separate modern commercial food production from advertising. Advertising drives what we buy; what we buy guides what is produced, and what is produced dictates our range of choice. Conversely, our range of choice is limited to those foods of which we are aware; we come back to advertising again.

    Therefore, as mentioned in the WP article, “opting out” of commercial food production and relying on domestic produce is a way for many people to re-assume control over their food choices. (140 years ago, there was no such thing as “ready-to-eat breakfast cereal”. Ask any anglophone 5 year old, however, what we eat for breakfast and the answer will probably include “cereal”. The de facto question then, is not “do we eat cereal?”, but “which brand of cereal do we buy?”. When the nutritional content of each brand of cereal is a comparable serving of processed corn/rice/wheat, flavour, sugar/corn syrup, and preservatives, “consumer choice” is a laughable – and neglible – concept. We end up purchasing, partly or wholly, by advertising content rather than nutritional content.)

    One last note:

    For many people, washing and re-using zip-lock plastic bags isn’t a matter of saving a cent. It’s done because they know that every single one of those bags is going to end up in landfill – plastic bags act like micro-sponges, sucking up toxic chemicals and then slowly leaching them into the surrounding area. Not all dumped plastic bags *stay* in the landfill; many blow away and into waterways and other eco-systems. They can strangle or be consumed by animals, eventually leading to their deaths (and once that carcass rots, the bag is often set free to blow/float away and repeat the performance). Landfills cost tens of millions to build, as well as millions annually in maintenance, and plastic bags fill up to 20% of them, at a time when space available for landfill is becoming increasingly scarce.

    For others, the use of fossil fuels and toxic chemicals in making the bags, added to the landfill problem, leads to the choice of not purchasing disposable bags at all. (It’s not difficult; I’ve not bought plastic bags or used disposable wrap for lunches in years, and yes, I do have school-aged children. Curiously, I still manage to get them to the museum every month.) ;)

    Thanks to everyone for their contributions to the comments; it’s been rather thought provoking. :)

    • Rebecca Cusey

      Somehow I neglected to respond to your comment, which is a shame because it’s a well thought and kindly written one. I’m especially glad you raised cereal because I’m doing more research on that. Cereal was one of the first public health campaigns to get nutrients and vitamins to a population whose agrarian lifestyles left them lacking. Now, I agree that Lucky Charms has come a far way from that ideal. Although delicious, I won’t have sugary cereal in my house. But the original concept was an altruistic and successful campaign to improve general health.

      • Rebecca Cusey

        So what do you use to transport and store food? (in re: no plastic baggies)

        • Lusi

          I do use plastic, in certain situations, but I don’t buy plastic bags with the express intent of using them once and then throwing them away (the one exception is rubbish bags for street collection; but the ones I do buy are made of recycled plastic, and are biodegradable).

          I use re-usable lunch boxes rather than ziplock baggies – we have some with separate compartments for sandwiches, fruit, snacks, and little leakproof inner containers for messy things like yoghurt or stewed fruit. My own lunch bag is an insulated zip-up, with separate containers inside (the set’s by Tupperware, in fact).

          Separate containers does mean the containers need washing, but I can say from experience that washing/drying plastic containers is far easier than washing bags! (I don’t have a dishwasher, but most modern plastics are dishwasher-safe.)

          We all have re-usable drink bottles, so bottled water is a thing of the past. We also have re-usable coffee (or hot chocolate) cups, and there are cafes in town that are happy to refill them. We also each have a little connect-up cutlery set in each handbag/school bag, so no need for plastic disposable cutlery. I decline disposable serviettes for all but the messiest foods. (We eat out *very* rarely anyway, so it’s not a big issue.)

          Mostly I bake my own bread, but when I’m sick or out of time, I’m willing to buy it from a nearby bakery. I then use the bread bags (and any others big/leak-proof enough) as kitchen bin bags. Bread bags are also re-used as school sandwich bags when the reusable lunch boxes are lost/dirty/left at school.

          Cloth vege/fruit bags are only just arriving in this country, but I hope to get some soon. (Not all markets allow for the weight difference though, so I might pay extra to use them.) In the meantime I just reuse my plastic bags until they fall to bits. I also shop at a bulk market for drygoods, where I can refill containers.

          I reuse food containers as much as possible – especially glass jars, in various sizes. I use small glass jars (from deli spreads) for storing herbs and sundries, larger jars and margarine/sandwich spread containers for dry goods (and stand-in lunch containers). Like my mother & grandmother, I just pop a plate over leftovers in the fridge, rather than using plastic wrap. I don’t use roasting bags, and limit my use of tinfoil to the absolute minimum (heavy fruit cakes, for instance).

          … Wow. Looking at all that, I guess I do a fair bit! :) The thing is, I didn’t change overnight. I just cut down a bit here, and a bit there, made choice 1 over choice 2… and voila. A few years later I’m saving money, carbon, and landfill. Small steps can be very helpful. :)

          I think one thing to remember is that only a few generations ago, *lots* of household items were made to be re-used. The cost of manufacturing was too high to do otherwise, unless you were fabulously rich. ;) If we can combine yesterday’s thrift with today’s understanding of science, I don’t see why we can’t be both resourceful *and* healthy. :)

  • http://www.confessionsofapagansoccermom.com MrsB

    I bake my own bread, make my own yogurt, my hubby makes his own beer. We grow veggies and herbs in our garden and what we don’t grow, we try to buy from local farmers. It has more to do with “this is way cheaper to do ourselves and tastes way better” than anything to do with being “overly wealthy”, that’s for sure.

    • Rebecca Cusey

      Honestly, I’d love to try the beer. I grow herbs as well. Easy and certainly cheaper. Sounds like we’re not so far apart.

      When I’ve tried to shop from local farmers, some of whom I’m pretty convinced aren’t actually local, I’ve been shocked at how high the prices are. The farmer’s market is much more expensive than Giant here.

  • SouthernRob

    “I can’t imagine the responsibility of owning chickens or milking a cow. Heck, we’re lucky if the dog gets walked between soccer and homework and my work and Dancing With The Stars.”

    I think I see part of your problem. :)

    My wife and I have embarked on a path similar to the one you discuss. I don’t feel that we’re being extreme- we’ve just slowly practiced becoming aware of our lifestyle rather than simply living as those around us live. As part of that, we’ve reevaluated some of the “old-fashioned” ways that most Americans have left behind.

    There are health benefits (not to mention flavor benefits) to be had from producing your own food when you can- have you read up on the modern industrial tomato, for example? Watched Food, Inc?- but that’s not really our motivator. It’s as much about sitting around a small table in the kitchen and talking- instead of having our minds numbed by TV programs and advertising- as it is about homemaking and doing our tiny part for the environment. At the moment we both work outside of the home, but we hope that won’t always be the case. I’d love to invest more time in skills that take time to master. Homemaking, cooking, beekeeping, beer brewing, gardening, DIY 3D printing and home automation- those are just some of the skills I’d like to invest more of myself in.

    “Just, please, don’t make it a moral imperative.”

    Who has made it a moral imperative? It seems as though you feel condescended upon because someone has a different opinion of what is right and best for themselves. Personally, I do feel that my choices are (getting) better, but I’m not interested in proving them better in my lifetime. I hope that others find my personal choices inspiring, but that’s something that we should all aspire to.

    “If the safety and provision of their children were truly at risk, they would be back in the workplace providing in the most effective way they could: by earning money.”

    Despite what TV and pop culture would tell us, we don’t need as much money as we think we do to live well. Most of us have a house that’s bigger than our needs, drive a car that’s nicer and newer than we need, have more stuff than we need, and have thrown away more food than people around the world eat. The thing we’ve consistently had less of is time. We’ve traded it for work, money and a plethora of commitments, activities and distractions. Since I don’t think quality time can be planned, quantity of personal time is what I choose to optimize for. Working in or around the house is a great way to learn, share experiences, and bond.

    We are choosing a slower, more considered lifestyle over one that cheapens everything so that we can fit in more of whatever quality. But that’s just how we see it and that’s our choice- it’s not an imperative. ;)

    • Rebecca Cusey

      Totally TOTALLY agree with being happier with less and needing less money to live what I think of as the Potter Barn lifestyle. Have lived our lives that way for years. With an occasional iPad.

  • http://homeschoolgoddess.blogspot.com/ Chasa Cochran

    I would like to introduce myself. I am the 31 year old stay at home mother to three children (9, 6 and 4 1/2). Along with being a stay at home mother, I am a homeschooling mom.

    I find great joy in caring for my family. I once had a successful career as a nurse but my heart yearned for being home and caring for those who meant the most to me. I take great pride in what I do and I truly believe that my family deserves the best I can give them. My best includes making my own herbal remedies, cooking from scratch and being aware of what is in and on the food that I am giving them, etc.

    When I was a nurse, I worked pediatrics, geriatrics and rehabilitation. Modern medicine has done a lot of great things for society but we’ve become so reliant on antibiotics that we’ve created bacterial monsters (are you familiar with VRE and MRSA?).

    Before you peg me as an extremist who thinks everyone is out to get her, please know that I have spent most of my 31 years completely dependent on modern medicine and big pharm. You see, I am a severe asthmatic. Two years ago when my pulmonologist looked me in the face and said there’s nothing else we can do (after my doctor looked at me and told me the same thing) I began looking into what other people could do for me….and what I found was a wealth of information and possibilities with herbs. Is my asthma cured? No. Am I off all of my meds? No, but I am making headway and I am on less meds now than I ever have been.

    There are many wonderful herbal remedies for common illnesses. I can’t begin to understand why I wouldn’t use these in place of chemically based medications from pharmaceutical companies who are more concerned with their bottom line and their pockets than curing anything. I personally find comfort in the knowledge that should my children ever become extremely ill and require heavy dose antibiotics that their bodies will better able to fight off whatever is ailing them.

    We are not a wealthy family. In fact, we live on a very tight budget where some months we have to account for every single cent to make sure we can get through. I bring this up because I am a mother who tries not serve her family (or anyone coming into her home) pre-processed foods. I make as much as I can from scratch and what I can’t (or do not want to make for various reasons) I try to buy as close to homemade quality as I can.

    Why? Well, why shouldn’t I provide my family with the absolute best that I can? The closet to nature a food is the healthiest it is. I want my family to be healthy.

    Nothing would make me happier than living on a homestead full of gardens and livestock and spending my days teaching my children the benefits of staying close to the Earth.

    Unfortunately, we do not live in an area where we are able to have vast gardens and farm animals so we depend on local farms to provide much of those things for us. Because we are on a budget, we aren’t always able to eat as close to the Earth we would always like but we do the best we can. I see no reason not to. Especially with food recalls at every turn not to mention the injection of steroids, antibiotics, etc into the animals we eat.

    I encourage you to do some research about what really goes on in our “safe” food industry outside of what your favorite corporations tell you, talk to your local farmers, talk to the men and women who choose to live like this, and take time to watch Food Inc., Foodmatters, The Future of Food, The Beautiful Truth, To Market To Market To Buy a Fat Pig, What’s on Your Plate, King Corn, Fat Sick and Nearly Dead.

    I am sure that if you put genuine effort into your research you will find that your opinions of us, our lifestyles and the reasons behind it all are mislead.

    At the end of the day, we are like any other parent…we are doing what is best for our families which (as parents) should ALWAYS be our priority.

    • Rebecca Cusey

      “Nothing would make me happier than living on a homestead full of gardens and livestock and spending my days teaching my children the benefits of staying close to the Earth.”

      Really? Sounds like drudgery to me, but more power to you if it makes you happy.

      • http://blissfulology.blogspot.com Amy Grimsley

        “Really? Sounds like drudgery to me, but more power to you if it makes you happy.”

        See, it’s comments like this that are odd from someone who seems to feel she is being told to live one way over another. While you say “more power to you …”, it’s the initial slam that makes the second half meaningless. But, I think you will find that those of us who are more aware of the impact our lifestyle choices have on our families and the world around us don’t really care about what other people think about us. Your implication that the majority of us do this because it’s “cool” is, I think, way off base. We do it for ourselves, not for what someone else thinks of us.

        • Rebecca Cusey

          I meant both sincerely. It sounds horrible to me. Sincerely. I’d rather not spend my days shoveling manure or even harvesting and cooking food. If she enjoys it, more power to her. Good for her. No slam. Just very different ideas of the good life.

      • http://homeschoolgoddess.blogspot.com/ Chasa Cochran

        That’s the wonderful thing about choice….people get to choose what they want to do in and with their lives. I found working to be completely miserable….not because of the challenges or the long hours but because I knew I was missing out on different things in the lives of my children….first steps, first words, understanding a new concept, etc. Those things are worth more to me than any paycheck.

        • Rebecca Cusey

          I’m glad you posted this because I think people are misinterpreting my final sentence to mean I think women should be in the work force and not at home. I didn’t work for about ten years when my kids were born and then switched to a modified schedule when the littlest entered school. Luckily, I can now be home when they are and still work. I feel the same way about wanting to be with them.

          The point is that when women are up against the wall providing for their families, which many in this country are right now, they generally do it by going to work because that is the most efficient option.

          • http://homeschoolgoddess.blogspot.com/ Chasa Cochran

            I absolutely took your last statement that way. In fact, after I read it I jumped up and said to my husband, “You are never going to believe what I just read…”

            But, a wonderful thing happened. Two girlfriends of mine came over with their children and we spent the mid morning and afternoon making cinnamon ornaments, eating awesome homemade pizza, watching our kids play, talking about our successes and struggles as moms, as homeschoolers, as women, etc.

            The conversation turned to one of their youngest, his health issues at birth and a recent ear infection he had. Instead of giving him antibiotics, she came to me for medicine and it worked. Not only did it work but it worked faster than the antibiotics usually do. She wants to learn more and begin making herbal remedies at home.

            After everyone left and we got the house back in order, I sat down ready to be offended by your reply but then I thought how silly that is.

            I don’t know you, you don’t know me. I am secure and content in the choices we’ve made and why we’ve made them and at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if anyone understands why we do what we do as long as we are happy….

            So, here I am officially not offended and off to begin decorating for the holidays.

            I wish you and yours a happy holiday season. :0)

          • Rebecca Cusey

            Thank you very much and your day sounds lovely. A wonderful holiday season to you as well.

            I should clarify, as a writer, if people interpret my writing to mean something which I didn’t mean, that’s on me. I should have been more careful in explaining my thoughts. In most circumstances, of course.

  • http://thissideoftypical.com this side of typical

    Wow–i was an urban homesteader before it was cool.

    I do *some* of this stuff–but have no desire to raise chickens or milk cows. And i’m a horrible gardener with no real space here in urban Los Angeles. Being raised int he midwest, some of these things comes naturally to me, and some i have to do for the sake of my son who has Autism (who–while no real “evidence” may be seen becomes a regressive hyperactive BEAST if he eats anything with artficial dyes in it) I am also what would be considered a Kitchen Witch, and many of these old fashioned actvities are part of a religious regimen for me, if you will.

    but here’s the thing–i dont expect ANYONE to embark on my lifestyle. I am surrounded by Angelenos who look at my bread making and canning and fiber spinning as ridiculous–even though they eat my bread and wear garments made from my yarn. I get it. It ain’t for everyone. But we all make choices in life that make us happy. At least, i *hope* thats why people are doing this. Because if they are doing it, and hating it, then that’s just stupid. Or if they’re doing it as some sort of hipster lifestyle–that’s still pretty ridiculous.

    • Rebecca Cusey

      I certainly understand needing to manage an Autistic child’s intake. We’re close to an Autistic boy ourselves. Good for you and lots of hugs through the computer as you carry on.

  • Amy

    You certainly approach this article with a mind already made up. You clearly think this is a silly and pretentious idea, to make and provide for your family so you can control ingredients, sugar etc. It’s kind of sad really. Keep in mind there ARE health issues involved with decisions to make it at home. I make my own jam, applesauce (safely canned I might add) bread, use dried beans, buy local farm produce, purchase safely processed beef (USDA inspected and approved facilities, no feed lots, just cows doing what they do) and on and on.

    I am diabetic and have FMS which makes me extremely sensitive to the MASSIVE amounts of chemicals and sugar used in food production. In addition, by feeding a family of 4 on less than $400 a month, and well I might add, I am able to be home, to guide my boys after school, make sure they do their homework, don’t stay on xbox too much and are generally great kids, I can also save for college. I am involved, instead of getting a report on what my kids do. I have worked outside the home, made some pretty killer money too, but being able to know I am providing healthy, interesting food, and a knowledge of where that food comes from and how to get it sustainably AND significantly cheaper than I ever could in the grocery stores is great. I am disappointed in your myopic view of the food world, and think you should take another look, read some more labels. When you start paying attention to what is actually IN those frozen foods, how much sugar and salt is added, and find out how easy it is to get it from a farmer or farmers market, cut it off and freeze it yourself maybe you will change your mind. Until then, I am going to go make myself some steel cut oats with homemade, no sugar applesauce and cinnamon. Mmmmm

  • Ego Sum Lamia

    I do not apologize for working outside my home and also growing my own garden, managing a working apiary and providing for my family in a more natural way. I also have ink and piercings.

    It was how I was raised. A Southern country girl who is independent and doesn’t expect a handout. If I lose my job, then I know I am able to provide for my family and extended family. The economy doesn’t affect me. I never lived outside my means and don’t have to depend on a local grocery store, frozen food aisle to keep me healthy.

    My daughter is will be 18 tomorrow, has hunted since before she was pre-teen. She also rides 4 -wheeler and can survive. A beautiful redhead whom I am very proud of.

    I have chickens, goats, bees and have had pigs, however I do not milk anything :) I make my own soap and love the smell of fresh baked bread and other handmade/homemade foods and items I can give as a gift. More love and care goes into those, then running to the store and throwing a microwave meal in for 20 minutes and grabbing a quickie gift from an overpriced retail store. My friends aren’t label ho’s, they prefer handmade.

    Keep track of my contact information. When times get hard and you need info on being self-sufficient, I will be glad to help you out.

    Peace & Blessings.

    • Rebecca Cusey

      I love your reply. Thanks.

      I have a hound dog, so maybe we can trade you for squirrel when It All Goes Down?

  • http://yeahgoodtimes.blogspot.com jillsmo

    Can’t women just do these things because they like it and they want to? Does EVERYTHING have to be criticized? Today’s moms are scrutinized and studied and discussed to death, but why? Does there always have to be some kind of post-modern motive involved? We all parent in our own way, I’m tired of being judged for my choices.

    • Rebecca Cusey

      Yes. Exactly. Well said. Me too.

  • Jackie F

    @Rebecca: Man! You got a lot a people hot under the collar! However, you did not mention washing out Ziploc bags in your original musings…. There’s no way I would ever do that. Congrats to the folks that have that kind of patience!! :)
    @Scott: NO WAY!! I did not mean you were in any way effeminate because of the VERY important role you take on in your household. I didn’t phrase my thought correctly – I was just addressing the statement that embracing these tasks somehow is a rejection of feminism; I say it absolutely is not, but quite the opposite.

  • http://www.highdesertchronicles.com Angela

    Here’s the problem with the point of view both you and Matchar hold dear to…that we somehow are stepping backwards and want to drag everyone with us because our world is much better than yours. Its simply not true.

    The last time I checked, I thought we women were allowed to make our own decisions, and if that includes staying at home, raising a family, making bread and all those other lowly chores, well, that’s my prerogative isn’t it? What you and Matchar may think is irrelevant because you can’t stand in our shoes. I did write a cutting response to Ms. Matchar’s article on my website because I find it demeaning and condescending for anyone ESPECIALLY a woman who believes in women’s liberation to call into question our choices. Its that liberation that makes me free to do as I please. :) I am really starting to wonder if the women who are questioning this way of life are the biggest slobs on the planet. LOL I mean really, its so silly to be talking about who does the chores. Doesn’t everyone clean the house and cook meals? Or is it just us peasant folk pining for the good ol days? Don’t you do laundry and brush your teeth, and take a shower? These are all the tasks we do in our house hold, and without the need to point out gender. I don’t tell my son he should do the dishes because men have gotten away with not doing lowly household chores so now its his turn to see how bad women have had it. Plain silliness. The thing I tell my son is that if he is going to do anything (including the dishes) it should be done with integrity and done right the first time. I’ve said it on my blog and I’ll say it again here, no one has the right to reduce me down to the word “domesticity.” There is more to who I am than if I sweep the floor, and just because I choose to do that doesn’t make me an extremist. I rather enjoy growing my own food, butchering my animals, processing them in very CLEAN safe conditions and providing that food to my family. I like seeing my food from the time it was a seed until its on my plate. Don’t fault me for that, that’s my way of life and a choice I consciously made. I am the one that takes the lead in projects and I decide which animal gets its head chopped off. I harvest veggies, clean toilets, vacuum and do dishes. That’s not extreme domesticity, its just a part of our lives. :)

    • Rebecca Cusey

      You butcher your own animals? I’m impressed. What kind?

  • http://www.highdesertchronicles.com Angela

    Hi Rebecca,
    We currently have ducks, we’ll be adding chickens (we have a few but they aren’t for eating, just for fun and entertainment and eggs) :) also we’ll be adding meat rabbits, milk and meat sheep, more fiber animals and eventually a cow. We’re only one year into homesteading, so there have been a lot of firsts for us. It was quite interesting (and disturbing) slaughtering our ducks. I thought it would be a lot worse for me since I’m a big cry baby, but I did okay. We were all nervous about it. Stop by our website and check us out, its our way of chronicling what it takes for us to have a modern homestead.

    • Rebecca Cusey

      Is this a commercial venture, Angela?

  • Christy

    It’ll be a great day for the Feminist movement when women like this blogger stop trying to tear down other women’s choices and we are all just treated like people.

  • Jackie F

    Was the no plastic baggies for me? No, girl…. I meant I wouldn’t wash & reuse them… #loudbellylaugh But I do use the cloth reusable bags MOST of the time for groceries, except for when I have to stock up on the plastic ones for doggie duty & the kids’ lunch bags….. Um – not together, of course…

    • Rebecca Cusey

      I like you, Jackie! ESP the belly laugh.

  • Pingback: Turns Out I Was A Hipster And Didn’t Even Know It. « This Side of Typical

  • http://thoughtfulmamas.tumblr.com/ jessie lamb

    I think there are a lot of reasons that people do what they do, up to and including no damn reason at all. I garden because my love of cooking branched out (ha!). I was chopping up some veggies and thought “hey, I wonder what it would be like to chop up something that I grew”. I built some raised beds and grew some really awesome heirloom tomatoes that were stupid expensive at the store, and I fell in love. I felt really awesome and confident. I could grow food! The gardening and cooking were helping to control my anxiety. I wondered what other kinds of things I could make or build. An addiction was born. I can make pretty etched glass jars, stamp homemade cards, put in some homemade laundry detergent and some herb sachets for the dryer and have a damned nice gift. Does that make me a “hipster mom” ,or an “extreme homemaker”, or a feminist, or not? Hell if I know. But it means I have awesome tomatoes for a salad, I’m not constantly popping anxiety meds to stave off panic attacks, my kids know that you can grow food and share it, and I’m pretty sure that I get invited more places for my kick ass hostess gifts.

    I think all of those are good things.
    You want to do something different, chill. As long as your kids don’t grow up and serial kill my kids we’re cool.