Not everyone is cut out for ‘radical homemaking,’ not even me

No idea what this lady's doing, but she looks like a radical homemaker to me! Image via the Google LIFE photo archive.

Folks, the backlash against “radical homemaking” (also known as ‘new agrarianism’ or ‘locavorism’ or ‘those damn hipsters going on about their Etsy and ramps and baking and whatnot’) has begun.  I remember reading a piece about “The Femivore’s Dilemma” on Jezebel back in March.  Then, a couple of weeks ago, KJ Dell’Antonia wrote “Radical Homemaking is More Fun when it’s Optional” at DoubleX.  And today, via Salon, I see this: “I am a Radical Homemaking Failure” by Madeline Holler (it turns out that the Holler piece was posted around the same time as the DoubleX piece, which responds to it, but I missed it back in my days before we got internet turned on at our house).

Dell’Antonia really hits the nail on the head in her piece.  Holler moves to the midwest so her husband can follow his academia dreams on $36k per year with a couple of kids in tow.  She becomes a “radical homemaker” just to make ends meet on that low salary, and she discovers she sorta hates the drudgery.  And Dell’Antonia points out what should be obvious to anyone who’s even heard of “The Feminine Mystique”: drudgery is not so fun when it’s mandatory, actually.  (Though, I’d point out that Holler’s husband *chose* to leave a more lucrative field, and he had the privilege to choose a more lucrative field by the end of the piece, as well.  Many people have no before and no after– “radical homemaking” as a way of making ends meet is just reality, period.)

Image: "American Housewife" Mrs. Gilbert Ambert, Kankakee, IL, 1941, via the Google LIFE Photo Archive.

Here’s the thing: if you’re reading my blog, you know I buy into a lot of the “radical homemaking” stuff.  I don’t make our clothes or even my own yogurt, but I’m really committed to local, natural, homemade food.  And in addition to my ethical choices about food, I straight up enjoy cooking, most of the time.  But here’s a secret: the minute I start feeling like I’m the only person in my house who cares about what’s going onto our plates? The minute I start to feel like cooking our food is more my job than my choice?  That’s when I start to resent my kitchen.

I think a major reason so many people roll their eyes when they read yet another essay by an upper middle class white lady who has found God in free range chicken farming and home meat curing and knitting is that so rarely do the writers recognize their own privilege.  For one thing, they’re doing all this stuff for funzies, and for another, so many people are doing these things because they have to, even though they’d rather not.  So here’s my revelation: yes, I think eating local, organic, homemade food is a good choice for our planet and our bodies. BUT: I realize that my choices are not for everyone. In fact, they’re not even always for me!

That said, I really have to take issue with this part of Holler’s piece:

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.

I’m not sure why all the anti-homemakers have to go after bread baking, but YOU NEED TO LAY OFF THE BREAD BAKING, Y’ALL. I bake my own bread. Even when I had a full-time day job, I baked my own bread. The combining of ingredients into the bowl of my stand mixer (privilege alert: I have a stand mixer, received as a wedding gift) takes all of 5 minutes, and the mixer does the work. 6-24 hours later, I preheat the oven, put the bread into a pot, and I bake it for 30 minutes. Then I take the lid off and bake it for 15 more minutes. Then I take it out of the pan. It’s hardly a soul-crushing commitment, and it’s cheaper, tastier, and healthier than most of the bread available at the store. Even I have my limits, but when there are entire cookbooks dedicated to Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes Per Day, maybe you should be picking a more onerous task to target with your ire, like, I don’t know, those crazies who use washrags instead of toilet paper. (I use the crappy recycled toilet paper, but I have toilet paper, dammit.)

The bottom line: they call it “radical” for a reason.  Just because you’re not willing to go whole-hog into the pioneer program doesn’t mean you can’t make a few changes that might be better for you and the planet. BUT, always, it’s worth remembering that just having the ability to choose these choices is an immense privilege, and even things others consider hobbies can be drudgery to people who have no choice. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go have a hunk of my soul-crushing homemade bread.

"Housewife Marjorie McWeeney w. broom amidst symbolic display of her week's housework at Bloomingdale's store incl. 35 beds to be made, 750 items of glass & china, 400 pieces of silverware to wash, 174 lbs. of food to prepare." 1947. Image via the Google LIFE Photo Archive.
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