Reviews of Homeward Bound

“3.5 out of 4 stars” - People Magazine                                                               “The brilliance of Emily Matchar’s new book is that it exhaustively describes what disillusioned workers are opting into: a slower, more sustainable, and more self-sufficient lifestyle that’s focused on the home. Matchar synthesizes dozens of trend stories … into a single, compelling narrative about the resurgence of domesticity….Refreshing.” -The New Republic                                                       "[P]rovocatively explores what the movement says about the role of women in society today.” – The New Yorker                                                                       "I unreservedly loved it…It’s empathetic and funny and thoughtful and smart, and I encourage all of you to read it."– The Hairpin                                                         “Cogently argues that choosing a more hands-on, DIY lifestyle – family farming, canning, crafting, can, without sacrificing feminism’s hard-won gains, improve on an earlier time when ‘people lived more lightly on the earth and relied less on corporations, and family and community came first.’” - ELLE                                                               “[I]ntelligent and insightful...essential reading.” - Christianity Today                                                       “A lively and perceptive reporter… a valuable and astute assessment.”—Publishers Weekly                                                         “A well-researched look at the resurgence of home life…. Offers intriguing insight into the renaissance of old-fashioned home traditions.”— Kirkus Reviews

What is New Domesticity?

This blog is a look at the social movement I call ‘New Domesticity’ – the fascination with reviving “lost” domestic arts like canning, bread-baking, knitting, chicken-raising, etc. Why are women of my generation, the daughters of post-Betty Friedan feminists, embracing the domestic tasks that our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shrugged off? Why has the image of the blissfully domestic supermom overtaken the Sex & the City-style single urban careerist as the media’s feminine ideal? Where does this movement come from? What does it mean for women? For families? For society?                                                                                     My book, Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, which explores New Domesticity in greater depth, will be published by Simon & Schuster in May 2013.

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The perils of foodie nostalgia

Diego Rivera's La Molendera (the corn grinder)

Someone just sent me this really interesting Gastronomica piece by historian Rachel Laudan, about the danger of looking towards the culinary past with rose-tinted glasses. It’s about a year old, and totally worth the read.

Laudan starts off describing what might be termed “the progressive foodie’s view of the world” (which us here in Chapel Hill certainly recognize!):

It is a mark of sophistication to bemoan the steel roller mill and supermarket bread while yearning for stone-ground flour and brick ovens…to be hostile to agronomists who develop high-yielding crops and to home economists who invent recipes for General Mills.

As a foodie, Laudan personally appreciates the brick oven-baked bread over the cruddy supermarket variety. But as a historian, she hates what she sees as a rose-tinted and incorrect view of the culinary past:

As a historian I cannot accept the account of the past implied by this movement: the sunny, rural days of yore contrasted with the gray industrial present. It gains credence not from scholarship but from evocative dichotomies: fresh and natural versus processed and preserved; local versus global; slow versus fast; artisanal and traditional versus urban and industrial; healthful versus contaminated. History shows, I believe, that the Luddites have things back to front.

She spends the rest of the piece slaughtering some foodie sacred cows, pointing out that fast food has always existed, that peasant farmers rarely had time or resources to be making the humble, hearty meals we consider “peasant food” (these dishes were often created for urban aristocrats), that many “authentic” ethnic foods are actually very modern creations, and that, despite our fretting about pesticides and mercury in tuna, the modern food supply is far, far safer than it ever was in the past.

She also points out – and this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately –  that industrialized food has alleviated the grinding labor of pre-industrial food production: “Men had choices other than hard agricultural labor; women had choices other than kneeling at the metate [a mortar for grinding corn] five hours a day.”

She also sees fetishing the “authentic” as a form of imperialism:

If we urge the Mexican to stay at her metate, the farmer to stay at his olive press, the housewife to stay at her stove, all so that we may eat handmade tortillas, traditionally pressed olive oil, and home-cooked meals, we are assuming the mantle of the aristocrats of old.

Of course, in the developed world, we do have plenty of choices between eating McDonald’s and grinding your own corn (I don’t think Laudan would disagree). And it makes plenty of sense for us to critique the industralized food system where necessary (again, I think Laudan would agree). But I must admit, I have grown awfully tired of the words “natural” and “authentic” when it comes to food, words which don’t have any precise meaning but are used as moral judgments. Just because something’s made in a factory (or in a lab) doesn’t make it automatically bad, and there are all sorts of labor costs to doing things “the old-fashioned way.”

I just Googled Laudan and saw that she has a blog – “A Historian’s Take on Food and Food Politics.” Oooooh. Guess I know what I’ll be doing the rest of the afternoon!


4 comments to The perils of foodie nostalgia

  • You’re absolutely right… Modern homemaking is a grassroots movement that will hopefully lead to commercial agriculture and food producers updating their products and practices to be more natural, local and low-impact. While I enjoy home-making myself, I envision that if we all went back to traditional methods of farming, medicine and education that it would be a major blow to all the positive advancements in technology that we’ve achieved. This is my major issue with Shannon Haye’s book ‘Radical Homemakers’. We should never become so caught up in homesteading (or foodie) nostalgia that we throw the baby out with the bath water.

    On another note…I’ve given you the Liebster Award! Thanks for being such an interesting hub of modern feminist and homesteading information. Am looking forward to picking up your book when it’s out :)

    • admin

      Hi Tanya,
      That’s a really good point. I also like to cook, but I am personally glad to not be making pierogies all afternoon the way my Polish great-grandmothers did (as much as I love pierogies!). If there were more healthy, sustainably produced (and affordable) commercial convenience food options, that would be great as far as I’m concerned. Economies of scale make sense to me.
      Thanks so much for the shout-out! You’ve got a great blog – I will add it to my sidebar. :)

  • Heidi Bone

    Thank you for giving me great food for thought. I often feel so torn on my food choices. “Imperialistic” and “aristocratic” are interesting words to me right now. I feel like I have half of me being pulled towards the whole “locavore” scene, more organic, raw, sustainable yadda-yadda and the other half of me wants to go buy wegmans jarred pasta sauce and unsalted canned green beans and gasp! regular grocery store chicken…why? so I can share with others…so I can actually commit to giving more to the food I didn’t feel like I spent all my money on my new pursuit or god even (food)…as Rachel called it in another article…slow food as a latter-day religion (!) Wow.