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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Would you DARE to bring store-bought food to a potluck?


The "correct" kind of potluck / via

This morning I opened the New York Times Dining & Wine section to find a Very Irritating Food Story called “‘Store Bought’ Spoils the Potluck Spirit” staring me in the face. In it, writer Jennifer Steinhauer takes her fellow parents to task for bringing (gasp!) non-homemade items to school bake sales and potlucks. Though she had some valid points, the article was, in general, utterly tone deaf and annoying in the exact ways that make people claim foodies are elitist.

First there’s the judgmentalness:

In the countless sales I have attended over the years, I have been amazed by the number of packaged cookies, high-end cupcakes and impeccably round marzipan-covered confections that people plop down on the table, with no compunction, to be resold.

And then there’s the classic “but cooking from scratch really doesn’t take any more time!” insistence:

Some pull out the “lack of time” card when it comes to baking (though in truth, Rice Krispie treats take less time to make than going to Safeway for cookies)

(As a veteran Rice Krispie treat-maker, I call BS on this one: to make Rice Krispie treats you have to first go to the grocery store to get the Rice Krispies, marshmallows and butter, then make the treats, then wash the dishes. It is quite easy, but still…)

Then there’s the suggestion that those who don’t bake from scratch are destroying tradition:

Store-bought potluck offerings are also a deviation from deeply rooted traditions, sparked centuries ago, of food sharing, which became central to American social customs in the middle of the last century.

Plenty of other people seem to have found the piece offensive. Ayelet Waldman, the novelist, noted Michael Chabon sex-mate and self-described Bad Mother, thought the story was sexist. She has waded fearlessly into the Twitter fray (not for the first time) to say just that and more in her famously tactful way:

This homemaker fetish is retrograde and anti-feminist and women like JENNIFER STEINHAUER are just PC, liberal Phyllis Schlaflys.


Hey, you sanctimonious bitch, I have 4 kids, a fulltime job. I don’t have time to bake cookies. Lucky you that you do.


While I think writing personal, name-calling attacks against writers you disagree with is really unacceptable, I do think there’s something to be said about Steinhauer’s piece perpetuating some deep-set sexist assumptions. Mothers are still considered the moral guardians of the family kitchen in this country, and it’s mothers who are being judged in Steinhauer’s piece – several judgmental moms are quoted in the story, included one who says she gossips about people who bring store-bought stuff to bake sales.

More broadly, the piece speaks to the fact that even in the 21st century – perhaps now more than ever – we still judge women by the food they serve. And this is an issue that goes well beyond bake sales and potlucks.

What do you think? Have you ever brought Oreos to a bake sale? Do you judge those who do? Frankly, in the potlucks I attend, I’ve always noticed that it’s the big ol’ bucket of Bojangles fried chicken that gets eaten first, no matter how classy the crowd…



16 comments to Would you DARE to bring store-bought food to a potluck?

  • Cathy

    I love to cook and bake, but sometimes you really don’t have time. As a someone who loves to eat, I don’t mind store-bought items. I remember buying one of those trendy cupcakes at a farmers market once and being thrilled that I could try one without having to stand in line for hours!

    I’m not sure if it was in this article or in another one I read recently but I thought they tried to tie this into how people are much more aware of what goes into food and make it seem like it was hypocritical to be so concerned and then buy prepared foods. But that’s why people are so concerned, because they don’t have the time or inclination and still want good quality food.

  • gretchen

    I will happily eat store-bought food at a potluck. If someone can’t cook [or doesn't have the time/inclination to do it properly], I’d rather have him/her pickup an awesome salad than be forced to eat something awful just because it’s “homemade.” We have lots of potlucks, and frequently tell people to bring bags of chips or booze if they don’t know what to make. If someone were to bring Chipotle’s tortilla chips, they’d be my new best friend.

    That being said, if I’m at a bake sale, I’m going to buy the homemade cupcakes before the box of Oreos.

  • When I first saw the headline of this post, I thought, “Ack! No! I can’t think of anything ruder.” Then again, I really like to cook and bake, and, as Lynne Olver says in this article, I do, to some extent, associate “homemade” with “love and caring.” I don’t, however, think if you choose to buy something pre-packaged for a bake sale, that makes you “dismissive and cheap,” or unloving and uncaring. It just means that you don’t have time, don’t love baking, or do love baking but don’t have time. No big deal. Give your local bakeshop some business–as long as you’re contributing something to the bake sale/potluck/party/whatever, who cares? And heck, who says you have to sign up for the friggin bake sale in the first place? There are plenty of other ways to contribute at your kid’s school.

    Also, “Waverly Gage”? Is that the best Gossip Girl character name ever or what?

  • justender

    Here’s the thing: If I want store-bought items, I can go to the store. If it’s not cheaper at the store, then the person who bought them from the store wasted their money, they should’ve just donated the cash to the school, instead of subsidized my eating habits.

  • Wow, Very Irritating Article indeed. To me, a potluck is about having a meal with friends in a way that shares the time/expense burden of hosting. The point is the eating together, who cares if some of the food is store-bought and some homemade?

    Yet I can’t shake the sense that there is something really weird about Oreos at a bake sale. Isn’t the sort of social contract of the bake sale that the bakers donate their time and the buyers donate their money to support the school? And we all sort of tolerate the economic inefficiency involved precisely because you can get home-baked goods that you can’t get in a store. But the Oreos just carry that inefficiency to its logical extreme and unmask the absurdity of it all. Who wants a $1 Oreo, anyway? Just donate $1 to the school! And hey–if there isn’t a critical mass of people down with baking, then pick a different fundraiser!

    So that’s where your very astute comments about food (and the public presentation of food involved in bake sales/potlucks) as a vehicle for enforcing norms of femininity come in.

  • Loam

    Store-bought goods at bake sales irritate, especially when a retail price and not bake sale price is demanded. If you are going to pay high-retail, you’re better off going to the actual business and getting the choice you’d really like. Part of the bake sale charm is the unpredictability of the home-baked foodstuff.

    With potlucks, anything goes. That’s the “luck” part. In the face of questionable, somewhat desiccated pasta-something and 6 varieties of potato salad, that bucket of KFC starts to look like a sure thing.

    You’re welcome.

  • Meredith

    “Baking is supposed to be an expression of you” (quote used in article) seems like the summation of the “new domesticity” oeuvre.

    It would be interesting to explore more about the history of the bake sale. I wonder how it might connect to women’s (lack of) economic/spending power….

  • Quality and generosity are a major part of the point! If you can bake well (and better than store bought), and care to give your treats way…that is the gift you are offering…

    If your skill set doesn’t include homemade oreos, though, personally I think you should just write a check…

  • I see the bake sale and the potluck as two separate issues. Why on earth would I pay for oreos, storebought muffins or anything else at a bake sale………….the name iteslf implies baked goods, although Im not sure anywhere it says the guy cannot be the baker

    At generic potlucks, I imagine anything goes. That siad, if its me, Im grabbin the homemade stuff and passin the take out completely by. and I would not, personally bring take out to a potluck-

  • [...] Emily Matchar has written a much more thorough post about the ridiculousness of the article on her wonderful New Domesticity blog, but for the purposes of this space, the article reminded me of all the times I’ve been trying to make non-cooks around me not feel badly for being non-cooks. Maybe it’s the holidays or the fact that I called this blog The Feminist Kitchen and not The Feminist Eater, but it seems like I’ve had a dozen exchanges recently like the one this week with powerful, enlightened women who throw down the guises and say — in the face of this growing food movement that includes too much shaming of people who either don’t cook or don’t know much about, say, sushi — “I don’t cook.” [...]

  • ah I just love this post because I was thinking of this last night as I made cookies for our office cookie swap. I thought about how I didn’t want my desire to bake cookies last night (while watching home alone 2 of course) to somehow speak for my preference/judgment of the other people who brought cookies, homemade or not. It’s a weird position to enjoy cooking and not feel that everyone else should because it seems being into cookies/baking makes some people think are you aligned with the ny times snobby opinion of food and food ways when all I really want to do is make a good cookie for fun.

  • [...] interesting piece by Emily Matchar about a judgey pants article that was published in the NY Times bemoaning the lack of home  made [...]

  • [...] Would you DARE to bring store-bought food to a potluck? [...]

  • Anna Tevka

    I like your blog but wonder why your tagline doesn’t include both men and women and your musings about the “new domesticity”. Disappointing.

    • Emily

      Hi Anna,
      Glad you like the blog! That tagline references women because the blog is essentially notes/musings for a book I’m writing about women and domesticity – I’m researching the history of women and homemaking, and looking at how women’s attitudes about this stuff have changed over the years and continue to change. But even though I’m writing through the lens of women’s history, I definitely do look at and write about men too.

  • We have pot luck afternoon teas at our permaculture group gatherings, and I can’t believe how many people bring store-bought food. I thought the whole point of permaculture was to grow your own and this should extend to making something for afternoon tea, even if its just cheese on crackers or some fruit, it doesn’t have to be gourmet cookies! The only reason I’m a snob about this is I don’t like eating any food additives, and if its not home-made its likely to include a whole lot of crap that I don’t want to eat, although even if it IS home-made its not necessary safe either. Fortunately enough people bring home-made that I can still enjoy afternoon tea and just wonder what the others were thinking…