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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DIY and food fears

So I’m in Washington, DC at the moment, and, because the line at the Spy Museum was too long the other day, I wound up at the National Archives instead. Which turned out to be lucky, because they had this incredibly cool exhibit called “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? The Government’s Effect on the American Diet.”

The exhibit was full of interesting factoids about our collective food history (like, did you know that “blood turnip” was a 19th century name for beets? Or that exploding ketchup bottles were once a kitchen hazard?), but what struck me the most was the information about the history of food safety. As anyone who’s read The Jungle knows, our food supply wasn’t necessarily safe or wholesome 100 years ago, but the exhibit drove home just how dangerous the products on the unregulated market could be – candy adulterated with arsenic or boric acid, milk containing blood or dead frogs.

I’m no FDA apologist (there are clearly still huge concerns with the way we regulate our food supply), but there’s no doubt that the food supply is much, much safer than it’s ever been. Yet I can’t help but notice how the level of fear around food these days seems higher than ever. As I’ve been researching the rise of the DIY food movement (backyard chickens, baking your own bread, etc), I’ve talked to dozens of people who say their primary motivation for growing their own veggies or raising urban chickens is that they need to know where their food comes from to feel safe feeding it to their families. Food industry experts describe this new-found need  to know where our food comes from as “food vetting,” and consider the phenomenon one of the big trends of the past decade. I certainly recognize some of this behavior in myself – though I’m not one to throw around words like “toxic” to describe, say, non-organic grapes, I do find myself doing things like avoiding eating spinach (e. coli!) before big events,  just in case.

Given that eating has always been an inherently dangerous activity, but that eating today is safer than ever, why do you think there’s so much concern about food safety? How much do you, personally, feel motivated by worries about food safety?

6 comments to DIY and food fears

  • those that i know who do more of the micro farming, etc, do it because of processing. i know that many want to make sure their food is clean. [i hear the words "clean" and "raw" a lot to describe non-processed foods.]

    i also think that gluten allergies (and how gluten can be added to many foods you’d never think it to be in) have also motivated some people. and i know in this case, it’s often a quality of life matter, not necessarily a fear issue. being kinder to their digestive track by eliminating gluten definitely pays off for them.

  • My mother sent me a box of goodies for Christmas last month…some of the items being festive American instant coffee mixes. A few days ago I was about to break into the box of the ‘Irish Cream’ when I decided to look on the back at the ingredients list. Included in bold text was Silicon Dioxide (Sand), Sodium Aluminate (a chemical which can result in death if INGESTED) and various other ingredients with long-winded chemical names. Why do these ingredients need to be in a coffee mix? This is just a single example of the corruption of the modern food system and the reason I grow and cook much of my own food.

  • On one level, the techniques for preserving and such as well as food storage have advanced. On the other hand, many foods are more processed than in the past, and looking at a product label on store bought foods, half of them are difficult tosay, much less define.

    I’m not worried per se about the produce, I eat fresh spinach on a regular bsis-washing it well. I am concerned about the chemicals used to kill the bugs on the produce, the hormones used in the meat and the artificial ingriedients included as a matter of course (Europe will not import our beef because of the horemones.

    Am I paranoid about my food-no. Do I prefer to control wht goes into my mouth? of course. and that doesnt even begin to take in the freshness or taste factors-the tomato from my back yard vs the tomatoe at the local Kroger, or my homemade lmeon pie vs the one at the local bakery

  • AntoniaB

    RIght – it’s about how much our food has changed so quickly. We don’t know how all these non-foods in and on our food will affect us long term.

    Thank goodness, though, for the hygiene of modern factory methods. I’m a historian and read many transcripts of interviews with FDA inspectors inspectors in the 1930s dealing with factory investigations. The practices made you hair stand on end!

    PS I love two blocks from the National Archives and count my blessings.

    • I get that food is much safer than it used to be, and I’m very much in favor of regulations that help keep our food system safe and transparent. I think a lot of the concern comes from the fact that government policies are often mis-placed: it’s illegal in most states to produce/sell raw milk (under any circumstance), despite the fact that the only reason it became “unsafe” was because of the rise of systems like CAFOs, where cows live standing in their own fecal matter and you need to pasteurize the heck out of anything to make sure you don’t poison someone. For people like me, who can’t digest lactose, raw milk/cheese (produced in safe circumstances) are a healthy food item that is being vilified because of big ag interests. Many of our current national farm policies (see Farm Bill) are geared towards supporting Big Ag, not protecting small farms or even fruit and vegetable farms (I think it’s less than one percent of subsidies go to “specialty crop producers” – meaning fruit and vegetable producers). There’s a reason we can never pinpoint sources of salmonella/e.coli contamination – each burger you get at McD’s has hundreds of cows from various farms ground up. Why is this allowed to happen, while small farms are not allowed to operate their own slaughterhouses and therefore track where their meat is coming from?

      And to @AntoniaB, I’m not saying that factories in the 1930s were hygienic by any means, but “modern factory methods” are incredibly unsafe and unhygienic. I visited CAFOs in Yakima County (a native american reservation in Washington State), where respiratory illness and diarrhea rates are the highest in the state. The entire reservation is covered in CAFO dairy farms, and the wells test well high above recommended safe levels of nitrogen. The population that is the most affected (in terms of health) are the low-income native and Hispanic populations that live nearby and work on the farms.

      I’m also one of those lucky (:/) people with Celiac Disease (as well as lactose intolerance), and while food might be “safe” for most people, I can eat almost nothing from the grocery store or from restaurants. It also means I have to read the label on everything I eat (as well as call companies and ask about production practices), and I’m telling you, the system is still scary.

      Also, if you want to factor in the rise of diet-related disease, I don’t think you can argue that our current food system is safe (even if, say, food poisoning is down).

      Just my thoughts. I really enjoy this blog~~~

  • Alexandra

    I disagree that food is Much Much safe than it has ever been.
    Its a large topic so I all I can offer is the suggestion that you think a bit more deeply about the topic.