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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How much do you spend on food?

When I was first out of college, I used to buy foods I straight-up hated – slimy pink sugar-free yogurts at 10 for $5, mushy Red Delicious apples, gloppy, artificial-tasting store-brand strawberry jam – because they were cheap. When I quit my low-paying newspaper job to work at an even lower-paying fact checker job at a magazine, I got even more tightfisted. I’d try to keep my grocery budget to $20 a week, which meant a lot of pasta, canned tuna, econo-sized blocks of cheddar cheese, apples and green cabbage, supplemented with Trader Joe’s dark chocolate truffle bars. I was not exactly stone broke at the time – I’d eat out in restaurants sometimes, and frequently blow the grocery budget on cake supplies (or movie candy) – but going cheap at the grocery store gave me a sense of control over my paltry finances.

Now that I’m older and slightly less not-exactly-broke, I tend to choose my groceries based on criteria beyond cheapness. Things like, oh, taste, come into play, as does health (hello, flax seeds!) and, to a degree, environmental sustainability. This also means my grocery trips have gotten pricier, though I try to be careful.

In today’s New York Times Dining & Wine section, Ginia Bellafante muses on how, as food has grown more and more important in our culture, it’s become more normal to spend exorbitant amounts on groceries and eating out:

We have long since moved past the vague idea that the personal is political to the notion that the epicurean is essential — for ethical cleanliness, environmental sensitivity and all the rest. Pleasure is mingled with obligation. “I don’t think about what anything costs,” Emily Gerard, a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and a publishing assistant making the requisite salary, told me recently. “I’ll drop $60 once a week at the Greenmarket, which I would never do at a grocery store; I like supporting local farmers.”

The thing is, if eating “correctly”  - ie, local/seasonal/organic – really IS essential for ethical cleanliness and environmental sensitivity then we’re screwed. Because few us are are gonna drop $60 a week at the farmer’s market. I know I’m not. And if the ethical importance of “correct” food is being overblown (as I suspect it is), then the insistence on eating correctly is just another way to throw up a wall between haves and have-nots.

Where do you draw the lines, when it comes to grocery spending? How important do you feel your grocery choices are, in terms of ethics and environmental sustainability?

17 comments to How much do you spend on food?

  • Ruben

    Well, I look at it as…in a sustainable world, we will all be eating in ways that are primarily local and ethical. So any walls that are being thrown up between haves and have-nots are a)largely a tempest in a teacup, and b)temporary.

    I say b) because nature always bats last. Sustainability will be enforced, and we will eat local. Or die.

    I say a) because eating local and ethical is often not that expensive. I have a farmer from whom I buy hundreds of pounds of heritage organic tomates for 0.33 to 0.50 per pound. If I don’t buy them she has to can them, so she would much prefer me to buy them. So that is 15% of the regular cost, because I go on Sunday at the end of the market.

    Case lots, bulk buying, a freezer. If eating local was expensive, poor people wouldn’t have been doing it for thousands of years.

    And, it is much, much more awesome. My best friend wrote The 100 Mile Diet ((Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally for those of you in the U.S.)…and I must say the Wikipedia is awesome). Anyhow, he called me one day asking if I had Nasturtium seed pods. Naturally, I did not, but it turns out they can be pickled into a very nice caper-like thing–perfect for the west coast smoked salmon. I realized that I could have foods that no one else could–not the King of Saudi Arabia, not Bill Gates. No one could have these foods, they were so exclusive, so priceless. Because they grew on my balcony.

    So another way of looking at the have-nots is that we are the haves. And we feel very sorry for you.

  • Merp

    Well, the TRULY poor probably can’t afford to pony up the initial cash to buy bulk tomatoes or a chest freezer… and I think the dismissiveness of ‘we feel very sorry for you’ is exactly the sort of thing this blog calls problematic all the time!

    • Ruben

      Merp, I thought my last sentence was pretty darn witty. But, I think you may have misunderstood it, so clearly it was not as good as all that.

  • Liz

    I live in New York like the people in the article. I make about 40K/year and budget $375 per month for all food, including restaurants, bars, and groceries. Certainly not as bad as the people in the article but it DOES make me feel weird sometimes.

    Part of it is just the need to socialize, though. In New York it’s much more difficult to try to entertain in your home, because everyone lives so far away from everyone else and everyone has a tiny apartment, so if you want to hang out with your friends you often default to a restaurant or bar.

    Than, cooking. I enjoy cooking, but if I’m going to work at something I don’t want the end result to be a pile of canned tuna on boiled pasta. I want it to be something I WANT to eat, because, well, it’s totally possible for me to cook stuff I want to eat and it’s not THAT much more expensive than cooking gross food. I eat three times a day. It’s probably the most frequent deliberate sensual experience I have. Why torture myself three times a day when I could be giving myself outsized pleasure instead by tossing in an anchovy or a nice piece of local fruit?

    Also, it’s a luxury that’s comparatively cheap when you look at, say, designer clothing or something. I can buy an absolutely amazing meal for $20-40.

    I also have a quibble with the idea that if the girl in the article had saved EVERY CENT she spent on food out, she’d have X amount of money today. I mean, it’s true, and she should have probably saved some of it, but if ALL you care about is maximizing the amount of money you’ll have in the future, you could wear the same clothes for 20 years, never go to the movies, never take a trip anywhere, live in a rat-infested apartment… sounds very appealing!

  • Well, my husband and I spend about $200 a month on groceries for the both of us, which breaks it down to $50 for two people a week. Or, $25 per person/week.

    The reason why we’re able to do this is because we invested more money in the beginning, when we first moved in together, on having a pantry equipped with all of the seasonings and spices that we need. On top of that, I cook from scratch (this is not something to brag about; more on that in a little bit. Lol). You see, I can’t have gluten, so that, right there, keeps me from eating most things available. On top of that, gluten-free premade things are expensive as hell, so I cook from scratch. I also plan our menus based on what’s on sale at the supermarket each week. It definitely is possible to eat fresh food on a budget.

  • Lauren Ard

    I used to be a coupon queen, only spending $100 a month on food for my husband and I. But once we had our first child, I started to become concerned with my weight an eating habits. The econo-block of cheese with a side of Ramen just wasn’t going to cut it when I was setting an example for someone else! So I worked hard on cutting out most processed foods, which meant almost all coupons are now useless to me. We started eating mostly produce and whole grains, and my husband and I both lost 50 pounds!

    But, this weight loss has resulted in a budget gain! We spend $500 a month on groceries now (For our family of two adults and two toddlers). Now instead of sticking to the cheapest foods in the store, I “splurge” on any healthy items I feel like getting. Five years ago I would have never even considered buying raspberries from the store, because even on sale they are way pricier than apples or bananas. But now I buy them whenever I want under the excuse that “it’s healthy, so I’ll splurge on this instead of ice cream.”

    I’d like to reduce my grocery budget a bit, but at the same time I feel like I should never feel guilty for buying healthy foods. Now, instead of looking down the store aisles for the cheapest foods, I compare the nutrients-to-cost ratio. This is kind of abstract but it works for me. It means spending a lot more on groceries, but if that is the cost of eating healthy and enjoying it, so be it.

  • My partner and I probably spent a fair amount of money on food maybe comparative with above (although I’m finding it hard to do the US conversions here in my head). We could easily spend $NZ60 at the vege markets as there are also stalls there for local butchers and lamb/venison farmers. We usually spend about $NZ40 weekly all up on veges, and then the same at the amazing butchers around the corner.

    We make everything from scratch at home because I don’t honestly think it takes that much longer – and yes, I like food too much to eat things that taste average just because they’re cheap.

    Finally, the local/seasonal food thing is too easy here. If something is not in season, it’s just usually – not around. In addition, the (astronomical!!!!) costs of imported fruit and veg is prohibitive and often runs parallel to local produce in the supermarket – I honestly cannot justify to myself buying something like US oranges when there are also NZ oranges in the shops that are cheaper. On orange-off season, I eat something else.

  • Tara

    Eating well is one thing that I really don’t mind spending a good bit of money on (although from these comments I am beginning to think I spend exorbitantly!). My husband and I spend about $100 a week on food – although there have been weeks where it’s closer to $200. We go to a few different stores, including a large farmer’s market, and eat in most week nights. We mostly eat vegetarian and try to eat local, in-season produce within budget.

    I will admit, however, grocery store spending sprees run in my family….

  • Liz

    Check this out- the main girl in the article seems to have been totally misrepresented! She actually sounds extremely financially responsible.

  • Dawn

    I feel my grocery choices are essential to the health of me and my family. My husband and I budget $250/mo for groceries and we have a set meal plan that allows us to eat as cleanly as possible. We participate in a CSA, which, for $300, gives us between 10-15 lbs of organic vegetables from the end of June to mid November. We feel it is a more stable form of supporting local farmers because we sign up in April and certainly helps us eat more vegetables.

  • I read this post allowed to my boyfriend and he and I both went silent. I think that speaks VOLUMES as to how much this sort of thing bothers us. We are not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination and out budget is incredibly tight. Food spending is something that is CONSTANTLY coming up in our conversations. We feel that we spend FAR too much money at the Whole Foods in our hometown of Chapel Hill and not enough at a the Super Target that is just down the street from where we work.

    We are constantly worried that we’re eating poorly and that we’re really shooting ourselves in the foot, future-wise, by eating what we do right now. With a razor thin food budget we’re having to rely on lots of cheap big meals that aren’t as healthy as a cart full of vegetables and whole grains would be. We are constantly facing people that unknowingly bully us for our food choices and it’s a major sticking point in our finances. We’ve upped our spending to try and integrate more of these healthy foods into our diets but we’re maxing ourselves out on everything else. We’re underemployed as it is and this constant borage from media, friends and strangers about how irresponsible it is to eat factory farmed meat, cheap calories an week old vegetables or *gasp* canned anything is humiliating and taxing.

    I wish there could be a better dialogue about nutrition. I also wish that posting on my blog about eating chocolate cake didn’t illicit annoying responses from friends about diets and weight. How are we all supposed to operate with fiscal responsibility while also operating ethically and locally and environmentally etc etc etc without some sort of pay bump or price drop? Who among us lowly Target shoppers WOULDN’T want to support our local farmers and know that the chicken we are eating is free range and the veggies we eat were picked a day ago? It’s just not fiscally possible for so many. It feels classist and reeks of unnecessarily labeling to bolster ones image in the minds of others. IMHO.

    • Emily

      Totally agree. And whenever this discussion comes up, someone always pipes up “oh, but I feed my family of six all organic and local food for only $100 a month! You just have to know what to cook and do careful meal planning” And I’m like, “great, can you come over to my house and prove it?!”

      • EXACTLY. We get that ALL THE TIME. After hearing that we’re “just not doing it right” it starts to feel like we’re crappy humans for NOT eating local and organic. I love love LOVE the freshness and taste of local, I love love LOVE supporting local farmers (my dads one of them!) but it does feel a bit like moral highgroundism (is that a thing? it is now!) on the food issue! Perhaps if those who like to boast of their savvy organic cooking ways would teach the rest of us, that would ALSO be serving the cause of furthering the locavore movement and such!

  • Also, and I feel I need to address this as well, what exactly is the end-game in the locavore movement? That we all grow our own food? That local farms only grow food for certain areas? What about areas without arable farmland? Should we employ this strategy around the world? What about lack of water sources abroad? Better yet, what about water sources HERE? Can we sustainably feed ourselves off of strictly local produce/meat/fish/etc for an extended period of time without harming the local environment? Just a few questions to ask in this debate as well.

    • Emily

      I wonder about this a lot too. My general feeling about locavorism is that it’s a nice concept for certain things – eating local produce is certainly better-tasting and helps support local farmers, assuming you live somewhere where there’s decent produce, but is pretty limited beyond that. It doesn’t make sense to grow wheat in the mountains or oranges in Wyoming, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get to eat these things. IMHO, food is the best part of globalization!

      • Amen to that! I agree, if it CAN be grown locally and sourced from local farmers, let’s do it! If it has to be shipped around, that’s a-ok with me (I do love my Brussels Sprouts all-the-year round!). I can also get behind the eating seasonally movement, that is also environmentally minded as well. I think my problem comes in when the same people who push the locavore movement push for that movement in areas that can’t sustain it (for whatever reason) and then judge those residents of that area on there environmental impact from importing food. If that makes sense!

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