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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This is why I find Michael Pollan incredibly annoying

In today’s New York Times, foodie guru Michael Pollan waxes poetic on why we all must cook.  You guys already know this topic annoys me, as I argued last week in The Atlantic that not everyone likes to cook, and that healthy fast food would be a perfectly valid option for them.

As Pollan (quoted by Mark Bittman) says:

“We do find time for activities we value, like surfing the Internet or exercising,” says Pollan. “The problem is we’re not valuing cooking enough. Who do you want cooking your food, a corporation or a human being? Cooking isn’t like fixing your car or other things it makes sense to outsource. Cooking links us to nature, it links us to our bodies. It’s too important to our well-being to outsource.”

“Outsourcing” is such a loaded, nasty word. Why is eating out or buying pre-prepped food “outsourcing”? Is buying my clothes rather than sewing them myself “outsourcing”? Is sending my kid to public school rather than homeschooling “outsourcing”? We live in a society. It seems perfectly reasonable that some people cook, others buy cooked food.

And it’s unbelievably twee and silly to be all “cooking is a must-do because it links us to nature.” Because, come on, you know what else links us to nature? Hiking. Raising pigeons. Giving birth in a field. Some of these things may be fun and good for us (I’ll skip the latter though, thanks), but they’re not mandatory for healthy living.

Home cooking is not some universal “natural” activity either. In some countries, it’s practiced much more than others. I live in Hong Kong, where few people cook much at home because of small kitchens, long work hours, and a cultural tradition of dining out as a social activity. Is that unnatural? Are people here disconnected to their bodies?  (The obesity level is really low here, btw).

Another major point of annoyance is Pollan’s repeated insistence that home cooking died because women were duped into thinking it was cool and feminist to stop cooking:

And yet Big Food has convinced most of us: “No one has to cook! We’ve got it covered.” This began 100 years ago, but it picked up steam in the ’70s, when Big Food made it seem progressive, even “feminist,” not to cook. Pollan reminded me of KFC’s brilliant ad campaign, which sold a bucket of fried chicken with the slogan “Women’s Liberation.”

Bullshit. As I’ve argued before, it wasn’t in the 1970s feminist era that “big food” sold women on the idea of not cooking. That happened several decades before, in the 1940s and 1950s, long before second-wave feminism was a gleam in Betty Friedan’s eye.

I do appreciate this bit:

“But if we’re going to rebuild a culture of cooking, it can’t mean returning women to the kitchen. We all need to go back to the kitchen.”

OK, whatever, Michael Pollan et al. Go back to the kitchen if you want. Let your partner cook if you want (and they want). Eat Whole Foods salads every night if you want (and can afford it). But quit it with the annoying insistence that everyone who hates cooking is just deluded, and that tying on an apron is the only way to avoid obesity.

DON’T FORGET: Pre-order Homeward Bound by May 7, and we donate $1 per copy to the National Partnership for Women and Families.


12 comments to This is why I find Michael Pollan incredibly annoying

  • S. Nagy

    I’m not sure if they’re feigning ignorance or really just don’t get the idea of division of labor. I also fully believe Pollan and cult are completely unaware of how classist and pretentious they are.

  • I agree with you in principle, instead of haranguing already stretched-thin people and trying to shame them into taking on time-consuming labor, we need to make it easy for people to do the right thing. (“The right thing” here meaning “eat and feed their families in a relatively healthy way.”) But I also think that “healthy fast food” is not a trivial request–it’s my understanding that at least some of the things that make fast food unhealthy (salt, sugar, additives) are added to mitigate the unpalatability of warmed-over food.

    I get that not everyone likes cooking, but I think it is possible to cook more-or-less from scratch without it having to be a big foodie production (I can make poached eggs with garlicky kale on toast in less time than it takes a pizza to be delivered, which is not to claim that I never avail myself of pizza delivery!) It does take some knowledge and advance planning though. I wish there were some defense of home cooking that was not totally tone-deaf the way Pollan has become–someone to say, hey, try this, you might like it; or, hey, try this, it’s not as hard as you think.

  • [...] so much other domestic labor, becomes women’s work. That’s why I was delighted to see Emily Matcher’s excellent eye-rolling in response to the promotion for his latest book. (4.18.13.) Her post initiated some excellent [...]

  • Lauren

    I saw this guy on Colbert and it sounded to me like he was simply discouraging factory-processed foods. He said something like, “choose foods that a person prepared, not a machine.” He even gave the example of going to restaurants where you know the food was prepared by a person (like Subway) versus a fast-food restaurant that sells extruded meat products (like McDonald’s). So…at least from the way he talked on Colbert, I think the message you gleaned is not what he intended.

  • I’m glad I stumbled upon your blog. I’ve read your pieces at Atlantic and Salon and look forward to your book. You cover a lot of interesting topics, but I have a quibble. Cooking is important. That you can feed yourself well (in perhaps the most delicious city in the world) without cooking does not mean that it is not important. By all means, do not cook if you don’t like to, but do not devalue it because you don’t like it and don’t do it. You are completely entitled to your opinion and your experience quite valid, but because neither you or your cook, how do you know what the value of home cooking is? I am a food and recipe writer dedicated to the home cook, not because I love cooking (and no one “loves” cooking at 6pm when the kids are fighting after a day of work – in my case a day of cooking.) I do what I do because I believe we have lost too much by not cooking, health, connection, culture, etc. Can some of that be regained by high quality take out. (Which by the way, does not scale.) Perhaps, but not all. Just finished Cooked. It’s worth a read. Many thanks, hj

    • Emily

      Hi Heather,
      I haven’t read Cooked yet, but I’ll be interested to do so. Thanks for the comment!
      As I wrote in the Salon piece, I really love to cook and spend a lot of time doing so. I just don’t think home cooking is the only way to feed your family, and that people who don’t like to cook shouldn’t feel bad about it. I totally agree with you that cooking is a really good way to connect to other people/keep culture alive, etc. I just don’t think it’s the only way/best way, which is why I gave the example of Hong Kongers eating out so much.
      Thanks for reading, and for the input!

  • Mackenzie

    Is buying my clothes rather than sewing them myself “outsourcing”? </blockquote.

    I'm going with "yes," especially since the vast majority of ready-made clothing production really is outsourced, to foreign countries with terrible labor records, for example Bangladesh. But please don’t try calling sewing, knitting, or even spinning a “lost art” in my hearing. My coworkers have seen me spinning yarn while in a meeting or at lunch and commented that their mothers did that in the old country, but they spun cotton not wool.

  • [...] what Kate Harding was trying to tell him four years ago, and that’s what Emily Matchar is saying now. (See also her Salon article “Is Michael Pollan a sexist pig?“) But later he makes it [...]

  • [...] has written in other places about the new tyranny of cooking imposed by people like Michael Pollan.  She points out that not [...]

  • I agree, I’ve been going back through my reading list and TED talk lists to re-read the “foodie wars” topics and I really REALLY find it SO CONDESCENDING. As someone who works and goes to school, I find it EXTREMELY difficult to find time to really dig into cooking. When I have free time outside of my school and work obligations, I choose to spend that time enjoying food cooked FOR me with my boyfriend, my family and my friends. I don’t feel this is “outsourcing” my health in any way. I feel like the running theme to Pollan, Bittman et al is that food cooked by others is the source of obesity and the health crisis the US is going through, am I the only one that feels this is pointing at the “Big Food” companies and placing the blame for our problems on them? Obesity results from overconsumption of certain kinds of foods, that’s a mostly personal choice. It’s a choice that is sadly the only option available to many who lack access to affordable healthy food, but it’s not the direct result of “Big Food”. I feel like there is all kinds of classism, sexism and body shaming involved in these arguments. Beating someone over the head with cooking for yourself doesn’t automatically make someone more healthy (hellllloooo Pioneer Woman cinnamon rolls! handmade!) and it doesn’t address the larger problem of access to affordable good-for-us food. It seems like instead of attacking the real problem at hand, the Foodie Crew would rather attack us as selfish people who take the easy way out.

  • [...] Matchar, of New Domesticity, has called Pollan to task a number of times for “get back in the kitchen” [...]