For someone who likes to eat and cook as much as I do, I admit I don’t know much about food policy. So today’s blog action day topic had me at a bit of a loss. But I do know that food impacts our society and cultural life in a very profound way, and we’re seeing changes now that I predict will have an impact for years to come.
Earlier this summer I read Melissa Coleman’s amazing memoir, This Life Is In Your Hands, about a family of homesteaders back in the 1970s. If you’re too young to remember this movement, back in the ’70s a lot of young people decided to ditch the establishment life of 9-to-5 and what they saw as a corrupting consumer culture and return to the land. They weren’t hippies, they were homesteaders, though I do believe a lot of our modern perceptions of the ’60s and hippie culture actually comes from this later movement. These folks were considered radicals but we have them to thank for the organic farming revolution, health food, alternative medicine, alternative energy, recycling and a whole range of once non-conventional practices that are now part of mainstream American life.
What I didn’t realize is that the homesteading movement was sparked by the global economic crisis of the 1970s and the oil crisis that started in 1973. Growing your own food became an economic necessity.
And oh my God but 40 years later, here we are again:
My turn with spade and hoe started a few years ago when I found myself divorced and flat broke. My livelihood as a freelance writer went out the window when the economy tanked. I literally could afford beans, the dried kind, which I’d thought were for school art projects or teaching elementary math. And I didn’t know how to cook.
Luckily, my late father had hammered into me that grit was more important than talent. So, when I couldn’t afford fancy food — never mind paraben-free shampoo — for my babies, I figured, if peasants in 11th-century Sicily did all this, how hard could it be?
I researched how to raise hens from chicks so we could get our omega-3-filled eggs. I learned to stretch a single piece of cheap meat into nearly a week’s worth of dinners. I made my own cleaning products. Not because I liked it. Because it was cheap.
Read the rest of Susan Gregory Thomas’ column. It’s the 1970s, homesteaders, back-to-the-land movement all over again, but on steroids. That generation laid the groundwork and now we’re seeing tons of new options. The movement has been transported to urban areas, for one thing: it’s no longer necessary to move to Maine for your self-sufficiency experiment. People are raising chickens in backyard coops these days, community gardens have sprung up serving those without yards. Information is available at the click of a computer keyboard. Buying shares in a CSA is another option bringing organic, sustainable produce, meat and dairy products to urban dwellers (and I was shocked at the large number of CSA’s in the Nashville area).
This is the homesteading movement transported into the internet age. And thinking about the major changes that last movement sparked, I can only imagine how these modern homesteaders will change American attitudes about food. I think the impact will be profound. I also think this is as big a threat to corporate America as any protest.
This has to send chills through John Mackey’s heart:
Even if things turn around financially, I don’t think I could stomach going to Whole Foods (except maybe for olive oil) because my biggest revelation in terms of self-sufficiency is this: It is no big deal. You can tell yourself anything is too difficult, or you can just do it. And you do not need to reconstruct your worldview or take issue with others.
Shhh… don’t tell SC Johnson and Procter & Gamble that we just need a $2 bottle of generic vinegar to wash our floors. Don’t tell Whole Foods that we can buy our organic garlic from a local farm, not shipped in from Argentina. (By the way, can someone explain to me why Whole Foods sells locally-grown produce, and organic produce, but rarely locally-grown organic produce? What’s up with that? We have tons of organic farms around here, is there some reason they aren’t buying from them?)
How all of this shakes out socially and culturally I have no idea, but it will be fascinating to watch.