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One Family’s Experiment: Crap Food vs. Sustainable Food

2/25/2010 1:26:47 PM

Tags: Environment, green living, sustainable food movement, slow food, Michael Pollan, Sacramento News and Review, Danielle Maestretti

Sacramento News and Review, February 4, 2010A young mother of two, tired of spending her evenings in the kitchen hammering out slow, “sustainable” recipes, recently embarked on an interesting experiment: She and her husband would try one month of quick-and-dirty dinners—“if it came frozen, wrapped in cellophane, in a plastic tub or with a pop top . . . we would buy it and eat it”—followed by one month of “the locavore’s dream,” complete with herb-growing, bean-soaking, and trash-composting.

This would be a battle between the frozen chicken piccata with 38 ingredients and the BLT made from Prather Ranch bacon, hand-kneaded bread, farm-fresh veggies and home-blended mayonnaise,” Sierra Filucci explains in the Sacramento News & Review. “But more than that, it would be a test of what it means to be a mother—a mother who wants to feed her family and keep them healthy, but who also wants more from life than kneading dough and a sink full of dishes.”

Filucci has some refreshing thoughts about the shortcomings of the sustainable food movement (as personified by Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, and others), specifically concerning gender and the division of household labor. “Maybe, I thought, this elevation of food to a holy plain is a noble movement that is simply ignorant of the real lives of modern working families,” she writes. “And without realizing it, this movement, one that’s so appealing to young progressives, is actually pushing for a more traditional family structure, gently nudging women back to a place our forebears fought so hard to escape: the kitchen.”

After a bland month immersed in the frozen milieu of Trader Joe’s, in which “food faded into the background” of the family’s lives, it was time for cooking month. And after the easy weeks of preparing food via microwave oven, it was clear to Filucci that there was only one way for the slow method to win out:

If the sustainable-food movement is to succeed—not just in drawing in the small segment of society that has the luxury of time, but in persuading modern working families to garden, buy local and cook from scratch—then it needs to promote fully the idea of shared labor. In his books and talks, Pollan weaves a romantic ideal of wholesomeness based on individual acts. He and his compatriots create a mythology around farming and cooking that seems achievable—as though you could reach it if you just stretched enough, tried hard enough and sacrificed enough. But who exactly is sacrificing? The reality is as unworkable today as it was in the 1950s, when women’s lives were limited to the kitchen and kids. And it’s still as unworkable as it was in the 1980s, when my mom tried to manage the house, the family and the job. It will remain unworkable now, unless all adults in a family participate, and participate fully.

For me, that means letting go of the notion that I can forever control everything that feeds my children’s precious little bodies. For my husband, that means acknowledging how tricky it is to plan meals and execute them with whiny children around. And for the slow-food movement, it means realizing that what they ask of communities and households—while worthy and noble—falls unequally at women’s feet.

Source: Sacramento News & Review (article originally appeared in the East Bay Express)



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Joy_2
8/11/2010 4:18:37 PM
I encourage all who have are reading the comments to read the book Radical Homemakers: http://radicalhomemakers.com/. It explores the very issues brought up in this discussion--feminism, sustainable living, healthy eating and learning how to be less independent and more dependent on one's community. Tanya is on the right track as are the couple in Seattle--it takes a household and community to provide and live healthfully and sustainably. When I happen to prepare meals for my boyfriend and I while he is running his own bicycle shop, I do not feel like I have been put "back in the kitchen." He is an equally good cook; we just trade-off roles and duties to fit our schedule and strengths. If anything, we can rely on each other to nourish us without having to purchase highly processed, unhealthy food that is mass-produced to accommodate a hurried, unhealthy life.

Joyce_2
5/6/2010 8:36:33 AM
Once you get the hang of it, cooking healthy meals is not that big a deal. You learn what you can throw together quickly and what meals will be made on days when you have more time or energy. Yes - some husband's balk at helping in the kitchen. This is not the fault of the slow food movement. Though perhaps we could make the kitchen more palatable to men through media. Maybe your man would help with other things while you make dinner. Ie: keeping the kids out from under your feet, helping w/homework, or even Dad time play. Have your kids help w/meal prep. Maybe Dad would supervise that.

Jenny G._7
4/26/2010 2:22:46 PM
I cook many meals from scratch with the exception of those steamfresh veggies. It can take longer depending on what you're making so being a full time working mother I save the more time-consuming meals for the weekend. But as the mother of a toddler I don't find it super difficult to take the extra time to make things from scratch. I do spend a lot of time going through my cookbooks to compile my shopping list (I haven't switched to eating primarily locally grown, yet) and gathering recipes for the coming week. That is probably the most time-consuming process. There are a lot of from scratch vegetarian and non-vegetarian 30-minute recipes out there. You just have to look for them.

Robin_3
3/2/2010 7:44:52 AM
Excellent point! I don't think the slow food movement is directly trying to push women back into the traditional role of being homemakers, but to do it fully does either require one person to be home full time to dedicate the planning and effort it takes to make homemade food, or as you suggest, the whole family needs to kick in. At the same time, it does remind us that to provide a healthy home and take care of a family does seem to work better when at least one person is home full time. I am a feminist, and was raised by a feminist, yet I have learned over many years that to raise a healthy happy family, and to have a less stressful life, it works better when one person is dedicated to being the homemaker. And since it seems to matter to me more, and comes to me more naturally (not saying this would be the case for all families) I have now left my full time job, and am working full time at home (although I am also trying to start up a job I can do part time from home). I still believe everyone should have the right to choose, but life seems to be driving home the point that there are always trade-offs. Each person and their family have to decide what is worth the most to their happiness.

Evz
2/28/2010 12:38:37 PM
I'm a (female) cooking enthusiast, & also a proud feminist. I like the point you raise, about the possibility of (unintended) consequences of the slow food/ whole food/ real food movement, on women who assume a disproportionate share of the cooking duties... but I think it's a matter of attitude. It's not something that just 'happens' to you; you choose it or you don't. I say, 'Here, honey, chop these carrots!' or 'Hey, I'm cooking: you've got the kids til I'm done... I need about an hour.' I cook big batches of many servings, and freeze half, so we still have 'fast food' on busy weeknights. I have a big ol' countertop-hog of a dehydrator, which costs almost NO effort to preserve seasonal foods or pre-chopped veggies (& who says I'm the one who chopped 'em?!)... If I *didn't* enjoy cooking so much, we'd prob'ly eat more raw foods... which would probably have some lovely health benefits, as well as reduced dirty dishes (and again, why would anyone assume that *I'll* be the only one washing?!)... So I think that your point is a good one; but with food issues (like with all issues) it comes down to the power of individual choice... the only way women will be exploited by the 'slow food' movement is if they *agree* to be exploited by it. I think the food revolution sits very comfortably alongside my feminism; there's no need for conflict between these two things, in my opinion.

Evz
2/28/2010 12:33:37 PM
I'm a (female) cooking enthusiast, & also a proud feminist. I like the point you raise, about the possibility of (unintended) consequences of the slow food/ whole food/ real food movement, on women who assume a disproportionate share of the cooking duties... but I think it's a matter of attitude. It's not something that just 'happens' to you; you choose it or you don't. I say, 'Here, honey, chop these carrots!' or 'Hey, I'm cooking: you've got the kids til I'm done... I need about an hour.' I cook big batches of many servings, and freeze half, so we still have 'fast food' on busy weeknights. I have a big ol' countertop-hog of a dehydrator, which costs almost NO effort to preserve seasonal foods or pre-chopped veggies (& who says I'm the one who chopped 'em?!)... If I *didn't* enjoy cooking so much, we'd prob'ly eat more raw foods... which would probably have some lovely health benefits, as well as reduced dirty dishes (and again, why would anyone assume that *I'll* be the only one washing?!)... So I think that your point is a good one; but with food issues (like with all issues) it comes down to the power of individual choice... the only way women will be exploited by the 'slow food' movement is if they *agree* to be exploited by it. I think the food revolution sits very comfortably alongside my feminism; there's no need for conflict between these two things, in my opinion.

Tanya
2/27/2010 11:56:31 AM
We need to change the way we think about cooking and eating and family altogether. Who says that a family of four has to cook all of their own meals each day? Why not form a community of close friends and family and take turns cooking healthy, local meals? Putting time and effort into cooking a great meal once a week isn't such a hassle if you get to sit back and enjoy eating meals others have prepared on several other nights. The key to living more sustainable lives does not have to involve anyone putting in extra effort; letting go of our focus on independence and embracing a more communal way of life may just get us a lot farther.

san_1
2/26/2010 6:44:44 PM
This does not have to be an all or nothing affair. Just changing eating habits to the healthier diet, say 2-3 days out of 7, would be an improvement. I understand the time involved and that both parents should pitch in, but if you are going to have children, you should want the best for them, even if it means some extra labor. Are you going to eliminate quality time with your kids just to make more money to buy them more toys to keep them busy so you don't have to spend quality time with them? Certainly, finding a balance in feeding your kids is desirable as it is in all things. In my own life, I have tried to become a vegetarian, and although I haven't quite succeeded, I have cut down meat in my diet by 70%. Better than nothing.

Liz_7
2/26/2010 3:54:11 PM
I would think that it would be more the woman's mindset of her "belonging" in the kitchen that puts her there, no social pressure for better food. My husband and I are huge locavores...and he does almost 100% of the food prep. We have delicious, home cooked food almost every night of the week and being part of the locavore culture has become more of a hobby than a chore. And shockingly, I've never felt pushed into the kitchen :)

Cindy_3
2/26/2010 12:52:34 PM
Sadly, I think it falls on the shoulders of whoever cares the most about how their family eats. In my household that has normally been me, not my spouse. If he was in charge of meals, it would be frozen dinners and takeout every night.

KC in KC
2/26/2010 10:52:58 AM
My son and daughter-in-law are creating a small urban farm in Seattle. Their division of labor tends to be that she does the gardening--and a lot of the heavy labor involved with that because she loves to work--and he does most of the cooking and serves as he calls it "as the garden mule." They have the most delicious relationship--partly from the fun they have working together in the kitchen or experimenting with new ways to approach their garden. If cooking isn't fun for you and you can't find a way to make it fun and to involve the children and have it be a time for the family to actually become family, then yes, maybe you should stick with Trader Joe's. If your husband isn't stepping up, either he doesn't know how (teachable), he wasn't enrolled in the first place (workable--present it so it's irresistible enough that he signs on), it's just not his thing or he's too hidebound and traditional to evolve (you're on your own on this one, sister. Your call). I raised two kids as a single mom; we remain close and deeply fond of each other to this day. A huge part of how that happened was my insistence that we eat at least most of our meals together each week and that they be my partners in prep. (This wasn't optional--I needed them. However, I've also discovered that being needed makes children sane and grounded.) I think there IS a problematic paradigm at work here, but I agree with the other two commentors: I don't think sustainable food is the issue. KC in Kansas

Liz McLellan
2/26/2010 3:57:34 AM
I would suggest that men and women need to share all this unpaid for labor...as they have always needed to...and if you are not, maybe you aren't married or partnered with the right people? If you have tried to negotiate equality in your relationships and have failed at that...don't blame good food because others manage to do it. Get some marriage or partnership counseling - the sustainable food movement is not your problem. Also eating crap makes you cranky. Also there is no need you must make it all so burdensome. That is not a universal attitude towards food. It's yours. For everyone men and women, straight, gay, in between and kids too - that time is what binds you together. Making that meal together - weaves your lives together. Kill the TVs in five separate rooms...Make a salad - takes 5 minutes!

David Becker_1
2/25/2010 9:48:45 PM
It is unclear to me why cooking food rather than opening a box from Trader Joe's nudges women back into old roles. In our home we all pitch in during food prep. My daughter has been pealing garlic since she was four. She came up with her own salad recipe she calls Sizzle Salad. A meal can be a production or we can whip something up in ten minutes. We do something that families did in the 1950s. Have standard meal we know we like. Cook more than we need for that night's meal. Freeze some for another day. Combine with leftovers to maintain interest later in the week. A whole chicken can create three meals in a week and be used for stock when done. This is not elitist or fancy. It's just what people do. David www.friendofthefarmer.com






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