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

| 2/25/2010 1:26:47 PM

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.

8/11/2010 4:18:37 PM

I encourage all who have are reading the comments to read the book Radical Homemakers: 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.

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.

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