Food matters, most importantly if you don't have enough

This morning was lovely.  For starters, I slept in.  Next, my husband and lovely children all hugged me and wished me happy mothers day.  This is especially touching considering they did it all two weeks ago.  There's no Mother's Day advertising on National Radio and we don't have a telly, so somehow I got my dates wrong.

At some point in my deliciously lazy Sunday morning, I checked my email and facebook, and a friend had sent me a link to a Salon article on the politics of food and gender.  It's a very interesting article, but don't be fooled by the title:
"Is Michael Pollan a sexist pig?"  
I'd wager that Emily Matchar didn't choose any such title, or indeed the subtitle:
"Femivores" have made DIY domesticity cool. But critics who blame feminism for obesity and fast food have it wrong."
Matchar's analysis has, I suspect, been plundered for impact and sensationalism by the Salon editors, something which this rebuttal identifies.  Matchar quotes a number of people blaming feminism for the death of home cooking, even as she acknowledges that industrialised food precedes feminism.  It's baiting country, and she has to take the rap for some of it, not just the Salon editors.  I suspect there is an argument to be made that industrialised food made second wave feminism possible - first wave feminism was largely confined to women who could afford to pay someone else to do some of the domestic graft.

There are some fabulous parts to the original article by Emily Matchar.  I warmed to Peg Bracken, whom I'd never heard of before, immediately.  Apparently she published a book in 1960 called The I hate to cook book.  It included Skid Road Stroganoff, with instructions thus: “Add the flour, salt, paprika, and mushrooms, stir, and let it cook five minutes while you light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink”.  I don't smoke, and I mostly like cooking, but there is a kind of different lust for life in her revelling in disdain for cooking which I like.

When I say I mostly like cooking, I speak as someone who owns a dishwasher, has a partner who cooks at least once a week and does almost all the dishes, and can afford takeaways once a week.  It's a reasonable setup in my view (I do all the laundry, the school lunches and the food shopping and I'm at paid work 25-30 hours per week), but it's privileged compared to solo parents and many two parent households.  You don't have kids?  I have no sympathy.  Mostly, we're on the same playing field, but not on this one.  When you cook, no matter how much effort you have put into it, no one looks at it and all but spits on it, declaring it 'yuck' and vowing never to eat it.

Anyway, back to Matchar, slow food movements, organic free and happy pigs, and women finding that food matters and that it's worth lots of time and effort.  Matchar's article is an extract from her upcoming book Homeward Bound: Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity, and she has interviewed lots of hip young women who like to make their own everything from scratch.  Good on her.  I love that women who have chosen to be at home with their children get a voice.  It started with the blogosphere, and when it's hitting the bookshelves in printed books by respected publishers (Simon & Shuster in Matchar's case), it's definitely a good thing.

But something which I don't see discussed anywhere, is what happens when the kids get bigger and the parents (we're talking about mothers here, really) go back to work?  I do understand that some people have large families and stay home for a long time.  I understand that for some people, made from scratch extends to home educating and that lasts for a long time.  I recognise that some women find what they really want to do during the small children era of their lives, and set up in business from home, writing craft books (see Tiny Happy) or teaching people to make everything from scratch (see Nourished Kitchen).

It's not hard to find articles about planning for having a first baby and how to be financially prepared.  Nothing much prepares you for all the other aspects, but plenty of authors make money from pretending.  Frankly, I'm a survivor.  I went years with bugger all sleep and balancing deep love for my kids with frustration that I could never go to the toilet on my own, and I'm here to tell the tale. I bought plenty of books, mostly in vain, in preparation for the first baby, and then a book about the second baby for the first baby.  If I'd had more, they would have just gotten lollies, I suspect.

But no one ever talks about what they learnt from being at home, which they take into the next phase of their life.  Let's put the kid things aside, though it's true that I learnt more about the pain of standing on lego than any medical textbook would bother to record.  I did learn how to make bread from scratch, even making my own sourdough starter.  I improved my gardening skills no end, particularly in regard to making good compost.  I learnt how to make laundry powder and laundry liquid.  I learnt to make meals without gluten.  I learnt how to maximise use of the slow cooker.  A bit later on, I learnt how to sew.  Sewing and the investigative toddler was mostly beyond me.  I learnt to budget and make money stretch for a range of different needs.  All this and more ... I realise it could all sound a bit twee. 

My current food learning curve is how to make the same ingredients work for a range of situations.  I'd love it if someone published a cookbook for me instead of me working it all out.  The recipe for having five minutes at 8am.  The one for twenty minutes at 2.30pm.  The one for an hour at 4.30pm.  The one for kids already starving and just in from sports practice at 5.15pm.  All from the same reasonably affordable ingredients and without much in the way of preservatives and transfats thanks.  I still have greens in the garden for putting in these meals, gardens which I dug from scratch and fertilised organically and learnt to make best use of when I was at home with my young children.  The laundry, in nice fluffy piles in the corner of the lounge while I type this instead of folding it, is washed in home made liquid which doesn't exacerbate Fionn's eczema, costs hardly anything, and which I learnt about whilst based at home.  Maybe there isn't a lot to say on this topic, and maybe there is.  I'd like to read how other hippy enthusiasts women have negotiated and reflected on the changes as their children grow and they rejoin the paid workforce either at all or with greater time commitment.


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