I wish I were writing a brilliant and incisive Situationist critique. I love reading books translated from French that turn culture inside out and blow a big fat raspberry in capitalism’s face. I wish I were writing long complicated sentences with words that have no English equivalent, and that I had to lapse into other languages to get my point across because my ideas were so broad and astounding that they could not be contained in words commonly used on this continent. I wish I were part of a revolution, a barricade.
This summer while my friends Occupied Wall Street, I was consumed with chores as I Occupied My Back Yard. “Free time” became a sardonic phrase I could only say while making air quotes. I wanted to grow and eat as much of my own food as possible this year, an experiment in self-sufficiency and health-improvement.
Also, I wanted my flower gardens to be beautiful, with successional blooms and lush foliage. And I wanted to maintain native insect habitat in the Pink garden and the Butterfly garden. Furthermore, I wanted the front yard to look respectable in the most bourgeois sense so the neighbors wouldn’t hate us. And in addition I wanted to occasionally have clean underwear, or time to pet my cat, or time to pet my husband.
Puritan work ethic in full throttle, I accomplished all these goals while keeping my day job. Due to good planning in the first years of the flower and habitat gardens, I was able to almost ignore them for anything other than pleasure, and hone my attention in on Hipster Homesteading Experiment Phase One.
Growing your own food is an incredible amount of work. You need to plan the right quantity and variety of food for the family you’re feeding, time your plantings for workable combinations of ingredients, remain vigilant about which food is ripening or rotting, set aside time for processing large quantities to store for the winter, and change all your plans at the drop of a hat when the garden just does whatever the hell it wants. Many nights this summer after an 8 to 10 hour day at work, I stayed up late at home babysitting roasted tomatoes or chopping mass quantities of basil. On a normal night I might spend at least an hour harvesting, cleaning, and preparing food from the garden for our dinner. We ate like kings. I worked like a dog.
If you hear harshness creeping into my rant, perhaps it is just the end-of-season pungency of the time of year, like the flavor of an old carrot that has been in the ground too long. Last week I made coconut curry with very old carrots, and although I’d read they shouldn’t be left in the ground for too long, I must admit I’m now smitten with the powerful taste of too-old carrots and how musically they combine with a red curry paste. My husband has been hogging all the leftovers, so I know he likes them too. I’m really lucky I managed to find a man with a taste for aging carrots.
These fleeting culinary joys alone do not warrant the quantity of hard work that goes into their making, do they? Hmmm, maybe they do. The question remains, why all this hard work? Why work at all? Why not just buy food? With farmer’s markets springing up everywhere, locally grown organic food is easily within reach for a decent price. So why work?
Because yes, the food tastes more amazing when you eat it less than 24 hours after it’s picked. Because having a relationship with the land you live on deepens your consciousness. Because living an authentic life means slowing down. Because just paying for things instead of making them and doing them is exploitation. Because the earth really can heal your mind and body. Because taking the time to make a meal from dirt to gourmet cuisine is an experience I want in my life and want to share with my friends. Because most of the time, the “work” is really play.
But most significantly, because even a tiny step off the grid is a step away from being a consumer.