Monday, July 14, 2008

Is localvorism anti-feminist?

I promise this will be my last post before the essay I promised. But this is something I really want to address, both because I’ve seen this several times now and because our sermon at church yesterday was on localvorism and someone raised this question. The basic premise is that being a localvore may be anti-feminist because it tends to require more work to get and prepare food and thus more time in the kitchen. This is, of course, what women have long sought to escape. You can read a blog post on this subject here:

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that not only is eating locally NOT anti-feminist, it is probably the most feminist diet one can eat, and maybe the most feminist thing one can do. I’ll get into the reasons for this as I go through the essay, but first I’m going to take the points in the above post and refute them one by one.

First, as regards winter fruits and vegetables: you don’t eat the same ones as you do in summer. You don’t buy strawberries in December. You buy apples instead. In the place of summer squash you buy winter squash. Secondly, if you want to eat strawberries in December you buy them in May or June –whenever your local season is –and can, freeze or dry them for use in the winter months. This is how our ancestors ate for thousands of years, all the way up to the 1950s when widespread refrigeration and cheap oil made it possible to buy California strawberries in Wisconsin in January.

Second, it doesn’t cost that much more to eat locally, especially if you grow your own or go to u-pick farms. In fact, it can be cheaper. I can pick blueberries here for about a dollar a pint, versus buying them for 2.5 to 3 times that, even now when they’re in season. I have nine pints of frozen blueberries in my freezer that should last me nearly a year.

Next Lilith wants to know if we “can actually cut convenience out of their diets entirely without sacrificing the freedoms that come with not being chained to the stove all day?” There are two points to make about this –the first is that no one says you have to give up all conveniences –I still use my fridge, freezer, and microwave, for instance. The second, and more important, is what freedoms are you giving up? She says she could never work, full-time, get married, or have kids if she would do this all the time. Okay, that’s patent nonsense –there are a lot of married, working moms who are also committed localvores.

Again, I have to ask what freedoms you’re giving up and also what the trade-offs are. Everything has trade-offs; there’s no perfect solution here. To eat locally you do have to spend more time acquiring and preparing food. There’s no way around that. Are the freedoms you’re giving up the right to watch TV for an hour a day? The ability to take your kids to three or four activities a week? That may be okay for you or not. But suppose you don’t eat locally. What are you giving up then?

That question may seem counter-intuitive to some. After all, don’t you get anything? Can’t you eat anything and get it from anywhere? You can eat dinner out every night and have fruit out of season, sure. But it’s going to cost you. The first thing it will cost you is money. As I pointed out previously, it often costs less money to eat locally than not. The second thing it is going to cost you is time. You have to earn that money, after all. And the more money you need, the more you have to work. Maybe you love your job and if so, that’s great. But most jobs in this country frankly suck. The feminist movement liberated us from the kitchen; the corporations made sure we had no choice but to become their serfs. Some success. Where’s the freedom in that? The third thing you’re going to give up is health. Convenience foods are not nearly as healthy as whole, unprocessed food. They are the biggest source of bad health in this country.

But let’s get back to the previous point. Freedom. What is freedom? The right to make your own choices. The right to do what you want and not be dependent on others for your choices. If you depend on the corporate system for food, you are in effect depending on them for everything. Why? Think about it for a moment. Food is basic. Food is the most necessary thing for someone to have. If you don’t have food, you will starve to death. Period. If you have to depend on someone else for food, then you are at their mercy. If you can’t meet their price or they can’t deliver the food, tough. So sorry. A lot of people claim they are not beholden to the corporate system, that they have escaped it. But guess where they still get their food?

Food and food security are not just basic to freedom; they ARE freedom. Throughout history, the first thing a conquering army did to help vanquish the civilians was destroy their food supply. From the Romans, to the English settlers in America, the militias would burn the granaries or the fields to starve the populace into submission. How can you rebel or shrug off a system when you are dependent on it? The answer is that you can’t. So, not eating locally not only does not give you more freedom, it gives you much less. When you are in charge of your own food supply, when you eat locally, when you grow your own, then you cut the most vital link between you and the system that is destroying both you and the country. Which gives you more freedom? And which, therefore, is more feminist?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now, this is one juicy post. I love this. Will be back for more.

I can't wait to wade into the gender "work" issues of Peak Oil, and being "Chained" to the kitchen and extra processing labor. Point is, most of us have been given our convenient foods on never ending cheap silver platters, and that is going to be the real huge challenge, because mostly right now, television has feminized their commercial production value, so "Mom" is mostly irrelevant, but our new moms have become, McDonalds, Red Robin, The Olive Garden, Campbell's Soup, and the list goes on, and on. But I guess it is okay for invisible (male or female) factory workers (like invisible kitchen wives) to slave in order to feed us...?

But maybe a silver lining of this whole Peak Oil, and Food awareness thing may mean a healthy shift in leaving gender specificity in the dark ages, and remembering respect, not stereotype when honoring our food and those that produce it? An egalitarian food system? How novel.

Yes, just what are we giving up? And what are we gaining? I took home economics in high school, and I was a guy. Loved it. I knew what I was gaining...

Also, and I still cannot believe this, here in the year 2008, and going food shopping, is still mostly the domain of women. I mean when is the last time we saw a television ad for a grocery store appeal only to the guys cutting out their precious coupons?

Advertisers are anti-feminist. It is how they try to make us buy and do things to fit into our roles and, well, usually be miserable. Dang, gotta get my wife another Diamond ring this year to show her I am doing my part, and all her friends know it too. But hey, at least I don't have to get caught grocery shopping, when I could be out playing golf with the guys...

7/15/2008 2:32 AM  
Blogger RAS said...

Anonymous, one of the more interesting things about the division of labor by gender is that it really didn't start until the Indutrial Revolution and kept picking up pace as more and more people left farms for factory work. Now, when we think of a farmer, we think of a man, when in actuality most of the world's farmers are women. (Most of them also farmer tracts that are less than 5 acres, but that's another post.) Back when there were such things as "family farms" everyone worked on the farm, and everyone was a farmer -regardless of gender.

7/16/2008 9:43 AM  
Blogger Kati said...

Why do folks think that women are the only ones who can be good in the kitchen??? I love to cook (when I have decent supplies and time), but I learned my love of cooking and my willingness to experiment from my dad. My FIL is a better cook than my MIL is. My hubby is learning his way around a kitchen rather nicely. (Albeit slowly since he prefers my cooking to his own. He's not as innately creative as his dad and I tend to be. He's a lot more like his mom.)

I think that we've come far enough beyond "cooking being women's work" that there will always be guys who prefer to get into the kitchen and whip up some creative meals of their own. And girls, like my daughter, who will prefer to be OUTSIDE growing the food or what-have-you than inside cooking it. Liking to eat well and cook doesn't have to fall on the woman's shoulders, nor should it.

Thanks for bringing up that locavore-ism and feminism are not mutually exclusive.

7/17/2008 2:05 PM  
Anonymous freeacre said...

Right On, ras! I am so glad to read some clear thinking on this issue. I remember back in the day when the mom was primarily at home and prepared food from scratch. Believe me, the quality of life for the children was a bunch better. Neighborhoods safer. Food healthier, etc.
The sexist part wasn't what the women did, it was that it was undervalued and done in a way that was subservient. The greater culture was advising to "Have dinner ready by the time he gets home. Meet him with a smile on your face and a martini so he can relax. Talk about what his day was like - don't bore him with yours..."
And, now that it's almost gone, what do people miss? Coming home to mom and home-cooked meals. Helping in the garden instead of being hauled to day care. What's making us sick? All this shit food we buy.
Now mom (and dad) are frantically trying to get through each long, frustrating day of getting everybody ready, taking them to daycare or activities, commuting to work, dropping off the dry cleaning, doing the shopping, all the endless chores and expenses and imperatives that are required to keep up the normal lifestyle. Now that's drudgery.
Plus, now that food and gasoline are so expensive, and heating oil will be next, the person who can put some locally grown food on the table and know how to prepare it so it's yummy are going to be worth their weight in gold. And, working together, will help to bond families and maybe gangs and shit like that will go away. Hope so.

7/21/2008 5:01 PM  
Anonymous murph said...


Good post. Your examining one of the more politically incorrect ideas floating around.

Let's not exclude some genetic/bio imperatives. Are women indeed more attuned to what transpires in the domicile? If childcare was relegated to males in our culture, it mostly would not get done. Can be learned but...

Most males seem to be disposed to be out catching/netting/killing supper than taking care of kids. Of course, while out doing the male imperative, they forget just how much effort goes into the home care by the women. That is a large part of the sexist thing.

When we can honor all efforts that contribute to our well being, we won't have the sexist angle to deal with.

Of course our modern civilization seems intent on dividing and conquering, even between the sexes, good marketing technique. Hard to overcome a full generation of conditioning and propaganda

7/21/2008 7:40 PM  
Blogger MoonRaven said...

Oh, my. Localvores as anti-feminists.

I particularly like the line: “The fact that women hold more executive positions than at any other time in history... is in no small part due to the prevalence of supermarkets and the availability of easy-to-prepare foodstuffs.” It begins to make me think about what kind of feminism we might be talking about here. (My ambivalence about having lots of female CEOs is very similar to my ambivalence about "Gays in the Military". Personally I don't want to have anyone in the military--and I'm not sure that getting to be corporate executives is such a positive attainment.)

Sure, there's less work for middle-class wives--as anonymous pointed out, factory workers and migrant laborers do the work.

There is a point here, though. If feminism has taught us anything, it's that the work has to be distributed equally. More men cooking and taking care of the house, more women farming and gardening. There's work to be done and it needs to be done by everyone.

7/30/2008 9:05 AM  
Blogger risa said...

Good points all round. My kinda people here!

I keep waiting for my local food (we're eating almost entirely on the home place produce at present) to be "slow" food but it's not especially slow -- dinner usually in nine minutes in the steamer -- just really good. Even the bread baking doesn't take me away from other pleasures -- listening to the Celtic Women while I knead, or going out to turn compost and feed chickens while the loaves rise, then having solar tea with my beloved by moonlight while the loaves are in the oven -- where's the drudgery in that?

What Thoreau said about getting to the next town faster by walking than by train -- because he didn't have to stop to earn the price of the ticket -- applies here.

"Fast" food is the slow food.

Paying someone to do, in an unhappy setting, what I can do for myself at much lower cost, much more healthfully, and much more joyfully, is enabling a crime against humanity...what was I going to be doing, with the "freedom" the fast food got me, but denied to someone else, that would validate my feminism?

8/15/2008 1:35 AM  

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