Saturday, July 24, 2010


People love to believe there's something edgy about raising your own food, cutting your own hair, baking bread, etc. Just insert "DIY" in front of anything your grandma did, and it's suddenly hip. Or maybe it's "radical homemaking" or "urban homesteading".

We've gone full cycle. Take line-drying clothes. Seventy years ago, it's what everyone did. But once people could buy dryers, many of them were thrilled that they didn't have to use a clothesline anymore. (At least in the US, where energy prices are cheap. In Europe, it's a different story.) Line-drying was something most people avoided if they could. But now line-drying is not just cheap, it's "green". Which it always was - there just wasn't always a word for it. Fifty years ago, nobody was making documentaries about clotheslines.

As with any cultural change, this isn't happening everywhere all at once. There are plenty of people who like their dryers, wonder bread, and iceberg lettuce very much. Why should they do everything themselves when they don't have to? My mother is one of these people. She learned all the Depression-era skills from her mother - she knows how to bake, can, garden, cut hair, etc. But she doesn't want to, and she can afford not to.

This week my friend Elisangela came to my apartment for the first time. She moved here from Brazil ten years ago, and I was a little afraid of what she would think. Mostly of the fact that I'm keeping livestock in my kitchen. I can imagine her wondering, "Why would you do this when you can buy jumbo eggs for 99 cents a dozen?"

When Elisangela walked in, she made a beeline for the quail pen. "They're chickens?" she asked. "Quail," I said. "My grandmother raised quail," she said. "She would never kill them because they made a special call when a stranger was coming near the house. They know."

And that was that. To her this wasn't urban homesteading or DIY poultry farming. It was just that thing her grandmother did back in the village. I felt totally, blessedly normal.

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