Book Review: Radical Homemakers
April 9, 2012
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Like Nick Rosen in Off The Grid, Shannon Hayes begins her book, Radical Homemakers, Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture, with a history lesson in Part One: Why. Hayes discusses the role of homemakers and how the position has changed so drastically in so little time. Skilled homemakers who used common knowledge to provide for their families were replaced in the rampant consumerism and convenience craze that started early last century. Electric appliances, packaged (processed) food, and the automobile turned skilled homemakers into consumers instead of producers. The problems only grew worse as more women- many seeking more meaningful lives outside of buying and chauffeuring for their families- entered the workplace.
Part Two: How presents the many ways radical homemakers are reviving skills that were once universally-used, common knowledge. Hayes toured the country and interviewed twenty “Radical Homemakers,” bringing up issues of health care (many eschew it), childcare and schooling (homeschooling is common), and, of course, food. Hayes, a trained dietician, posits that a return to “radical” homemaking is a necessary step in restoring wholesome food to our culture.
Throughout the book, Hayes uses statements from her interviews (and also extensive research) to back up her arguments. In the chapters and sub-sections in Part Two: How she uses their collective experiences to systematically define the steps necessary to become a radical homemaker, from capitalizing on available resources, making mistakes, and setting realistic expectations and limits, to redefining pleasure and rediscovering the taste of real food. Ultimately, it boils down to “adopting a fearless attitude.” I especially liked the last section of the book, which summarizes each study participant’s path to radical homemaking.
One thing that struck me, and was stated several times throughout the book, was that returning to our roots (whether “radical” or not) often puts people in a socially scary situation: once you turn your back on the “extractive economy” (or the “money economy,” as Dolly Freed put it) to pursue a “life-serving economy” (or DIY lifestyle like Mark Frauenfelder, or a survivalist prepping program a la Wendy Brown, or move off the grid like those Nick Rosen studied), it’s very, very difficult to go back. After reading these books and studying the choices ahead for me and Eric, I’m still incredibly excited for the future and completely happy with our intended path.