Friday, February 4, 2011

Book Review and Giveaway: Radical Homemakers

From Emerald Apron's Library

Last summer, while I was enjoying the tail end of my maternity leave, I heard about Shannon Hayes' new book, Radial Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture, and I decided to buy a copy and check it out. I was loving maternity leave so the idea of people making the conscious choice to stay home was appealing.

Hayes begins by giving a history of the value of household work and describes the principles that radical homemakers live by in "Part One: Why." She defines radical homemakers as people looking to move toward a life-serving economy rather than an extractive economy, and who follow the principles for a sustainable way of life set forth in The Earth Charter (2000):

1. Respect and care for the community of life

2. Ecological integrity

3. Social and economic justice

4. Democracy, nonviolence and peace

Hayes describes the path of the radical homemaker. The radical homemakers first renounced consumer societies, began to reclaim homemaking skills that allow them to depend less on consumerism, and then moved on to a rebuilding phase:

"In this period, they took on genuine creative challenges, tended toward engagement with their communities, and made significant contributions toward rebuilding a new society that reflected their vision of a better world either through artwork, writing, farming, fine craftwork, social reform, activism, teaching, or a small business."

Hayes then goes on to describe the role of the American housewife over time, the shift to two income households, and the increasing amount of work outside the home. I was especially shocked by the amount of time Americans spend at work:

"From 1973 to 2000, the average American worker added 199 extra hours onto their annual work schedule, the equivalent of nearly five extra work-weeks per year... the famously squeezed middle class shouldered an even greater labor burden between 1979 and 2000, and increased their work hours by 660 per year - a total of nearly twelve weeks. Americans now work more hours than any other industrialized country, including famously industrious Japan."

While I did find it interesting, I was happy when "Part One: Why" was over. I tend to be less interested in philosophical musings and much more interested in stories from real people, and that is what I found in abundance in "Part Two: How." Hayes conducted interviews with real people living the radical homemaker lifestyle, and complied the interviews to share their lives. She found radical homemakers through a post on her website:

"If you have learned to live on less in order to take the time to nourish your family and the planet through home cooking, engaged citizenship, responsible consumption and creative living, whether you are male, female, two people sharing the role, with or without children, or part-time, please drop me a line and tell me your story."

I loved reading about women and men who chose to make homemaking their life's work. I found myself identifying with other young families, but there were senior citizens, single people both young and old, older families, people living in urban, suburban and rural areas. I would imagine that there was a radical homemaker to serve as a reflection of each individual reader. Hayes describes the radical homemakers and their lifestyles:
"While no single family accomplished everything on this list, I came across homemakers who would: grow, can, dehydrate, freeze and lacto-ferment vegetables and fruit harvest and store root crops; make wine, beer and herbal teas; press juices and cider; make jams and jellies; raise livestock and harvest meat; make pates and sausages; smoke bacons or fish; keep honey bees; milk a dairy goat or cow; make cheese, yogurt, butter and kefir; make soap or other homemade nontoxic cleaning supplies; keep chickens; forage through city parks and streets, neighboring backyards and country roads for wild plants and "feral" fruits cut their firewood; set up water recycling systems; provide their own human-powered transportation; make toys, invent games and educate their own children; make medicinal remedies; fix their houses and cars; sew, knit and mend their clothes; create art, literature, music and crafts; graft fruit trees; build their own homes; build soil through composting; and, of course, bake and cook."

I would recommend this book to anyone trying to live a simpler life who wants some ideas about how other families make it work.
Am I a radical homemaker?

I'm a professional, highly educated woman who chooses to grow, raise and preserve her family's food. I try to reduce waste and stay away from consumerism. I value hand-made over store-bought, and I enjoy doing things like kneading bread by hand and making my own yogurt or cheese, knitting or crocheting gifts, or helping to butcher our yearly pig. Radical for sure, especially among my contemporaries: professional women in their late 20's. Most of my real-life girlfriends would be much more likely to go out for sushi than clean a just-caught fish.

But am I a homemaker? Absolutely! I'm not a full-time homemaker, and I don't see the absence of outside work as a prerequisite to be a homemaker. The good news is that I find that my work to be valuable and mostly enjoyable. My job as a teacher is the best of both worlds. As an environmental educator, I get the chance to share my passion for the planet with my students and feel that I'm making a real difference. Plus, I get to spend summers at home, which just so happen to be pretty busy times in the life of a homemaker. I'm also fortunate to provide health insurance for my family through my job. Many of the radical homemakers featured in the book do have full- or part-time jobs to supplement their homemaking.

Win A Copy!

In the spirit of anti-consumerism, I'm giving away my copy of Radical Homemakers. Hope you don't mind dog-eared pages! To enter, please leave a comment below answering this question: Are you a radical homemaker?

Be sure to leave your email address so I can contact the winner! The giveaway will remain open until Thursday, February 17, and I'll announce the winner in my post on Friday the 18th, so be sure to check back then!

Note: I purchased this book myself and have not received any compensation for doing this review.


Renee @ Loca-faces said...

I too was fascinated by this book (so I don't need another copy :) ) - at the moment I read it, I was in the process of converting to part-time employment after having a very successful career. With a 9 year old at home and concern for making our own food and making our time at home enjoyable, the long commute and stress at work was too much. Now we're seeking some balance. My own blog was started at the same time to give me a writing outlet and a way to connect others with the local food through stories of people. The stories in her book are the kind of thing I too enjoy most.

illysa said...

Interesting! Thanks for sharing. I am a couple of decades older than you and like you I work part time. While financially things are tight, as a family (including the kids) we've decided that having homemade food and someone around often enough to take care of household "stuff" is worth it. Although I started making a lot of our food from scratch when we learned my husband had high blood pressure (since down over 88 points) and I suspected hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup contributed to excess weight, I really began in earnest to purchase high quality ingredients and eliminate most packaged items when we learned our son is sensitive to preservatives and food colorings. On top of all that, we are not comfortable buying products in multiple packages because of the impact on the environment, leading us to make snack bars and other "handy" lunch box items at home too.

We compost and have a garden for the summer. For awhile I tried to grow vegetables inside during the winter but was not successful. My son's sensitivities and my own environmental concerns led us to change many of our cleaning and personal products too.

I dry our laundry on an indoor line and on racks. And last year we bought solar panels!

I wish we could get locally grown bananas! One thing I have trouble with is the carbon footprint bananas represent, not to mention the health hazard from the pesticides for the population living by the groves.

We're slowly breaking addiction to convenient bottles of water. The only thing I "preserve" are herbs I grow in the summer to enhance our winter meals. I try to make gifts but am not terribly successful.

So, as a family we're trying to have as low an impact on the environment as possible while still living within our means.

Thanks for your blog,


MommaMorton said...

Radical homemakers unite!!! :) I *am* a radical homemaker, and strive to become more so every day. My elderly neighbor couldn't believe I can; she said, "no one does that anymore." I garden, compost, raise chickens, am learning to sew, make most of our food from scratch and more. Some days it is very hard, but it is always worth it! I know that when my son grows up and leaves home not only will he have life skills to take care of himself and his family, but we will have helped make the world just a little bit better. (My e-mail is tonitmorton at gmail dot com.)

Chariot said...

I am a radical homemaker, trying to be more so everyday. It's hard with twin toddlers but this year we are definitely going to garden again.

I sew, cook, filter water, make my own granola bars. It would be nice to compost but I'm not sure I can. This might seem strange but we have had a huge issue with ants in the house and discovered while landscaping that there are also large colonies populating our backyard. Yuck.

I love hearing other people's stories about homemaking.


Julia (Color Me Green) said...

i would love to win this book! unfortunately the nyc library system doesn't have it so i haven't been able to read it yet. i'm a single girl right now, but i see myself staying home with my family someday and pretty much my goal in life is to live according to these principles.

DramaMama said...

I think of myself as a radical homemaker, yes! And I would love a copy of the book! Some things I spend my time doing - hunting for used clothing and household items, cooking from scratch, composting and gardening, dehydrating and soaking, I use flannel wipes, cloth napkins and diapers, rags, etc...I line dry everything, I'm learning to sew and lots more about what I can do. I also want to add that I attempt to encourage, not bash, others who are thinking of this lifestyle or any piece of it. So many times I run into people who are like-minded and then all of a sudden they think of it as a competition. I don't think that is really radical - there are no winners - encouraging a sense of community and mentorship is the way to really change our society =) So on that note, I'd like to say "Good job!" and "Keep learning and sharing what you know!" to everyone who has commented here. Thank you for being a part of this blog community!

farmgal said...

I didn't know there was a name for it LOL, by the use you are giving, I am a radical homemaker..

I perfer to think that I am living n the footsteps of my grandmother and mother..

I loved the list of things that someone could do but not all at once, it amusement me greatly, because, yes a family certainly can do all those things over their lifetime, while I have not built a whole house, I have helped build half a house, sheds, chicken coops, and as small barn, while I can't take apart a car, I can change the oil, tires, and do all kinds of basic things, just as I can also work on a tractor, or motorbike. Throw in the skills of my family members and that list is so covered. But she forgot things, like riding a horse, driving a team, being able to cut, stook and haul hay for those critters, knowing how to skid out logs for your own firewood and the list goes on.. There are alot of skill's required if you want to do that list without just running to the feed store or buying things.

I love that my mom and dad felt that regardless of our sex, their children would know how to do it all, so it was not uncommon for me to be out working on fencing while big brother would be in giving mom a helping hand with canning..

It sounds like it could be a interesting read.

Rachel said...

Yes, I'm a radical homemaker, with room to become even more radical!

This looks like a great book.

rek4acre AT gmail DOT com

Farmer's Daughter said...

Good luck to all who enter the giveaway!

Illysa- I actually work full time :)

Abbie aka Farmer's Daughter aka Emerald Apron

Earthgrlie said...

This is a new term for me. I do a lot of the things mentioned such as make my own cheese, yogurt, bread, raise chickens, etc. I'd love to read the book to see if I'm truly radical, ha!

Anonymous said...

I didn't realize that there was a label for what I do, much less a whole movement of women doing the same thing! I love it!

Nancy said...

I must also be one even though I don't seem myself as radical. I canned over 100 jars of food last year, grew a garden with my loving husband, diaper my baby in cloth and I stay home with the baby. I amke my own fruit leather and granola bars too. Really being a stay at home mom can be more work that a "paying" job.

Staci said...

I have had this book on my Amazon wish list for some time now.

I am a radical homemaker. I up and quit the construction company that help build with a dear friend and ex boyfriend of mine. I left crowded suburbia for a small rural town in the deep south. I packed it all up and moved to the middle of nowhere and where I knew no one. My family thought I was crazy!

That will be years ago in October and you couldn't pay me to move back.

After my move I spent my time teaching myself how to sew, garden, preserve food, and make sausage.


Jessica said...

I, a radical homemaker, would love to read this book! :)

Rae said...

Just this summer, I uprooted my family from Brooklyn, New York and planted a new (and more simple) life in Kingston, Jamaica. We purged most of our material possesions keeping only those things that were absolutely necessary or sentimental. I am an artist, full time mom, baker, gardener, chef extraordinare! I make butter, yogurt, granola, hummus, non toxic cleaning supplies and what not. Because of the lovely weather we have here, I can hand wash and line dry our clothes. I also make great use of the mangos and coconuts growing on the property we rent. My husband is an architect and is currently designing our sustainable home. I can't wait to hang up my hammock, get a goat and start making some goat cheese :) There is so much more we could be doing but so far I think we are off to a great start!
peace and wellness,

Farmer's Daughter said...

I am just loving these stories!!!

Corey- we have dear family friends in Jamaica! Two brothers worked as migrant workers on our farm for years when I was growing up. We went to visit them when I was in middle school, and visited their remote houses in the mountains. Their children had never seen someone with blond hair before! It was a really amazing experience, and my parents love to catch up with them and chat about grandchildren :)

suzannah {so much shouting, so much laughter} said...

this book sounds fascinating. though i am home with my kids, i tend to recoil at ideals of homemaking espoused by conservative christians (though i am a christian.) homemaking described in this manner makes sense to me, and is part of the path we're on: raising chickens, whole foods, reusing/repurposing/buying used/doing without, making personal care products, cloth diapering, vegetable gardening, learning to can. i only wish i sewed. hopefully someday:)

brendie said...

ooh i want this book, but i will get it myself and then pass it around down in my side of the equator, thanks for the review, ive had it on my watchlist but wasnt sure if it was worthy.

Mrs Money said...

I'd love to be a radical homemaker. :) That's my next career goal!

Mary said...

This book sounds great. I am like you in that I haven't for sure decided if I want to stay home full time or work some outside the home. So this book would be a great resource to help in my decision.

love me some blogging AT gmail DOT com

Brynn said...

I am a stay-at-home mom who moonlights as a professional a few hours a week. I can appreciate those who embrace the (as traditionally referred to) 'womanly arts' and who take the time to home make and teach their children. Moreover, I really have come to value mothers helping mothers by sharing recipes, patterns, books, and sustainable practice ideas for the home. Thanks for sharing such a great title- I will be sure to jot this one down.

Everydaywoman said...

LOVE your review!

I believe I was a radical homemaker when you and your brothers were little, but that was more common then, so perhaps I wasn't so radical!

Now, I'm working full-time and not nearly so much the homemaker as you are. How do you do it all? With the abundance of snow days this winter, I have really enjoyed being home more and long for those days when I was home with small children; nothing can beat that!

Perhaps, now I'm more the radical grammy, trying to do it all, working full-time, earning my doctorate (full-time), enjoying grandparenthood immensely, and letting some of the "homemaking" fall by the wayside . . .

I'm planning on reading the book, but please don't enter me in the give-away because I'm pretty sure there's some kind of rule against raffling items off to family!

Much love and in deep respect for ALL you do,


Deanna said...

I love the fact that there's now a name for it. About 15 years ago I gave up my career as a hospice nurse in order to homeschool my children. They are now adults but I've chosen to remain at home. My choices don't seem radical to me but when compared to mainstream culture I suppose they are. I would love to be entered in this drawing.

Diane said...

The best answer I can come up with is I am working on it. We homeschool, cook some from scratch, raise chickens for eggs, live a simple purposeful life, eating more healthy foods, eating meatless meals twice a week, gardening in the spring, recycling, etc. But have so much more to learn and do. Please enter me in the giveaway.

Heather said...

I am most definitely a Radical Homemaker! While I don't stay home full time, I employ a lot of the techniques Shannon discusses in her book around my house with my family. I love the idea of taking back our home lives and making that the priority rather than chasing pay or prestige, which are often elusive.

Betsy (Eco-novice) said...

I've heard about this book and would like to read it. I don't know if I'd classify myself as a radical homemaker. As a well-educated female, I perhaps value the homemaking arts more than most of my generation. I love to cook and bake and I'm just learning to sew. I think I wish I were a radical homemaker -- that list, wow, those are some serious skills.
betsy (at) eco-novice (dot) com

Anonymous said...

I was more of a radical homemaker when my kids were at home. I grew a garden, froze and canned the bounty, sewed their clothes, made yogurt, did my own home repairs, did much of my own car repairs, recycled etc. Now I am disabled and cannot do much of what I used to do. This book would be fun to read and remember the way it was.

Donna Korzun said...

I published the previous post about the stuff I did before I was disabled. Unfortunately I hit the wrong setting. I am reposting and hoping this makes sense. Sorry!

Anonymous said...

I think I definitely have some radical homemaker tendencies. But I currently buy store-bought bread, so I'm not sure I'm all the way there. ;)

amber (at) strocel (dot) com

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm a radical homemaker. I work during the school year, but am home with my kids during breaks and summers. I grow all of our own veggies an preserve them, I knit, sew and make jewelry and almost always make all of our holiday and birthday gifts. We buy our meat directly from the farm and I would love to have chickens and goats someday for eggs and milk. I meal plan 2 weeks at a time and all 3 meals that my family eats each day come out of my kitchen. I love the Goodwill and the Thrift shop and am really trying to teach my children the difference between "wants" and "needs."


robin said...

I've been meaning to read this since it came out. I'm a radical homemaker for sure and striving to become more so all the time. Growing in independence and sustainability is so rewarding & I hope making an impression on my kids.


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