At first glance, being a foodie and writing a blog can seem quite focused, maybe even a little narrow. It can easily come down to three things: food, recipes, and impressions, and indeed many good food blogs go no further. But food can be a much broader subject, and foodies everywhere should be concerned with how and where their food is grown. (They should also be concerned with questions about why some people get too much to eat and why some people don’t get enough, but that’s a topic for another time.) Then, from these concerns spring a larger environmental awareness that spirals inward and outward at the same time. Simply and personally put: How do my eating habits affect me, my town, my state, my country, the world? Naturally, energy use, climate change, pollution, and pesticides are woven into these questions as well. It soon becomes clear that food is a complicated subject that touches many areas of life.
I thought of this as I watched HomeGrown, a documentary about the Dervaes family, who literally took food matters into their own hands and decided to see how much they could grow in their backyard, which was less than a quarter of an acre. As it turned out, they could grow 6,000 pounds, enough food not only to feed themselves but also to sell to local restaurants. Because the Dervaes family lives in Pasadena, they have a long growing season and can therefore support themselves with the bounty reaped from their urban homestead. But still, long growing season or not, 6,000 pounds from one quarter of an acre is pretty impressive. In addition, the family lives off the grid, using solar panels and an outdoor solar shower. (Again, the outdoor shower is possible because of where they live.) Their urban homestead also has chickens and goats. There is a website (of course!) called Path to Freedom (http://www.pathtofreedom.com/about), where you can learn more about this remarkable family—a father and three adult children, two daughters and a son. HomeGrown, directed by Robert McFalls, has a website as well. (http://www.homegrown-film.com/about.html) If the movie doesn’t come to a theater near you, it will certainly soon be available through Netflix.
Now, not every family wants to sell food for a living. Nor should they. After all, we need teachers and librarians and social workers and chefs and factory workers and engineers and doctors. The list is long, and it is no more advisable to have a society with mono-careers than it is to have a farm with mono-crops. But do we really need so many clerks working at Wal-Mart and Home Depot and, yes, even L. L. Bean? Consider this statistic, from November’s Down East magazine. “The most common job in Maine isn’t lobsterman or lumberjack, it’s retail sales clerk, followed closely by cashier; there are more people working in either of those professions than all the fisherman, farmers, and forestry workers combined.” No doubt some of those clerks and cashiers love their work, despite the fact that these jobs pay a low wage and often come without benefits. However, when was the last time you saw a clerk or a cashier who looked pleased as punch to be working in that big box store? Not very often, I suspect.
But what would happen if, in the thousands and thousand of yards across the country, families started growing food instead of lawns? What if they kept a few chickens? Maybe even a goat or two? What if they began making their own bread and began hanging their laundry on a clothesline? Would it be possible to live on one income rather than two? Or perhaps two part-time jobs? And, correspondingly, would it be possible to get by with one car rather than two? Would there be more dinners cooked from scratch? What would this do to energy consumption? To food distribution? To the high levels of obesity and diabetes? (Hint: How many farmers are fat?)
I know. This sounds like a hippie-dippie back-to-nature scheme, and in a way I suppose it is. But it is also a radical shift from the system we have now, where we pretty much totally depend on others for the necessities of life. Let me be clear. I am not suggesting we return to the good old days when nearly everyone lived in the country on a small family farm. There are far too many people to make this feasible, and it is good to have time to pursue other interests and hobbies. To grow or make everything a family uses is labor intensive indeed. Yet how free are we, really, in the two-career home where both adults work outside the home all day and come home too frazzled to cook and enjoy being with their children? How free are we when we depend on Wall Street and big business for our well being? I’m just asking.
I’d like to suggest that if we grew and cooked more of our own food, then we would in fact be freer and more secure than we are now. (Throw in universal health care and affordable higher education, and families would have even more latitude.) I think it is totally appropriate that the Dervaes family called their website “The Path to Freedom.”
Finally, let me be clear on one other point. To my way of thinking, “The Path to Freedom” does not mean that it is automatically the woman who stays home to grow the food, bake the bread, and hang out the laundry. Men can do these things as well as women, and with freedom comes flexibility and choice.
HomeGrown is only fifty-two minutes long, but it certainly raises a lot of issues, both on a personal level and on a larger societal level. I highly recommend this film.