Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Aesthetics and Ascetics

I wanted to show you my holiday knitting and sewing exploits today, but Blogger won't play with me - no pictures!

So, instead a note on my holiday reading.

When I went to collect "The Gentle Art of Domesticity" from the library, I was delighted to find another recently-reserved item had come in: "Animal Vegetable Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver. You may have read "The Poisonwood Bible" or "Prodigal Summer"? If so, this account of the author's experimental year of "seasonal eating" may come as a bit of a surprise.

It is almost a family journal, with contributions from her partner (who lectures in Environmental Studies) and others by her 18-year-old daughter (who is a yoga-teaching, nutrition-fascinated biology student). I felt the book would have benefitted from some pictures. Perhaps it is my enjoyment of the blog culture which provokes this comment, but I wanted to see this family in action: tomato-canning, poultry-slaughtering sessions and all! I felt that the author was trying to sell me a lifestyle, sight unseen. I suspect that she was protecting her family's privacy... but if you choose to write a book about "real life", it becomes a lot more attractive to the reader with a few photos thrown in - even if it is just of hatching chicks! Perhaps she was underlining the seriousness of her environmental message by remaining invisible? It is entirely possible to avoid the sections of polemic on global-warming, as they are sectioned off within the main body of the text. And sometimes I sailed past them just because I wanted to know "what happened next", returning later if I felt like learning something. I particularly enjoyed the daughter's recipe sections, with sample menus for a week of seasonal eating. I started feeling quite guilty that I hadn't started off my veg seed yet (but it's snowing today so maybe it's just as well!) and developed a severe case of "gardening itch"!

It is interesting to compare this book with "The Gentle Art..." which is almost its opposite: stuffed with juicy delicious colourful photos of an idealised domestic lifestyle and not an ounce of political awareness. I swallowed both books whole, immersing myself in two very different approaches to a kitchen-table-centred life. On the one hand, you have Jane Brocket knitting a pineapple-shaped tea cosy and sloshing around in syrup and artificial food colourings, while on the other you have Barbara Kingsolver refusing her child a banana as it can't be grown in Virginia. I would love to get the two of them together to debate their chosen approaches to domesticity!

Reading these volumes concurrently, I felt challenged to examine my own "philosophy" of home-making. I find Jane Brocket's sugar-laden world very attractive, like looking in the window of a sweetie-shop. And Barbara Kingsolver's deeply-wholemeal, high-fibre life appeals to my ascetic presbyterian roots. But it niggles at me that both women have the economic power to choose how they live. That essentially, both are highly-privileged members of society with the money to buy imported fruits whenever they feel like it and the free time and space to cultivate their organic veg, without the pressures of a full-time job / daily commute.

So where do I stand in all this? Somewhere on the periphery... I shop at Lidl to save money and feed my children for the lowest possible price, but I try to choose the organic / fairtrade options where available, I bake my own bread and I grow a few veg. I also choose to spend my evenings knitting socks (a luxury - it's certainly not cheaper and it uses up prodigious amounts of time!) But my house is, frankly, a bit of a tip most of the time, almost entirely lacking in "style", homespun or otherwise! A full-time job, the daily commute, two kids, a husband, a dog and a cat and constant home maintenance issues (the chimney has flooded again!) have the potential to wear me down... but I can't let that happen. The Brocket-esque side of me selects beautiful yarns to knit in the time I carve out for "me". Yes, it would be great to save the planet, but I can't do it on my own and I need a little bit of colour in my life!

What about you? Are you a Brocket or a Kingsolver?!

2 comments:

Zombiecazz said...

Somewhere in between I think.
I recycle, cook from scratch, have chickens, try to grow veg (don't have a green finger).
I also knit, crochet, card make, sew because I love to create. I shop at Lidl too and try and feed my family as cheaply as possible. That's why we've almost stopped eating chicken. I can't afford the free range and I'm loathe to eat the unethically produced stuff.

grannypurple said...

I think those 2 books are such a fascinating pairing--so far, I've only read about them, but they are on my list..
each "lifestyle" sounds exhausting in its own way, so we bounce along with a bit of both. I guess I'd like to seem like a Brockett, while being somewhat more of a Kingsolver than most people realize!