There are all kinds of how-to manuals out there, new ones and old ones, supporting the recent movement to reclaim home sufficiency skills–everything from spinning wool to making yogurt to constructing a chicken coop out of salvaged wood pallets. In her new book, Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity From a Consumer Culture, farmer, homemaker, and Cornell PhD Shannon Hayes gives us something much different–a thoughtful, well-researched, and much-needed sociological foundation for making our homes the primary locus of positive personal, community, and ecological change. In so many ways, Hayes argues, corporate culture, first-wave feminism, big agriculture, the modern education system, and myriad other influences have contrived to teach us that a home-centered life cannot satisfy our needs for personal fulfillment, intellectual engagement, and genuine achievement. Radical Homemakers know a different truth–that, as Hayes writes:
“When we regain connection with all that sustains us, we regain creative spirit. We rediscover the joy that comes with using our hands and our minds in union to nourish, nurture and delight in our families; we tap the source of true creative satisfaction, the ecstasy that accompanies a home that lives in harmony with the earth’s systems, and the certitude of a life guided by principles of social justice and nonexploitation.”
I couldn’t agree more, and I love the way Hayes mixes her more heady philosophical points with conversational stories gleaned from her interviews with twenty different Radical Homemaker families and individuals. In reading these stories, we learn that there are as many ways of being a Radical Homemaker as there are homes–we all have individual loves, talents, and resources to bring to the home and community table. All of us start with what we have, and where we are. Hayes interviews a young college graduate canning tomatoes in her first apartment, rural homesteaders, urban folks with patio or backyard gardens and chickens, hardcore DIY builders, knitters, homeschoolers. It’s wonderful to realize that no one person can do everything. True self-sufficiency is a myth, but the deep satisfaction that comes from being involved with some aspect of our sustenance is universal. And though there is no one Radical Homemaker path, Hayes is careful to maintain a central thesis–that all Radical Homemakers are seeking an alternative to the extractive economy, and moving toward a life-giving economy, where true wealth is not always determined by a surplus of things and money, but just as often by “the ability to live well without it.”
I highly recommend this book, and promise you’ll find inspiration in its pages whether you are a seasoned “radical,” or pondering your first herb pot. Learn more about Shannon and her new book at the Radical Homemakers website.