But truth be told, when I crunched the numbers, a farmers’ market meal made of roasted local pasture-raised chicken, baked potatoes and steamed broccoli cost less than four meals at Burger King, even when two of the meals came off the kiddie menu. The Burger King meal had negligible nutritional value and was damaging to our health and planet. The farmers’ market menu cost less, healed the earth, helped the local economy, was a source of bountiful nutrients for a family of four, and would leave ample leftovers for both a chicken salad and a rich chicken stock, which could then be the base for a wonderful soup. But when push came to shove, I knew that Burger King would win out. The reason? Many people don’t even know how to roast a chicken, let alone make a chicken salad from the leftovers or use the carcass to make a stock. Mainstream Americans have lost the simple domestic skills that would enable them to live an ecologically sensible life with a modest or low income.
— from “Radical Homemakers”
Home ownership, self-sufficiency, community, prosperity… many of America’s oft-stated goals and ideals can sometimes work at cross purposes. Over and again in her book “Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity From a Consumer Culture”, Shannon Hayes makes the point that the industrialized and urban society with its patterns of work and wage earning have sopped up our time and set us into a vicious cycle where we consume rather than create. Shannon details how the Industrial Revolution diminished the centrality of home as an economic unit and the work done by a family. She values a return to practices of an earlier time when people had to grow their own food, make their own clothing, pass life skills and amusements on to their children, and help each other. She recognizes that “most of us will always rely on the broader industrial system for something” but states that in nurturing basic skills “we discover ways to simplify our demands and rebuild our domestic culture.”
Shannon Hayes certainly lives her beliefs. She and her husband Bob Hooper and two young home-schooled daughters live in Richmondville, NY and tend her family’s Sap Bush Hollow Farm in Schoharie County. They are “grass farmers”, raising and selling meat and poultry with guidance to its preparation in Shannon’s earlier book, “The Farmer and the Grill”. Much of that knowledge came from her experiences in Argentina. “Radical Homemakers” is a broader manifesto based on her own life and from nterviews with more than two dozen men and women now involved in subsistance farming or urban homesteading and who “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.”
Dr. Shannon Hayes holds a B.A. in creative writing from Binghamton University and a Master’s and Ph.D.in sustainable agriculture and community development from Cornell. Shannon and Bob join Bill Jaker on OFF THE PAGE to speak about reclaiming lost or novel domestic skills, the challenges of today’s economic situation that may make change imperative and the little things that can make a big difference.