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Wed 15 Dec 2010
I recently missed yet another Thanksgiving gathering with my American family, leaving me with the annual dose of longing for my favourite holiday (food and community, no presents, my idea of heaven!). I have occasionally hosted Thanksgiving here in Australia, but it’s just not the same. For some pretty self-evident reasons, there’s just no sense here of a national imaginary of gratitude that fourth weekend in November, and I’m sure the lack of a four-day weekend doesn’t help.
But Thanksgiving and this year’s many achievements and defeats has led me to think a bit more about what I’m grateful for, and who I should really thank. The list is pretty long, so I’m going to focus on my lovely parents, without whom I wouldn’t be me (for better or worse, eh?). So really, this is a post about parenting and a little filial gratitude.
What are good parents? People bang on about ‘good parents’ as though you’ll find a definition for them in the OED, and many (most?) worry a lot about it once they’re parents themselves. Although I’ve engaged in the rants and ulcers myself, I’m conscious that most responses are rather limited and judgmental, not to mention heavily class laden (and don’t get me started on the gender issues). For one person, being a good parent means keeping kids to a schedule, sending them to a renaissance variety of lessons, or reading with them every night. To another, it might be sending them to the best schools, teaching them to play cricket or making sure their uniform is clean. For some, it may simply be providing a home-cooked meal each night. For most, it’s a mixture of things, of course, and they vary a lot over the course of a child’s life.
Ask children what they think is good parenting and you’ll get a variety of responses as well, and ask those children when they’re adults what was good or bad about their upbringing and the answers will continue to evolve, or even simply to shift depending on their own levels of happiness each year or decade.
As I was thinking about what I appreciated about my parents, I decided to ask my three children (independently) what they think makes good parents. This will be a fascinating list for us to revisit periodically, I suspect. Here were their answers (in their words):
Good parents according Oscar (11yo)
sometimes saying ‘no’
Good parents according to Antigone (9yo)
listening to your children & deciding things as a family
teaching your children how you think things should be (A’s example is: ‘cook your own food’ instead of ‘buying all your food’ – no guesses whose values!)
notice what your children are good at
Good parents according to Atticus (6yo)
look after you well by keeping you safe
make good food
make sure you have a shower sometimes
tell you when you do something well
let you play how you want
make sure you go to bed on time
I was particularly struck by how most of what they thought was good parenting was about parents’ emotional engagement with children – whether we relate to them positively, acknowledge and applaud their achievements, and respect their autonomy. In fact, I asked Oscar what he thought about giving kids opportunities for lessons, and he said, ‘well, no, that’s just about the choice of the kid, really. I know people who just make their kids do swimming lessons and don’t listen to them not wanting to, so that’s not necessarily about good parenting.’
The point here for me is that even as young as my children are, their sense of ‘good parenting’ seems to be clearly about respect and kindness, rather than procedures or consumables. Obviously, any kind of ‘good’ parenting will involve some of the latter, but I was gobsmacked at the kids’ emphasis on and ability to articulate the former.
My own parents were/are unabashedly proud of us. They told us they loved us every day of our childhood, and we still finish phone conversations or part ways with ‘I love you’. They applauded our wins, and demanded we work hard for them. They let us self select our lessons, sport and the like, but then expected us to attend when they were on. Report cards from school were scrutinised and merit was rewarded – the mark for ‘effort’ was noted as was the actual grade, so an ‘A’ that came with only a ‘good’ for effort usually attracted a lecture about our work ethic.
Dad in particular would sit us down regularly to ask us what we wanted to be when we grew up. (In Grade 6 I chose doctor over lawyer, the only two jobs I could imagine one got after university, which is perhaps unsurprising as our generation was the first to attend.) He’d then discuss the ways we might achieve our goals, and ‘hard work’ always figured highly. My first job, typing for Dad, was the summer I was 12. I worked every summer after that, at first in the family businesses, and as soon as I had a driver’s licence (16 in the US then), for a local car wash. The family had plenty of money, but Dad wanted us to know how to work for our own.
They both taught us to believe in ourselves, and when we failed at something, reminded us of the old adage, ‘if at first you don’t succeed…’ Ma in particular taught us to roll with the punches – that woman is unflappable. And her unconditional love for all of us is breathtaking, and fundamental to my sense of well being. Nothing was too hard, no dream too big, no obstacle insurmountable. Dad was adamant on this point, and has always believed in the power of positive thinking, citing his own journey from a childhood experience of poverty to subsequent financial success.
I don’t want to debate the finer points of class and who has ‘real’ choices in this world, something I’m happy to continue doing elsewhere – it’s not the point of this story. The point here is that I’m glad my folks told us to believe in ourselves. I’m glad Dad taught us to fight for what we think is right, and against what we think is wrong. And I’m glad he asked us to think about what those things are.
There have been plenty of times when Dad and I have disagreed on what’s right or wrong in the world. You can imagine the consternation when I made a rather sudden shift to the other side of politics from the one with which I was raised during my third year of university. The shift would have been enough, but moving out of my share house to sleep in front of the library at UCSD with a few dozen others to protest the Gulf War in 1991 was a pretty significant manifestation of my newfound political activism for the left. And a rather shocking one for the daughter of a Republican.
It was admittedly a rocky start to our political divide, culminating in a lengthy interrogation after I dropped out of uni entirely. And the outcome? Dad thanked me for explaining my rationale, said he was pleased to better understand my motivations, and that he respected my decisions. That can’t have been easy, as a former Marine and police officer from Alabama watched his privileged offspring walk away from the opportunities he was providing me to work out how best to participate in the world. But letting me go, and respecting my right to make that choice, was one of many acts of what I think of as an Impressionist’s canvas of ‘good parenting’. It strengthened our relationship (trust will do that), and let me learn for myself within a year that I really wanted to go back to uni and finish my degree, which I obviously did (and kept going back…).
So what am I most grateful to my parents for? They taught us confidence, drive, responsibility and respect, and always made sure we knew we were loved. Ultimately, for me, these things resulted in resilience and self reliance with a strong sense of justice. I really appreciate these gifts from my parents.
Thanks, Ma & Dad. I only hope I give my kids as strong a foundation as you gave me.
Tue 17 Aug 2010
It’s been a busy year. A really busy year. Nearly every week this year has seen me interstate to meet with government or postgrads on campuses across Australia in my role as National President of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations. And yet in the middle of this crazy year (Epic 2010), I’m off on a Grand Tour – Finland, Italy and Malaysia. Disparate countries, you think? Well, yes… but there is (always) a rationale.
I’ll be giving a paper at the 18th International Ethnological Food Research Conference in Turku, Finland this week. Meeting a mix of scholars from around the world, all as obsessed with the centrality of food in our everyday lives, is something to which I look forward with enormous pleasure and anticipation.
Next stop, two and a half weeks in Italy for fieldwork. My fieldwork is essentially wandering the markets, learning the distinctive ingredients and dishes, and talking to people about what they like to eat, why, where, and with whom. Oh, and of course, eating. It requires a fair bit of eating… sampling, tasting…
So I’ve booked flights in and out of Bologna in the north and Palermo in Sicily, and nothing further, really. I’d like to do some language study (I don’t speak Italian) and perhaps a cooking class or two. I’ve received advice from the lovely Leanne de Bortoli, @carmR and a host of other tidbits from the twitterz and on Facebook. Obviously, I know some things about regional Italian cuisines, but not having been to Italy since 1991 (!) I’m conscious of how very much I don’t know about contemporary Italian food. Fortunately, I’m an eager and quick learner when it comes to food cooking. Some of what I’ll find will inform my understanding of what Italian-Australians left behind, and some will highlight the changed ‘homeland’ they find upon returning after many years away.
I can hear some of you (have heard some of you) thinking/saying, ‘but how can you leave the children for so long?’ (Others, mostly mothers themselves, have said, ‘I’m so jealous…’) In truth, it’s hard to leave them for such an extended time. A night or two away just makes me feel grown up and less stressed generally. Three and a half weeks means actually missing out on things, like the daily, multiple cuddles, for too many days. And I’m very very conscious that on the one hand, I am a role model for them of someone who is pursuing my passions with vigour, and on the other hand, the too-often absent mother who is currently role modelling parenting by correspondence.
Never one to wallow in uncertainty, nor to allow life to slow me down, I think I’ve solved the dilemma by organising for the children and Stuart to meet me in Malaysia for a final three-week family adventure. Our reunion in Kuala Lumpur will be filled with the collective discovery of a new country, and our excitement at reforming the Jonai will not be disrupted by the usual demands of work and school. Genius, no?
And so it begins… watch this space as Tammi tastes terroir across three countries, many cities and villages and two continents… alone, with new friends and colleagues, and within the dear core of the Jonai.
Wed 2 Jun 2010
I spent the second half of my childhood living on a 2000 acre cattle ranch in Oregon. Before that, we were city slickers in Orange County, California (before anyone called it ‘the OC’). In spite of this idyllic existence where my cowgirl dreams came true, I didn’t learn much of the ways of the land, so to speak. We had a ranch-hand in charge of the cattle, and although my parents were deeply involved, we kids largely just went along for the lark of a good round-up. I was good on a horse and knew a lot about their care, as well as the castrating and vaccination routines of pasture-fed cattle, but I couldn’t have told you a thing about growing fruit or vegetables, and chickens were a total mystery.
Three years after high school, I found myself on the cliffs of Wales, walking with a lover I met in a hostel in London after dropping out of university while protesting the 1991 Gulf War. I’m vegetarian. We’re discussing our life’s dreams in that starry-eyed youthful way, and I pronounce my intention to own a property in Colorado someday, near enough to Boulder that there will be a like-minded community of hippies and dreamers, but far enough out to buy a farm big enough to do some serious growing. My lover says, ‘no way. I totally can’t picture you on a farm.’ (He also shortly thereafter informed me he had recently left the Australian Army Reserves. It is one of the true mysteries of this story that we are still together 19 years later…)
Some six years later, my lover/husband and I visited Daylesford for the first time. As always when we spend time in the country, we were enchanted and immediately commence dplans to move there. We signed the Convent Gallery’s guestbook with, ‘we’ll be back… to live next time.’
Since we met, Stuart and I have spent a total of two years actually living in the country, one in a small town in Oregon, where for most of the year we lived in a gorgeous little log cabin under a magnificent cherry tree, the other on a remote property in far east Gippsland, Victoria, which is an environmental education campus for Year 9 girls. The latter year was a pastoral dream, a poetic success, and professionally challenging. We swore again that we would live in the country on our own property one day…
But in all these pastoral dreams, I never really entertained the notion of actually being a farmer, in the sense of a producer for a market to make a living. Mine has always been a hippie’s halcyon daydream of self-sufficiency. Which, unsurprisingly, is probably why we haven’t yet made it happen. Exactly how do we earn a living on our own little unplugged piece of the planet? Even around Daylesford, there’s not a lot of work for an academic and a business development manager in building automation technologies.
But everything changed when we heard Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms last weekend. In case you haven’t heard of Joel, he describes himself as an environmentalist, capitalist, lunatic farmer. He is one of the most intelligent, charismatic speakers to whom I have had the pleasure to listen, and he did a great job of busting my every stereotype of ‘dumb farmers’. He even has a philosophy about that…
We went to the Lakehouse to hear Joel talk about building a local food system, and how to scale up ‘without losing your soul’. I was interested in the way I always am – how can we feed the world through smaller, more local production where farmers are embedded in communities? You know, the usual, ‘how do we save the world’ sort of questions that are my trademark. I came away convinced that the best way for Stuart and I to help save the world was not simply by ‘living the changes we wish to see in the world’ but by flogging them and making a living from them as well. Yes, I’m convinced that we can and should be primary producers. I give us about five years to get through a start-up period. How did Joel convert me?
Here are the highlights of Joel’s double-feature seminar, in note form with minimal editorialising.
First of all, a local food system has six components:
- local farms will be ‘aesthetically and aromatically, sensually romantic’. Large scale commodity ‘farms’ are so opaque they allow unsustainable practices. Local producers are embedded in communities. The industrial economy has created ‘commercial apartheid’ – it is ‘opaque, confused and inefficient… with a semblance of efficiency only enabled by cheap energy’. Stop subsidising the petrochemical industry and cheap, industrial food will have to increase in price.
- (Sadface fact of the day: in California, organic growers are now required to sign an affadavit to keep under-5-year-olds off their farm because they might wear nappies, which might contaminate the produce. See my rant on agro-industry for my thoughts on this sadness.)
- Local producers look after the ‘ecological umbilical’ with practices such as pasture-based livestock, stacking and symbiosis.
- Farms should be solar driven (not petrochemical). Fertiliser is in-sourced.
- Farmers should be ‘Jeffersonian intellectual agrarians’. In order for ‘city folk’ to take farmers seriously, they need to professionalise and outwardly express their intelligence.
- Traditional family farmers are not good at creating a successionally successful business – they must learn to collaborate and take on more young workers outside the family where necessary.
- With our loss of local canneries, butchers, bakeries, etc, we must reclaim spaces for community food processing, such as church halls.
- Government regulations are not scalable for small operations. At some point, we should be able to take individual responsibility for our food choices (eg raw milk).
- Most farmers are not very good accountants. You need to be able to understand which of your products are being subsidised by others and do something about it if you want to be profitable.
- No matter how good your produce is, people need to know it exists. A great way for small farms to market more easily is to collaborate with other small producers nearby.
- Distribution can be the great bottleneck for small, local producers, who end up selling everything to supermarkets via the big distributors. Again, collaboration with other local growers can solve this problem.
- Every product needs a consumer, & a small, local farmer’s patrons are likely to be people who appreciate seasonality, who are excited about rediscovering their kitchens, and who know that processed food is expensive.
In the second seminar on scaling up, Joel went into more detail about Polyface Farm. Here’s what we learned…
- Polyface sales are approximately 25% on-farm, 35% restaurant and boutique supermarket, and 45% ‘box drop’ internet sales.
- They separate the delivery fee from the farmer’s cost so consumers can see how much goes to the farmer – as Joel said, he’s a farmer, not a transporter.
- His boundary is deliveries within 4 hours of Polyface.
- The box drop system works much better than farmers’ market attendance – there’s no speculation about what stock to take, they deliver to a central point at agreed time and customers collect their boxes, which they were able to choose from entire inventory. (The internet, once conceived as a tool of globalisation, has emerged as an excellent tool for localisation.)
- Polyface employs interns and apprentices, provides housing and board and very small stipends.
The Mental Protection from Wall Streetification of Polyface
- Never have a sales target.
- No trademarks or patents. ‘Hold your innovations lightly.’
- Identify your market boundaries. (Then you can just tell those outside them to seek other fabulous local growers, thus supporting the movement & reducing your own stress.)
- Incentivised workforce (bonuses and commissions). [apologies to those who hate 'incentivise', which isn't a word, I know. Am quoting.]
- No Initial Public Offering (IPO). That way you will never be beholden to shareholders, whose primary aim is merely to make a profit themselves.
- No advertising – it’s all word of mouth.
- Stay in the ecological carrying capacity (the ecology of the farm should be able to metabolise its own waste).
- People answer the phone.
- Respect the pigness of the pig.
- Quality always has to go up. (If you can’t increase quality when increasing volume, then don’t increase your volume.)
Two other quick, interesting, important points:
And I quote,
“GMO is evil.”
Patenting seeds and suing small growers, including traditional native American communities, when patented DNA is found in their seed stock is EVIL. Indeed.
Organic certification is insufficient as it is a pass/fail system. Those who would get a D- are alongside those who would earn an A+ – it’s a perverse incentive to work to the lowest common denominator. For example, one farm might produce all of its own organic compost – all of its outputs become inputs for the farm – no organic waste leaves the property. Another might bring in organic fish emulsion from the east coast, which has been sourced as a byproduct of Japanese driftnets and has a carbon footprint bigger than importing petrochemical fertilisers from Australia (this is to the US, of course).
According to Joel, if you ask whether something is organic, and the producer or seller says, ‘yes’, the conversation is over and you buy it. There are many things that might be environmentally or ethically suspect about the produce, but they are masked by the organic certification. When he’s asked why he doesn’t certify, there is a conversation, everybody learns more, and the word is spread further.
As I listened to Joel, it increasingly dawned on me that many arguments against running a small farm were being systematically debunked. He is a passionate advocate for farming in a way that is socially, environmentally and fiscally sustainable. He speaks my language. He writes fascinating books detailing what we only heard a few hours of. And he’s on the lecture circuit proselytising about all of it. Zomigod, I can do that.
Mon 22 Mar 2010
Posted by Tammi Jonas under competence, cooking, ethical, family, feminism, food, gardening, identity, parenting, phd, produce
Peggy Orenstein’s recent New York Times article ‘The Femivore’s Dilemma’ really struck a chord with feminists across the internets. In the last couple days I’ve seen the term ‘femivore’ (which Orenstein says is a combination of feminist and locavore) defined as everything from sapphic to misogynist cannibalism, and I’d have to agree that it’s an unfortunate coining etymologically speaking.
Orenstein’s concept of femivores arises from her friends who are raising their own chooks, and from Shannon Hayes’ book Radical Homemakers, that is, strong, intelligent women (and men, as it turns out) who are choosing to produce food in their own backyards as a way of nurturing themselves, their families and the planet. Unsurprisingly, there have been a number of negative responses to the idea that it is only women who are involved in the locavore movement, or indeed ‘downshifting’, ‘voluntary simplicity’, Slow Food or any other version of ‘slower’, less consumerist lifestyles.
It seems there are three primary threads then that require unravelling: gender, class, and sustainability. On gender, the most compelling argument for home food production and locavorism as intrinsically tied to feminist practice is that women are still by far the majority of the world’s domestic labour force. Before anyone starts yelling ‘my husband does most of the cooking’ (and to wit, my own partner is a regular and good cook, does most of our laundry, and is a passionate home gardener), I am not suggesting that men don’t do these things, but according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian women in fact still do two and a half times more food preparation and cleaning up than men,whether they work outside the home or not.
One of ecofeminism’s claims is essentially that the patriarchy got us into this unsustainable capitalist mess, and feminism might just be able to get us out of it. Julia Russell puts it quite plainly in ‘The Evolution of an Ecofeminist’: ‘I call it the politics of life-style and I think it is a distinctly feminine politics in that it is both inner and universal, personal and all-inclusive. It is based on the understanding that lasting societal transformation begins with and rests on transformations of the individual.’
Russell’s valorising of individual responsibility perhaps leads us to the heart of claims that there are insurmountable class issues with so-called ‘femivorism’. Admittedly, Orenstein’s ‘femivores’ appear to all be white middle-class women. But Lindsay Beyerstein’s vituperative response “’Femivores’? Spare me.” is disingenuous sour grapes to the extreme. Beyerstein’s argument is tired and reductive. While I don’t believe anyone is suggesting that backyard gardens are equivalent to running a commercial farm, they are apparently important enough as to be encouraged by governments in times of war to address food shortages. Gardening can indeed be as simple as a hobby, but it can also be a significant means of saving money, ensuring the quality and freshness of one’s food, and reduce one’s carbon footprint substantially, and it is certainly hard work sometimes, as well as deeply pleasurable.
Beyerstein even attempts to elide the importance of nourishing one’s children if you choose to have them, with her hyperbolic question: ‘How about figuring out how to share domestic labor more equitably so that SAHMs have more free time to spend as they see fit, even if their hobbies don’t fit the stereotype of maternal perfection?’ Sure, domestic labour should be shared more equally, that’s a given. And of course mothers should have time to themselves without the constant pressure of the Good Mother mythology. But frankly, one’s tennis lessons (mother’s or father’s) are not in fact more important than feeding one’s children. And feeding your children well is at the core of good parenting, not external to it. Taking kids to swimming, tennis, guitar and dance lessons every weekday does not automatically a good parent make. Feeding them healthy food every day so they grow up without chronic illness or obesity is one essential component of good parenting. There, I said it, and now I’ll wait for those who would shrug off this essential duty to our children to attack me for not being a good feminist, because apparently feminists eat fast food.
Is it only middle class stay-at-home mums who ‘have time’ to cultivate a garden and cook wholesome food? Obviously not – families of many classes and cultures engage in gardening and cooking. And in fact, it is often those with the most spare time with partners in the highest income brackets who are least likely to spend their time on food production. By contrast, there are 18 community gardens in Melbourne’s public housing estates, with over 650 individual plots tended by residents.
It is obviously not just white middle-class privilege to have a thriving home garden, it’s for anyone who cares about their own, their families’ (if they have one) and the planet’s well being. It is also not just drudgery, and a new way to chain women to the kitchen sink. Our culture’s sense of entitlement to a life of convenience and uber-consumerism is neither making us happy nor providing our children with a future. Anecdotally, we talk of the Greek and Italian migrants of the 50s and their backyards full of tomatoes and fruit trees, plus the annual sugo making led by somebody’s nonna. For many, these traditions are being lost, whilst for others they are just being discovered.
At a salami making day I attended last winter, a third generation northern Italian claimed that even the ‘Skippies’ are getting into ‘the old ways’ now, and someone else quipped, ‘people are calling them ‘foodies’, when all they are is wogs!‘ The excellent group blog Progressive Dinner Party is awash with women one might call ecofeminists (even if they don’t), and the stories you find there make it obvious how much pleasure is gained from growing, cooking and eating their own produce or that sourced from responsible producers. There is unquestionably satisfaction, pride and pleasure in being competent and/or skilled in the garden and/or kitchen.
In my research, I am finding that for those who have the requisite kitchen skills, consciously practising frugality (in terms of purchasing and re-use) is a powerful form of agency, and one that evident across class and culture. One of my interviewees, an Anglo Australian woman in her seventies, is frugal through both habit and necessity, and expresses a great deal of pride at being so. She says it is just ‘common sense’ not to waste or overspend. A Vietnamese-Australian couple who arrived as political refugees in the 70s echo her arguments for common sense, and further claim to feel ‘smart’ about their sustainable and homely practices. And their son, born in Australia, also insists that he feels quite proud about his more frugal habits, such as never wasting leftovers, and in fact ‘ashamed’ when he is wasteful, either in terms of unnecessary consumption or food waste. A key point is that none are expressing resentment at behaving sustainably, rather it gives them enormous satisfaction.
Ultimately, it is not only a feminist issue to engage in homely and sustainable food production, though feminists will have a particular interest in it. The need to provide education and opportunities to develop skills in gardening and cooking is evident in the plethora of issues facing us, from climate change to obesity, and from depression to loss of entire food cultures. And perhaps most importantly, there is an urgent need to understand and promote the intrinsic value and deep pleasures of quotidian ‘chores’ such as growing and chopping your own garlic.