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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"Make It Yourself"

I picked up a book by Sarah A. Gorden entitled, "Make It Yourself: Home Sewing, Gender, and Culture 1890-1930". I haven't read it yet, but it is only a portion of a multi-media discussion of home economics history. You can see the online portion here: Make It Yourself.

What needs to be stated about early home economics is that there is a deeper social philosophy that is very often overridden by conspicuous consumption. The divide in home economics education, and ultimately people's identity with this field of study, is as to whether home economics is practical, philosophical, social, and/or a study in consumerism.

The fact is that it was and is practical. The philosophy of - or love of thinking about - home economics is that you get knowledge about human activities related to our personal and private lives in a way that shows our diversity and ingenuity. This contributes to the social aspect of home economics in that once we understand our individual endeavors in living, that we can put into practice in a home, in a community, in the world, a more certain institution of justice about when we as humans decide to produce what we will then use to live, or to buy with the money produced from the selling of our labor. But what we decide to buy (rather than produce) with our labor-money is the product of someone else's labor, and that distant, unknowable labor is often unjust in the realm of global consumerism and capitalism.

Here's my bias: I like it when the salsa I make has onions, tomatoes, pepper, tomatillos, cilantro, and garlic that I myself harvested or was harvested by the farmers I can actually say hello to. My own work is in itself just. How can learning and education in home economics transfer such good-feeling justness to those outside of my home? I believe that it takes an active life, not one of pressure where I'm convincing people to make "justice salsa", but rather just practices that contribute to liberation.

Friday, October 23, 2009

"When Everything Changed" on C-SPAN

Here is a link to an interview with Gail Collins who recently published the book When Everything Changed. It's a history of American women from 1960 to the present. I conclude from the interview that this book may not address issues of women and home economics, which would deny a certain feminist critique. The interview was interesting, AND one of my Twitter responses to C-SPAN for this interview on the Washington Journal was asked of the author! Super - now I'm famous.

BTW, I had yet another Tweet read on C-SPAN this morning - I know, my signature keeps gaining tremendous value :) Rock on, Home Economics!!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

U.S. corn supply to reach record: USDA - MarketWatch

One might not think that having a record supply of corn is related to the economy of home. In fact it is, and the key relationships are in forms and practices of production and consumption.

As for production, the constant increasing of corn bushel yields has been going on since the 1800s when the majority of the US economy was based in agricultural exports. It is still the largest part of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). If you pay attention to a variety (preferably non-commercial) news sources, you will hear about the US food aid programs to other countries. Using food as a tool of international relations, as well as subtle neo-colonialism, has given the US governmental agencies and legislators the perceived power to profit from the practice of overproduction. Unfortunately, increasing yields through chemical and genetic manipulation has continually lessened the real incomes of corn farmers. I'll find the name, but it was a senator from a corn growing state, I think maybe it was James McClure from Idaho, that pushed for agricultural reform in the early 1970s. In this case, the reform was for more corn production, which, likely, benefited his constituents as there was a prediction of increasing grain prices in the 1970s. Duh. Of course he is going to push for corn.

What he did, in fact, was send some of his farmers to early retirement, or abandonment, and sadly all too often into foreclosure and bank repossession of land and equipment. The homes of the farmers - their own economy of home - was impacted directly from legislative acts. If anyone wants to talk about trickle-down economics, we could see a raging stream for farmers.

U.S. corn supply to reach record: USDA - MarketWatch

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Michael Pollan Article About American Cooking

Here is a link to a new Michael Pollan news article about American cooking (or the lack there of) and our relationships with our kitchens and cooking shows.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Revaluations, by Caroline Hunt

In 1901, the progressive, feminist home economist, Caroline Hunt, presented a philosophically-oriented paper entitled, "Revaluations", which discussed home economics as the practical AND philosophical core of liberation and social relationships. (See Caroline Hunt: Philosopher for Home Economics by Marjorie East, 1982). Although I disagree with some of her statements, for example, that the women of the early 1900s who continued to make their own soap were enslaved to that task when they could free themselves for other things if they made the choice to purchase pre-made soaps, there are other statements that I find interesting.

Caroline begins the Revaluations like this: "Vacations are to the worker opportunities not only for bodily recuperation, but also for orientation, and for getting a view of [her or his] work in its wider relations". Later on she writes, "Progress comes when a [person] is sufficiently clear-headed to deduce from [their] own experience a correct conclusion in contradiction to the world's conclusions as expressed in custom, and is strong enough to institute for [themselves] a new line of procedure." I wouldn't be quoting these two statements if I didn't agree with them. But if I follow Caroline's line of thinking, when I come to my own conclusion that "enslaving" myself to the task of making my own butter is my "new line of procedure" based on the evaluation of my experience, then I am progressive.

This was the kind of thinking that Professor Mark Shutes of Youngstown State University was teaching me as an undergraduate in anthropology - to understand the individual as choices were made (Mark died in 2001 from pancreatic cancer). In our research, we were understanding individual farmer choices in the town of ancient Korinth on the Greek Peloponnese and recording crop choices using GIS (Geographical Information Systems). Even though customs in farming choices could be had, farmers continually proceeded with farming options that would often shock their neighbors, and of course some choices were incremental steps in new directions based on current economic knowledge and risk.

Did the Greek farmers go on vacation to re-orient their thinking and return knowing what crop and how much to plant next? I don't know. What I do know is that when we step away from the farm, leave our office desks behind, put down the hammer and nails, leave the house cleaning for another day, stop flipping hamburgers, get our noses out of pre-written philosophy books, and take even just a few days vacation for "orientation", we've set ourselves on a path of renewal, self-understanding, and broader perspective. That's what I call a souvenir.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stir It Up, by Megan Elias

I'm almost finished reading Stir It Up by Megan Elias. This book is such a good and comprehensive history of home economics that I question whether I need to finish my dissertation! Well, yes, I should. Although Elias discusses history and topics that I am including in my own writing, my focus on relevancy and awareness problems in Extension is not addressed.

As I continue to think about the relevancy of home economics, I keep coming back to the problems of the economic turmoil occurring around the world. Is it the downturn of industrial Capitalism? Is it the lack of fair relationships in trade? Is everything Wal-Mart's fault? No. An easy answer would be nice, but when I consider all I have learned, and all I have researched, and all that I practice in my own life, the problem must be coming from one thing - an overall hegemonic lifestyle pattern from production to consumption. Read whatever overtones you think are in this statement, but the past 200 years of American history show that the push to purchase consumables and to leave one's own production behind has now created a stage of our own (un)planned obsolescence.

In thinking about "us" being obsolete, that really isn't it I suppose. What I really mean is the way in which we live and work, how we play and learn - it's boring. Ultimately I can only speak for myself, so let me tell you a brief story. Last week I worked my normal 8 hour day, and like most days this summer, it stunk! I was bored, but I had to be there if I wanted to be paid. As sometimes happens, I felt there was no real purpose for my job; there just wasn't going to be a practical outcome of my 8 hours behind the computer. That evening, I went to the Weavers Guild to begin winding my warp for some handwoven blankets. I turned on the radio, drank some of my coffee, and settled-in in the weaving room.

After placing my bag of yarn on the floor in front of the warping board, I grabbed some white yarn, made a loop, and hooked it over a peg. Then I began winding. To do this, you take the yarn and go back and forth across the warping board (see picture) spanning a yard in each direction. It had been over a year since I created a warp, and I had made about 8 passes with the yarn from top to bottom, and I suddenly found myself emotional! I teared up - why? Because of the shear joy it brought me to be doing something I love so much, to be in the process of making something meaningful, practical, and skillful - to know that what I was doing was worthwhile and would have an outcome I could see, touch, and literally wrap myself up in!

Now I didn't start working with fiber projects until 2000 when I learned to knit. Oh, if I had only learned about this unleashed passion earlier in life, I wonder if I would be just working to pay the bills, or if I would be living? Well, I got over the shear happiness and tears and went on to warp for 3 hours, doing the warping dance that comes with moving left to right with the yarn, lifting and moving my hands like flowing water. This is the kind of thing that a national economy can't induce through a mandatory education system; this can only be accomplished in the informal education, often a reflection of home and personal economy. It resists being obsolete, and in that, it is liberating and relevant.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day in America

It's Memorial Day in America, and the TVs and Main Streets are full of images of war veterans. Frank Buckles, who as of today is the last known living WWI veteran at age 108, has received some fanfare as of late.

What often goes missing is the work that women do, and during WWI, home economists of the Cooperative Extension Service were significant players in war and home-front arenas. Remember, the Cooperative Extension Service was new, created by the Smith-Lever Act in 1914. At the beginning of WWI in 1915, the US was staying clear of participation with the exception of exporting crops to the Allies. The US government joined the Allies in 1917 when Germany said it would attack any kind of ship (merchant, passenger). This sent the United States into one of many conservation modes. The US Congress passed, and President Wilson approved, the Lever Act (Food Administration Act) which allowed for more governmental control over food production and distribution, as well as spreading agricultural knowledge for increasing production.

Under these new governmental guidelines, home economists in the Extension Service were deployed throughout the United States to teach women conservation practices including the growing of kitchen gardens in their own yards so that the majority of agricultural crops could be shifted to military use. They also taught women how to conserve their resources, redesign existing clothing, and to use socially cooperative practices to expand the availability of resources. Interestingly, there was a decline in the birthrate in the US at this time too, so reproduction rates may have followed a conservative line as well.

My point here is that somewhere in America there may be the last living Home Economist from the WWI era, and it sure would be nice to give her some well-deserved airtime as Mr. Buckles has gotten. In a book called The Story of Civilization by Will Durant (thank you Mr. Rogers for sharing this tidbit), Durant writes, "Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting, and doing things historians usually record - while, on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry, whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happens on the banks." And so we find home economists on the banks of civilization, and on the farms and in the cities, helping people negotiate the stuff of civilization that doesn't just float by on the stream, but the stuff that gets snagged in the roots of civilization found dangling from the vital and often eroded banks.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My Home Ec Definition in Wordle

I just learned about from my dissertation advisor, Mary. I entered the text from this blog that is on the left, defining how I see Home Economics. It spits out the words in a way that shows the most to least important/used. Here is how it turned out:

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Clothesline Economy

OK, so if you are looking for a tried and true way of reducing your utility bill, you'll want to consider putting up a clothesline outside. With today's warm and windy weather in southern Ohio, it's a great day to do laundry. In these low 50 degree temps, and a 5-10 mile per hour wind, laundry will dry within 3-4 hours. Yes, it requires a little labor and patience, but this is indeed easy and enjoyable labor. In temperatures above 60, the drying time shortens. In the summer, around 80 degrees, laundry dries in an hour or less. The variations in sun and wind affect drying time more so than humidity levels.

As for clothesline poles, you'll probably find that the big chain home do-it-yourself stores don't carry them. I found mine at the smaller locally-owned hardware stores. There are two kinds of poles: one is thick, strong, and a much longer Made In the USA type, typically made of stainless steel. The other kind is cheap, white, shorter, and thinner, and comes from, you guessed it - China. Try to find the American made type because it simply will be better quality. I have one of each, and the one from China won't go into the ground far enough, so I had to dig a deep whole and fill it in with bricks and cement to kind of extend the length of the pole.

As for the line props, you can find those at a local hardware store too. In the northern areas, stores keep the props in stock when the season is warmer, so if you are in the warmer climates, you may find them throughout the year. If they don't have them, you can ask one of the employees if they can make one. My store did. The guy took a simple metal tube, and cut it to 6 feet (don't do this, make sure it is at least 7 feet long). Then he cut a notch in one end using a rotary sander of some sort, then put a rubber foot on the other end. Voila, a line prop! This of course impressed me on the service and ingenuity you get with local stores versus the chain stores.

You might say you don't have time for putting clothes on the line, but when you get $40-70 electric bills in the summer, even when running the air conditioner, you'll know that your clothesline is worth it. Save your laundry for the weekends too, that way you may have the time to put laundry out.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Books You Might Enjoy, Part 1

Here is a list of books related to issues in home economics. Although this is helpful, I don't want to contribute to stereotypes about home ec, as if it is always womens' work, even if the discourse makes it look that way. Men work in the home too, but you will be hard-pressed to find books devoted to the topic. Some of these books do include how men have participated in the practice and profession. In general, most deal with women. Remember, home economics isn't just about the home either - it's about how we live each day with the connections to and influences of the external economies, and how we negotiate our practices. The reference format is APA style because that is now permanently ingrained in my brain!

Stage, S. and Vincenti, V.B. (Eds.). (1997). Rethinking home economics: Women and the history of a profession. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Hayden, D. (1976). Seven American utopias: The architecture of communitarian
socialism, 1790-1975
. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Hayden, D. (1981). The grand domestic revolution: A history of feminist designs for
American homes, neighborhoods, and cities
. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Hayden, D. (2004). Domesticating urban space. In M. Wheeler and T. Beatley (Eds.), The sustainable urban development reader (pp. 150-156). New York, NY: Routledge.

Dublin, T. (1979). Women at work: The transformation of work and community in
Lowell, Massachusetts, 1826-1860
. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Rury, J.L. (1991). Education and women's work: Female schooling and the division of labor in urban America, 1870-1930. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Talbot, M. (1910). The education of women. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Sharma, U. (1986). Women's work, class, and the urban household: A study of Shimla, North India. New York, NY: Tavistock Publications.

Hennessy, R. and Ingraham, C. (1997). Materialist feminism: A reader in class, difference, and women's lives. New York, NY: Routledge.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

How to Make Butter

Ever wonder where your butter comes from? A huge portion of cheap commercial butter is made from butter and milk products imported from other countries, especially Europe. Well, that is silly, since we have hundreds of thousands of displaced farmers right here in the U.S. that could be producing our own milk and butter. So, since you just can't be sure, strive to find milk that is truly from a local dairy. I'm lucky to have found Snowville Creamery for my dairy needs, a true Ohio dairy where the land, cows, and people aren't outsourced.

Plus, bringing in dairy products from other countries is not helping environmental issues due to the excess use of fuels to transport it. So, making your own butter is "greener".

Here is how to make your own Made in America butter:

1. In a food processor with a typical metal blade, pour in some whipping cream.
2. Run the processor until the fat separates into a chunk from the buttermilk.
3. Scoop out the butter into a bowl, and press out the remaining buttermilk.
4. Done.

Keep the buttermilk to make fresh biscuits, or just drink it. Add a bit of salt to the cream before whipping it if you want. You can add maple syrup, garlic, or herbs as well if you want to spice it up! It's that freakin' easy!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

First Male Home Economist in Northern Ireland

The University of Ulster in Northern Ireland graduated its first male home economics teacher, Marc Harding, in 2005. It was such a new thing that the University posted a news story about him (University of Ulster News), and he was interviewed by the The Consumer Council for Northern Ireland as well.

Men have made inroads into the home economics profession since the 1940s/50s in the United States, but I'm not sure what the history is like in other countries - I'll keep looking! There are lots of stories about men becoming home economists, like this one at The main thrust is still about cooking and childcare issues, at least on the surface. Maybe that is because it's easy to get pictures like the one on Buzzle of people sitting at a dining table. It's much tougher to visualize home economics as a way to understand social justice movements in say food acquisition or the development of marital laws.

Home economics is a global area of knowledge, because most people have to deal with a personal economy in whatever their place of residence is - a 10 room house in a suburban subdivision (a.k.a., perfectly good farm land); a tent under a highway overpass; an apartment in a 300 unit complex. Everyone deals with economics. The University of Alberta in Canada has a good page describing trends in home ec (University of Alberta).

Here is a link to some current research on male home-makers in Nigeria. I think that a cross-cultural examination of home economics issues and processes will lead to ideas that are liberating and functional for everyone.