Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sunday Salon - March 2

The Sunday
Today I actually had quite a bit of reading time, and was able to get through a chunk of my current book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver.

Overall, I am really enjoying reading this book, particularly the gardening/farming aspects, of which I know very little. I am learning how to be a more educated consumer, even when shopping at the local farmer's market. I thought I was already fairly knowledgeable about the food I eat- turns out I was wrong. For example, I knew all about GM crops, and the sad state of the food industry, but no idea about all of the good stuff, like heirloom vegetables. :)

As I was reading Chapter Nine: Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, this morning, I did notice a few gaps in her argument that I wish she would address. This chapter raises a very good point about our society, and how we moved away from healthy, fresh, homecooked meals. Barbara talks about the fact that she was raised in the era of women's lib, when the fight for women's equality in the workplace really got under way. Her generation did everything possible so they would not have to slave in the kitchen. Yet, at the end of the day, most women now have full-time jobs and still find themselves in charge of the housework. Innovative corporations saw this vulnerability of women entering the workforce, and stepped in by offering a solution: pre-packaged dinners and Lunchables.

Barbara's argument is that mealtimes should be approached as a creative opportunity rather than a chore, which I wholeheartedly agree with. She also argues that almost everyone has the time to put together efficient, healthy, family meals. She then draws the comparison to working women in France who head straight to the market after work to find the freshest ingredients for that evening's dinner. This is where I start to have problems, because her analysis stops there.

Don't get me wrong, I am a huge advocate for buying locally, eating fresh, homemade meals. But, I do not believe this movement will really take off unless certain aspects of our society change drastically. I feel that one of the largest hindrances for this to be successful in America is our work culture. In 2007, Americans worked an average of 46 hours/week. By comparison, our French counterparts only 39.1 hours/week. Here, we are lucky to get two weeks of vacation, while in my experience living in other countries, four-six weeks is often the norm. Although I have not seen any statistics, I would also be willing to bet that the average commute time in France is much, much shorter than many places in America.

As a former member of the American workforce, I can attest to the difficulties we faced when both my husband and I worked full-time. For us, full-time was (and still is) 80 hours for my husband, and 50-60 for myself. On rare occasions, I was able to eat leftovers for lunch, more often than not it was a quick meal in the microwave in between appointments, or nothing at all. Many nights, neither of us were home for dinner, and once again dinner was on the fly. On the weekends and some evenings I made enough homemade meals to last for a few days, but not nearly enough for a whole week. I often had to work on Saturday mornings as well, losing my chance to go to the local farmer's market.

So far in the book, this is my only complaint, that this problem is not acknowledged to a large extent, when I believe it is a huge hindrance to buying local, and weaning our country off of fast-food and packaged, processed meals.

Of course, there are solutions. For our family, I chose to become a stay-at-home mom not only because I felt our two full-time schedules would not leave us with enough time to spend with our daughter; I also wanted her to be raised in a family that can enjoy slow meals where the food is fresh, the conversation long, and the wine sweet. :) Where she doesn't spend the vast majority of time with her parents while they are running around doing chores. We have sacrificed my income  (75% which would have gone into child-care anyway, but that's another topic for debate!) and some luxuries to do this. Yet, we are still eating organically, paying our student loans, saving for retirement, and planning overseas vacations, all on a surgical resident's stipend. Of course, this does not work for everyone, and I do still have my occasional longings to work outside the home. What really needs to happen is for our society to take action to place the priority back on the family, rather than the job.

In a rather large nutshell, these are all the thoughts swirling around my head as I read today.

Book coveting around the blogisphere:


Beastmomma said...

I have wanted to read her book for quite some time. I heard her speak at Duke when this book first came out and I thought that it was such an interesting way project for her to do with her family. The challenge of having many dual income families and wanting (for me anyway) the chance to work outside the home when I have children is something that continues to need to be addressed.

Teddy Rose said...

I just tagged you for a short book meme. Come out and play.

Anonymous said...

I think you have a very valid point here and it was certainly one of the issues I had with this book. I do understand why Kingsolver wants to go this way with her writing, but nevertheless I miss her as a novelist. I wish she would give us something else in that vein as well.