"Femivores"? Spare Me

The other day my Triscuits came with a package of basil seeds glued into the box. According to the instructions, these could be used to start my very own "home farm" (sic): "Let’s all join in and help grow the Home Farming movement together. It can all begin when you plant your free basil and dill seeds from Triscuit today!" It's ironic that the distant manufacturers of the most highly processed food in my cupboard are exhorting me to get back to the land. Something to think about as I plow the window box...


Writer Peggy Orenstein recently discovered that four of her friends have started raising their own chickens to ease the tedium of their domestic lives. You see, Orenstein's friends dropped out of the workforce to raise their kids and they're going a little stir crazy:

"All of these gals — these chicks with chicks — are stay-at-home moms, highly educated women who left the work force to care for kith and kin. I don’t think that’s a coincidence: the omnivore’s dilemma has provided an unexpected out from the feminist predicament, a way for women to embrace homemaking without becoming Betty Draper." [NYT]

Apparently, getting back into the kitchen is much more romantic when the kitchen lacks running water. Orenstein dubs her friends "femivores"--a hybrid of "feminist" and "locavore." She argues that they are at the forefront of a new movement to infuse homemaking with personal meaning and political significance:

"What’s more, though today’s soccer moms may argue, quite rightly, that caretaking is undervalued in a society that measures success by a paycheck, their role is made possible by the size of their husband’s. In that way, they’ve been more of a pendulum swing than true game changers.

Enter the chicken coop." [NYT]

I'm sorry but the chicken coop is not a game-changer. Orenstein's argument is condescending to homemakers and farmers alike. Our society loves to romanticize mothers and farmers, but we prefer to keep the mundane details of their work in soft focus.

Either raising kids at home is an inherently worthwhile pursuit, or it isn't. Adding retro chores isn't going to change that equation. Yes, caregiving is undervalued, but shoveling chicken shit isn't inherently more ennobling than driving kids to Little League. If the latter doesn't do it for you, the former isn't going to magically imbue your life with meaning.

Farming is a real job. A backyard chicken coop is a hobby. Hobbies are great. But why exalt chicken coops above water colors or martial arts or ballroom dancing? On this point, Orenstein succumbs to wishful thinking. She tries to convince us that raising a few chickens is a serious investment in the future:

"There is even an economic argument for choosing a literal nest egg over a figurative one. Conventional feminist wisdom held that two incomes were necessary to provide a family’s basic needs — not to mention to guard against job loss, catastrophic illness, divorce or the death of a spouse. Femivores suggest that knowing how to feed and clothe yourself regardless of circumstance, to turn paucity into plenty, is an equal — possibly greater — safety net. After all, who is better equipped to weather this economy, the high-earning woman who loses her job or the frugal homemaker who can count her chickens?" [NYT]

I am willing to bet my entire basil "crop" that Orenstein's friends aren't really subsistence farmers. And if they are, it's probably the worst economic investment they'll ever make. I grew up listening to my grandmother's stories about growing up on a subsistence farm in Alberta, Canada. If my grandmother were alive today, she'd be quietly chortling about Orenstein's new math.

As Amanda Marcotte points out, play farming is less lucrative than a part-time job. When you take into account the cost of the land, the supplies, and the time to grow a few meager veggies, the local farmer's market doesn't seem so expensive. The underlying assumption seems to be that women's time isn't very valuable. The New York Times has little interest in exhorting men to spend their spare time weeding.

Busywork for housewives has a long an ignoble tradition. For some reason, we're uncomfortable with the idea that stay-at-home parenting is less that a 24-hour-a-day mission. Call it the chicks with schticks phenomenon. Each generation invents some kind of totalizing lifestyle to reassure women that they're realizing their dreams instead of sacrificing them. In the old days, it was the cult of home economics and scientific childrearing. Today, it's poultry. If we really valued parenting and housekeeping, we wouldn't feel compelled to constantly rebrand this work as something more "meaningful."

A lot of stay-at-home parents are frustrated because they feel like they don't have any time to themselves. Orenstein's not doing them any favors by laying on expectations about how Good Moms protect their families from pesticides by cultivating heirloom tomatoes. 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?

Orenstein thinks her friends have found the Holy Grail--a lifestyle that will allow women to make home and hearth the center of their lives, and yet not be stultified by such a narrow focus. The more interesting question is why women should aspire to occupy their entire lives with home and hearth in the first place.

Photo credit: Flickr user Olaf, licensed under Creative Commons.

Big Think
Sponsored by Lumina Foundation

Upvote/downvote each of the videos below!

As you vote, keep in mind that we are looking for a winner with the most engaging social venture pitch - an idea you would want to invest in.

Lumina Foundation and Big Think have partnered to bring this entrepreneurial competition to life, and we hope you'll participate! We have narrowed down the competition to four finalists and will be announcing an audience's choice award and a judges' choice award in May.

The creator of the winning video — chosen by Big Think's audience, the Lumina Foundation, and an independent panel of experts (bios below) — will be flown to New York for a taping in the Big Think studio as a way to further promote their vision for a new, disruptive idea in post-secondary education.

Thank you to all of the contestants who spent time submitting applications, and best of luck to our final four competitors.

Finalist: Greater Commons - Todd McLeod

Greater Commons, founded by Todd McLeod and Andrew Cull, is an organization that helps people live happier, more successful and fulfilling lives through agile learning. The current education system is inefficient and exclusionary, in which many students who end up earning a degree, if at all, enter a career not related to their field of study. Greater Commons solves this problem and gap in post-high school secondary education in a variety of ways. Passionately and diligently, Great Commons helps others obtain skills, knowledge, wisdom, motivation, and inspiration so that they may live better lives.

Finalist: PeerFoward - Keith Frome

PeerForward is an organization dedicated to increasing the education and career success rates of students in low-income schools and communities by mobilizing the power of positive peer influence. PeerForward works with partner schools to select influential students as a part of a team, systemizing the "peer effect." Research in the fields of sociology of schools, social-emotional learning, adult-youth partnerships, and civic education demonstrates that students can have a positive effect on the academic outcomes of their peers. PeerForward is unique through its systemic solutions to post-secondary education.

Finalist: Cogniss - Leon Young

Cogniss combines technology and best practice knowledge to enable anyone to innovate and share solutions that advance lifelong learning. Cogniss is the only platform to integrate neuroscience, through which it solves the problem of access by providing a low-code platform that enables both developers and non-developers to build sophisticated education apps fast, and at a much lower cost. It addresses the uneven quality of edtech solutions by embedding research-based learning design into its software. App creators can choose from a rich set of artificial intelligence, game, social and data analytics, and gamification to build their perfect customized solution.

Finalist: Practera - Nikki James

Practera's mission is to create a world where everyone can learn through experience. Today's workplaces are increasingly dynamic and diverse, however, costly and time-consuming experiential learning is not always able to offer the right opportunities at scale. Many students graduate without developing the essential skills for their chosen career. Practera's team of educators and technologists see this problem as an opportunity to transform the educational experience landscape, through a CPL pedagogical framework and opportunities to apply students' strengths through active feedback.

Thank you to our judges!

Our expert judges are Lorna Davis, Dan Rosensweig, and Stuart Yasgur.

Lorna Davis is the Senior Advisor to Danone CEO and is a Global Ambassador for the B Corp movement. Lorna has now joined B-Lab, the non-for-profit that supports the B Corporation movement on an assignment to support the journey of large multi nationals on the path to using business as a force of good.

Dan Rosensweig joined Chegg in 2010 with a vision for transforming the popular textbook rental service into a leading provider of digital learning services for high school and college students. As Chairman and CEO of Chegg, Dan commits the company to fulfilling its mission of putting students first and helping them save time, save money and get smarter.

Stuart Yasgur leads Ashoka's Social Financial Services globally. At Ashoka, Stuart works with others to initiate efforts that have mobilized more than $500 million in funding for social entrepreneurs, engaged the G20 through the Toronto, Seoul and Los Cabos summits and helped form partnerships with leading financial institutions and corporations.

Again, thank you to our incredible expert judges.

Videos
  • Beethovan and Picasso are the perfect examples for mastering the creative process.
  • Behind each of their works are countless studies and sketches.
  • The lesson? Never erase anything, keep iterating, and find new paths to familiar destinations.


'Upstreamism': Your zip code affects your health as much as genetics

Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
  • Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
  • Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
Keep reading Show less

Meet the Bajau sea nomads — they can reportedly hold their breath for 13 minutes

The Bajau people's nomadic lifestyle has given them remarkable adaptions, enabling them to stay underwater for unbelievable periods of time. Their lifestyle, however, is quickly disappearing.

Wikimedia Commons
Culture & Religion
  • The Bajau people travel in small flotillas throughout the Phillipines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, hunting fish underwater for food.
  • Over the years, practicing this lifestyle has given the Bajau unique adaptations to swimming underwater. Many find it straightforward to dive up to 13 minutes 200 feet below the surface of the ocean.
  • Unfortunately, many disparate factors are erasing the traditional Bajau way of life.
Keep reading Show less