The New Home Economics


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Welcome

(Updated 8/27/09)
I’ve decided to start this blog, since this is a subject that I feel really passionately about. I wrote the following for a project I worked on this year with the writers of SnarkMarket. Basically, it’s a fantasy revision of what we think should be included in a liberal arts education.  It’s available as a free download, right here. Here’s the piece I wrote for the project:

Home economics
It starts with a bunch of bananas at your local grocery store. As you look at them, you are thinking about the price per pound, and the nutritious benefits they give your body. But what are the broader implications of that bunch of bananas? Who picked them? Was he or she paid fairly for the work? Did the bananas ripen naturally, or were they sprayed with chemicals and artificially ripened? How did the bananas get to your supermarket? Even though the price per pound is relatively low, what are the hidden costs? Does the health benefit to your body outweigh all these other costs?

The questions get even more complicated when you move on to the meat department.

Why home economics? Every single person in the United States makes daily decisions that affect their own health, but also have broader implications. To be educated about that impact, and to learn about and contribute to alternatives, is to have the power to lead healthier, more sustainable lives. The very health of our bodies and our planet depend on it.

Home economics has two core components: theoretical and practical. The theoretical component would cover the following:

1) Sustainability. How can we define sustainability, while finding ethical solutions to support a growing population?
2) Making sense of labels. Locavore, vegetarian, organic, green, EnergyStar, LEED certified: What do they all mean? How does the government define them for businesses? Are the definitions fair?
3) US food production. How did we end up with a giant corn monoculture? What can we learn from farming methods of 100 or 200 years ago?
4) Sustainable architecture. What are the best practices? What are the cost/benefit ratios of solar panels, for example? Of graywater systems?
5) Community planning. What can and should local governments do to encourage people to reduce their ecological footprint?
6) Animal ethics. How can we realistically obtain protein for 6 billion+ people while reducing pollution caused by raising animals for meat? What role should animal welfare play?
7) International trade. What impact do US imports and exports have on local economies and environments in developing countries?

The practical, or lab, component of home economics would cover topics such as the following:

1) Gardening: maximizing small spaces, organic methods, preserving harvested food
2) Permaculture: emphasis on urban planning and insect/bird habitat
3) Animal husbandry: small animals that can be raised in urban areas (such as chickens), including humane slaughter and meat processing
4) Cooking and baking: healthy, whole, practical foods for everyday life
5) The science of yeast and other fermentation processes: bread, beer, and cheese making
6) Nutrition: why one glass of apple juice is not equal to one apple, and other common misconceptions demystified; plus basic nutritional needs for average men, women, and children
7) Water and energy efficiency: practical in-home solutions

I do not intend this blog to be me telling you the answers to all the questions above. Those are real questions that I actually would like to seek out answers on — and I think many of them have multiple right answers.

As for the “practical” side, well, I have been living that every single day as I try to be more economical as well as ecological in my home life. Which is very busy. This is not going to be one of those stay-at-home mom blogs that treats each home-baked loaf of bread as a profound and beautiful object. I don’t have that kind of time. I work full-time, and believe it or not have many other interests besides home-making.

But I think this stuff is important, and I want to explore it some more, so hence this blog. If you’ve read this far, wow. Thanks.