Satter's Hierarchy of Food Needs

So. A while back, I was talking about “new domesticity” and the trend towards traditional “women’s work” being taken up with renewed vigour by (largely) third- and fourth-wave feminists for a variety of reasons (including food security, environmentalism, skill-building, creativity, and fun). And now it’s February 2nd and the first annual(?) “Cooking for People Who Don’t” blog carnival on food security is upon us.

Commodorified, the gal who kicked this whole thing off, commented that “food security” relies as much on skills and knowledge (how to turn raw material into substances we can eat and digest – aka “food”) as it does on the actual availability of “food” (or the raw-materials with-which to make it) in the first place. She pointed out the hierarchy of food needs (see pic) and how moving from “Zero” to “Reliable, ongoing access to food” is much harder than, say, moving from “reliable, ongoing access to food” to “novel food”, and that “experimenting” with what you eat doesn’t tend to happen when you don’t reliably have enough food to keep you fed, or when that reliability is dependent on sticking to a very specific menu of food that (a) you can afford, and (b) you know won’t go to waste (which would mean you lose a meal or two because that was all you had) because you know how to cook it and how to store it.

Which brings me back to my topic for today, which is: “new domesticity and economic privilege”.
Y’see… yarn ain’t cheap. And roving ain’t cheap. And – more to the point when we’re talking about food security and cooking skills – organic, local (and/or fairly traded), ethically-produced food (which is kind of a staple of the New Domestic approach to eating) is really, really expensive – particularly when you compare it to the stuff you can grab, in profusion, at a place like Produce Depot where everything comes from Chile and has probably had pesticides rained down on it and on its harvesters from day one.

Similarly… look. Technically, a $3 bag of sugar and a $2 for a package of pectin, plus some used-and-washed-and-baking-soda-treated (the baking soda gets rid of the tomato/garlic flavour/smell, fyi) pasta sauce jars aren’t particularly expensive. So if I can get the fruit for free – by harvesting from domestic fruit trees growing on public land (hawthorn berries, crab apples, choke cherries, rose hips, service berries, thimble berries) or overhanging the sidewalks (sour cherries, grapes, the occasional pear or sweet-apple tree), or from wild sources (sweet apples, grapes, queen anne’s lace flowers, etc), I can make my own jam for about $2.50/litre. With a lot of time-consuming leg-work (that relies on my having time that’s available for hunting up and harvesting wild/free fruit, and then washing, pitting/seeding, cooking (in a bag, in case of worms), and processing it… On top of knowing the plants well enough not to accidentally pick (poisonous) Virginia Creeper berries when I thought I’d found a tonne of wild grapes).

And I could still buy 900mL of No-Name raspberry jam for $1.50 or less in the grocery store, so the DIY approach isn’t saving me money.

And, sure. I can make my own all-purpose bread for pennies:

1C warm tap water
1 tbsp Active Dry Yeast
2 tbsp granulated sugar

Then add:
½ tbsp salt
2 tbsp veggie oil (or whatever fat you happen to have lying around)

Finally add (one cup at a time):
4 C all-purpose flour

Make sure everything is well-mixed.
Let it sit in its bowl, in a warm, dry place, ideally covered with one of those plastic “shower cap” bowl covers (this keeps the heat in), until it’s doubled in size.
Then oil your hands and kneed the dough (basically you give it a really vigorous massage that squeezes all the air bubbles out and makes the dough small again) and then let it rise a second time.
Kneed it again, divide the dough – if you wanna – into two equal-sized sections, and put each section into a greased loaf pan (or add extra flour to stiffen it up and put them on a greased cookie sheet (if they’re stiff enough to hold their shape).
Let them rise again while you preheat the oven to 350F.
Bake for 60-90 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the bread drops out of the pans without much, if any, difficulty.
Allow to cool for five minutes. At this point, if you knock lightly on the bottom of the loaf, it should sound kind of hollow and the surface of the bread should also be just a little “springy” (a bit of give to the bottom crust, but not much). That means it’s done.
Go you, you have just made bread!

The ingredients for the above recipe work out to something like… $1.22/batch[1] – which will make one large or two medium-small loaves, depending on how many times you let it rise (go for two – you can freeze one, thus keeping it from going stale/mouldy, while you eat the other, plus you’ll be more likely to have your bread cook all the way through without having the top crust burn[2]). And if you’re me – if you’re a work-from-home type[3] who already knows how to bake, who keeps non-perishable baking basics on-hand as a matter of course – then making your own bread[4] will save you (some) money.
If, however, your life doesn’t look like mine – if you’re short on time, don’t have a lot of cooking experience, and don’t have a lot of Baking Basics in your kitchen already… you’re faced with two options:
1) Invest in the ingredients and start experimenting
2) Don’t
And if you’re broke, if $50 is your hustle-facilitating phone or your internet connection, or if it’s your grocery money, for the month, rather than disposable income you can blow on an experiment… In that case, deciding “I’m going to learn how to Bake From Scratch” may actually make you less food-secure than deciding “I’m going to stock up on $0.29/package generic ramen, KD, and frozen pizza pops”.

With me so far?

So what does this all have to do with “new domesticity”?
New Domesticity is a lot of things (as I discussed here) but, as far as this post goes, it’s primarily a movement of middle-class raised, often-though-not-always white, women whose mothers and grandmothers were able to hand off their “domestic burdens” to working-class, frequently brown, women they’d hired in order to facilitate their own pursuit of salaried, non-grubby (think: things that don’t involve children, food, or other people’s dirt) jobs outside the home.

Some folks read this, with some trepidation, as a potential return to The Cult of Domesticity and gender essentialism. Others look at “new domesticity” as an intersectional feminist action that recognizes the environmental mess, health costs, racism and classism that underpinned (middle-class, white) women’s “freedom” from domestic work, as well as a willingness to recognize those skills and tasks (and the people who have and do them) as valuable. “Somebody has to do this work, whether it’s us or not. If we’re committed to anti-oppression or environmentalism, we should be doing it ourselves – or at least paying fair wages for someone else to do it under safe working conditions as close to where we live as possible.”

Which I think is true. But I also think it only goes part-way.

Let me give you an example of my own food choices.

When I first started my New Life (post-divorce) as a down-town-apartment-dwelling, artsy-queer, politically-active, environmentally-conscious, chicky-babe, I bought free-run eggs, bulk organic whole wheat pastry flour & turbinado sugar, had organic (if frequently exotic) produce delivered to my door every week, and purchased my locally-produced (Quebec) milk in returnable glass bottles from the nearby independent, organic grocery store.
Yeah. I was that cool (by, okay, my own standards of “cool”).
And then I hit two months of unemployment during a public-transit strike that prevented me from taking some of the jobs I might have otherwise been able to access. Not surprisingly, I very quickly switched to buying 4L plastic jugs of 2% from the corner store (cheapest available where I live + returnable jug); highly processed white granulated sugar; white all-purpose no-name flour; and eggs, the laying-conditions of which I don’t even want to think about.
These days I try to stick to “local food” when it comes to perishables. Eating in-season produce from Ontario and Quebec, while it limits the variety of veggies and fruits that are available to me at the grocery store, frequently means I’m paying a lower price for food that has involved fewer fossil fuels than the same cabbages, apples, potatoes, or garlic imported from Chile, China, or the southern U.S.
But that’s about the only concession to my ideals of “ethical eating” (“instrumental food” in the hierarchy of food needs). I buy Allen’s Apple Juice because it’s Foodland Ontario (and, not coincidentally, twenty cents cheaper per litre than the other tinned apple juice at my grocery store).

It’s not what I dream of (which involves annual bulk orders from Camino and Human Beans Co., among other things), but it’s a nice place to be, I don’t mind telling you. I’m aware that I’m lucky to be here.

See, that’s the other trick. I’ve seen comments on Mommy Blog posts talking about how easy it is to slide from “could” to “should”, and I’ve talked about it myself in another post. And it’s awfully easy to criticize others who don’t have the same advantages as you do.
To wit: Privilege-Denying Dude says:

Priviledge-Denying Dude Says: "You "can't aford to live on an exclusively organic vegan diet"? Grow your own food!"

Choosing your food (or your kids’ toys, your sex toys, or your clothes) based on where, how, by-whom, and from-what it was produced puts you pretty firmly at the top of that pyramid of food needs, no matter what your annual income is[5], which gives you an idea of where the people making these politically-driven food choices are situated.

In the interests in helping up food security in my area, I’m ending this post with a set of links to food resources if you’re having trouble getting enough to eat.

Local (Ottawa and Surrounding Area) Food Resources
Good Food Box (boxes are $10+/month, dpeending on how many people you’re (theoretically) feeding from it, and include recipes andsome how-to instructions for cooking)
Ottawa School Breakfast Program
Ottawa Food Bank (Find a Food Bank Location page)
Perth Food Bank
Renfrew and District Food Bank
Cumberland Community Resource Centre
Sadaq Food Bank for people who eat Halal when they can (Note: I don’t know if the Kosher food bank is still up and running in Ottawa. Y/N?)
The Well – Women’s drop-in with free breakfasts and lunches available (Anglican)
Saint Joe’s Supper Table (Catholic)
CUSA food centre (includes a food-hamper program and workshops on how to put together nutritious bag-lunches, among other things. I don’t know if The Garden Spot free vegan lunch program is still up and running, though)
Food For All Resource List
City of Ottawa “Food Recalls and Advisories” Listings

Ms Syren.

[1] $0.80 of all-purpose flour, $0.06 of vegetable oil, $0.02 of salt, $0.02 of granulated sugar, and $0.32 of active dry yeast. Provided you buy the 10Kg bag of flour from No-name, and the 3L jug of veggie oil from no-name, and provided that the sugar is granulated white, and that you’ve essentially checked all the per-kilo price breakdowns and made sure that you’re buying the least expensive option possible in all cases. Which typically means being able to buy large amounts of ingredients at any one time. Which doesn’t necessarily make much sense if you (a) need to bring your groceries home on foot or by public transit, or (b) don’t have a lot of storage space for non-perishables, or (c) have Bugs or Mice or other unwanted house-guests, but don’t have – for example – a 20L Rubbermaid bin in-which to store your 10Kg of all-purpose flour.
And even then, you’re still potentially better off buying the generic version of “wonderfluff” at $1.50/loaf if you’ve never made bread before and don’t know that humidity is a factor; or that the crust may or may not be easy to cut through and that a serrated knife is Your Friend when it comes to slicing bread; or if you don’t know your oven very well yet[2] (if you have an oven at all); or if your kids will look at the bread sideways, and refuse to eat it, if the slices aren’t the same thickness every time; or whatever.

[2] For example, my oven – which hasn’t worked properly since before I moved in here – has only one functioning element. I’ve been baking for twenty years. I can broil a batch of gluten-free vegan chocolate-cashew-butter cupcakes that will make you weep with joy to eat them. But I can do that because I had close to 15 sheltered, non-economically-precarious years of experimental baking under my belt before I entered the ranks of broke-ass grad students and starving artists. All I had to do was figure out how to cook with a broken oven. I didn’t need to learn how to cook period on top of having said broken oven. It gave me a big advantage, I don’t mind telling you.

[3] Whether that means freelance-writing/editing/programming or being a home-daycare provider; working around someone else’s schedule as a house-cleaner, running an in-call as an escort/massage-therapist/life-coach, or being a stay-at-home parent, or whatever.

[4] And all the other stuff that you can make with flour, salt, water, oil, yeast, and sugar – add eggs (cheap) and milk (not so much) to that collection and you’ve got a LOT of options: Everything from quiche to custard, brioche to shortbread cookies, sticky buns (like cinnamon buns, but without the spice, just the caramel sauce) to yeast-raised coffee cake, crepes to fresh pasta, alfredo sauce to sugar pie, fried-egg sandwiches to angel-food cake.
Heck, if you can add cider-vinegar, mustard, baking soda, black pepper, and paprika to your pantry, you can do quick breads (like scones, cupcakes, muffins, and yeast-free soda-bread) and mayonnaise (which, itself, then gets you to garlic aioli, thousand island dressing, deviled eggs, and tartar sauce), plus you’re well on your way to being able to pickle just about any vegetable (and some fruits) you can get your hands on as well as making jam (as long as you include apples and/or rhubarb in your fruit mixture, you won’t need much, if any, pectin since those two fruits produce their own).

[5]There are lots of people – self included – who are trying to go as far in this direction as possible in spite of – or because of – voluntary and not-so-voluntary crappy economic situations (whether that’s “choosing to leave the rat race in order to follow your bliss” or “drowning in student debt” or “laid off during the latest round of budget cuts” or “minimum wage despite an MA” or “the years before five are super important”). Sometimes that means you make sacrifices – like giving up public transit in order to buy groceries – ideally, the groceries that fit your ideals – with the extra $100/month.