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March 21, 2010

The "femivore" mystique

chickensInstead of ring around the collar, today's stay-at-home mom battles the industrial-food complex. She started with a kitchen garden, then moved up to chickens.

That's the gist of a New York Times magazine article titled, "The Femivore's Dilemma." The subhed: "Can chickens save the desperate housewife?"

The modern, affluent homemaker may be as obsessed with providing her family with good food as June Cleaver was. But having a casserole on the table by the time Ward gets home from the office doesn't cut it anymore. It has to be nutritionally, environmentally unassailable food, preferably raised by Farmer Mom.

"Apparently it is no longer enough to know the name of the farm your eggs came from; now you need to know the name of the actual bird," Peggy Orenstein writes in the piece. 

This gentlewoman farmer has something in common with her feminists forebears, who made staying home with the kids a choice, not a foregone conclusion, the writer suggests. "Femivorism is grounded in the very principles of self-sufficiency, autonomy and personal fulfillment that drove women into the workforce in the first place," she writes.

But she also suggests chicken-keeping could become drudgery that quite literally coops women up -- especially if Dad isn't any help around the hen house.

"If you don't go into this as a genuinely egalitarian relationship, you're creating a dangerous situation," Shannon Hayes, author of "Radical Homemakers," a manifesto for "tomato-canning feminists," is quoted saying in the piece. "There can be a loss of self-esteem, loss of soul ... You can start to wonder, What's this all for?"

I enjoyed the article but think it gets one thing wrong: chicken lust isn't limited to stay-at-home moms. Swept up in the whole locavore thing, I seriously considered getting chickens last summer. The city allows four hens per back yard. I found a place to buy the birds. Found a farmer out in Buckeystown who would sell me organic feed. Found a guy with an illicit flock in Catonsville -- the county is stricter about these things -- to let me have a peek at his coop.

Then the summer wound down, my math-teacher husband headed back to the classroom, and the coop he was going to build never materialized. I was a little annoyed our project got put off -- until winter came along. During those twin blizzards, it occurred to me: local eggs are nice, but so's not having to wade into thigh-high snow to tend to birds.

Though my flock fancy has passed, I don't think it ever sprang from "the problem that has no name." For one thing, my husband and I both wanted the birds. We both work full time and have two young children, so the birds were never about filling our empty, meaningless days. For another thing, the chickens were meant to solve a problem that does have a name. Or two names: factory farming and high-priced organics.

I'd like to be able to have organic, free-range chicken eggs -- high in all the good things that come when the birds eat bugs and grass -- and still have money left over for that other nest egg. 

That said, I'd agree there is something amusing about what I'll call extreme homemaking -- maybe especially when practiced by busy working moms and dads. And I say that because I'm sometimes guilty of it. I can identify with these chicken-keepers-by-choice, not only as a near-hen keeper, but as an occasionally overly ambitious home cook.

I have tried (and failed) to make my own fresh mozzarella cheese. I have baked my own pita bread (successfully) when I couldn't find a 100 percent whole wheat variety at the store. I undertake projects like those because I think I can make something more wholesome and affordable than what's at the store, and because I enjoy cooking. But when these endeavors go awry and gobble up too much precious weekend time, I wonder: Am I being a good mother or selfish domestic striver?

As journalism has hit on hard times, I've often said I'd like to go into subsistence farming -- except that I'm pretty sure we couldn't subsist. There is something romantic about the idea, and absurd. I aim to be both good-foods idealist and realist today as I plant a vegetable garden in my blissfully chicken-free backyard.

AP photo

Posted by Laura Vozzella at 1:34 PM | | Comments (17)


way too many buzzwords and phrases to wade through this post

way too many buzzwords and phrases to wade through this post

From the second paragraph: "New York Times magazine article".

And then from the second-to-last paragraph: "Am I being a good mother or selfish domestic striver?"

I'm just sayin.

EG, what's your point?

buzzwords? Well, I didn't understand what a fernivore was, but then I put on on glasses and saw femivore. A ha.

Otherwise a thoughtful piece.

Someone I used to work with lives in a pretty rural area and he started raising chickens for their eggs.

But his motivation was political. He thought that once Obama took office, there would be riots and the country would fall into a deep Depression and life as we know it would end. So he stocked up on canned goods, started a vegetable garden, and then started raising chickens. He also bought a gun to ward off the people who would come to his house to steal his food.

Seriously, he thought that!

What a great article from the New York Times. I'm all for the sustainable homestead.

PCB Rob, has your former coworker relaxed yet?

This whole thing is an idiotic fantasy. I'm sorry to sound harsh, but as an ex-farmboy, I have one word for all the "femivores" who want to jump on the bandwagon:


Yup, "vacation," meaning "forget about taking one once you start raising farm animals in your backyard. Unlike dogs and cats, there's no boarding them. And unlike hamsters, fish, snakes, or other inside animals it's a lot tougher to get a neighbor to come over and feed and water them twice a day, collect their eggs, and clean the cages.

I for one am sure that this whole "movement" is coming from stay-at-home Moms of Means (MoM's, if you need a new acronym to toss around) who can also afford nannies to watch their kids, cleaning people to clean their houses, and personal shoppers to buy the stuff that's not fun to buy so they can spend their lives waltzing around at farmer's markets, driving through the countryside seeking out organic farms where they can personally contract their meat from hand-selected heirloom breeds of cattle, and dabbling with poultry least until it becomes inconvenient.

My suspicion is that this is yet another trumped up "trend" designed to make non-MoM's feel guilty and further undermine the gains made by women over the past 50 years.

Prediction: look for lots of feral chickens wandering around in affluent neighborhoods after their "unintentionally" "liberated" once their owners latch on to the next overhyped "trend."

Ironic captcha: "which cuddles."

Dangit, a new, apparently legit, Sean! Hmmm... maybe I do need a better name.

Prediction: look for lots of feral chickens wandering around in affluent neighborhoods after their "unintentionally" "liberated" once their owners latch on to the next overhyped "trend."

Well, at least there's one convenient mode of getting rid of said inconvenient chickens after they've outlived their usefulness/fashionability -- a good ole fashioned Sunday roast.

grislier of - I suppose I am


I suppose I should fess up and admit the previous post was me -- another example of my postprandial forgetfulness.

I can't help but be reminded of this video I was shown a couple of months back about some hardcore urban farming at Chowhound.

The scale of the urban farming trend seems to encompass all manner of points on a spectrum. Plenty of my rowhome owning and renting friends in the city are already talking about this years herb or vegetable gardens.

I can't help but sense that moving on up to livestock is the sort of extension that communicates some manner of investment beyond a few tomatoes or mint that won't quit.

Media like the NYTM will try and attach greater social analyses to it - it's the bad economy, or it's a new expression of third-wave feminism. I'm just saying that it's going to seems a little disingenuous of the NYTM to add the subtext that it's just the latest affectation of the idle leisure classes.

Sounds like a right bunch of wankers, therm vegetal peoples. don't you know there is supermarkets? why would you wnt to be be bunch of peasants? buy your carrots at tesco already

I blame Martha Stewart for all this nonsence. I'm already exhausted from 10 hour days of work and child rearing and cooking and housework. I have no desire to bite off another full time imposition.

Real working moms will not fall for this call to "liberation" which is really a return to drudgery.


I'm not sure; since we don't work together anymore, I don't see the guy.

Chickens can be "good" for three/four days if you have the proper equipment, barring extreme weather change. I'm guessing that most that get into the "let's get chickens" mindset don't really understand what they're in for, and fail to get a gravity feeder and high volume water source. If the coop is big enough, they don't mind being inside for a few days on end ( at LEAST 3 cubic feet per chicken)
Chickens are rarely extremely tame, but at the same time, are pretty much un-savvy to the wild. Look for an explosion of overfed foxes, stray dogs, and vultures.
Having a micro farm, we've had chickens off and on for a good 25 years ( counting the baby chicks was my first "hey, wait a minute" moment) It's filthy, annoying, and inconvenient. However, a baby chick hatched before your eyes and knowing full well that the eggs you consume are made by happy hens that live in a normal social structure are worth it. That, and you never need a copper bowl to make the eggs whites whip to peaks, and those kitchen scraps either end up in the compost or the chicken bin. Overall, it's not a whole bunch more time, maybe an hour more to the schedule if you have a garden as well. If you have kids, less; give them the chores.

First off, in deference to the other Sean, I'll append a "C" to my name here. :)

Secondly, yes: a Sunday roast is a great idea...if you've got the stomach for it. Having slaughtered a lot of chickens in my childhood, it isn't for the faint of heart! The chopping is over with pretty quickly (and yes, they will run around without heads for a few seconds!) but the plucking, the gutting, the pin-feather removal, and the cleanup is quite a chore. Maybe just one at a time wouldn't be so bad but we usually did at least a dozen. Not pretty.

As for the gravity feeder comment: yes, that works. However they can go through water pretty quickly in the heat of the summer. We had about 20 or so chickens at a time and I was re-filling 2 big 5 gallon water-ers at least once a day. In the winter they'd freeze and would have to be thawed out. I suppose you could heat the coop with lights, but that in and of itself presents a fire hazard if you're going to leave it that way for any length of time.

Chicks are cute, though!

The waterers we use now are self heated plug ins, with an emergency rain barrel back up. During the "big"snow they were fine on water, but slogging out there to get them feed was a serious PITS.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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