Why we make (and forage, and grow)

Image: dpa / picture alliance

I can’t be the only one who regularly drives myself to the brink of insanity, trying to make everything I can from scratcthings from scratch that i could easily buy in the store. Battling with a hand-cranked grinder, trying to make my own sausage meat, or developing carpel tunnel syndrome, furiously knitting last-minute gifts on Christmas Eve. Never mind that the wool I bought cost more than the finished product would at my local big box store, or that getting it from a shop would have been So. Much. Easier.

I am driven to make, to cook, to feel with my own hands the raw materials becoming something I can be proud of. Never mind that it’s a hassle, or that many of the things I cast on, will never be cast off, life feels empty when I don’t create. If you are reading this page, I suspect you might sometimes feel the same way. Have you ever stopped to think why. Really, why?

Of course the quality is often better, and you know where it came from, you know there are no turnips in your jam, or hormones in your eggs , but these days, there are many high-quality producers who will guarantee you the same. Now you can buy sweatshop – free sweaters, and to some extent, you can trust their promises, so why do we continue to make, to create? Also, turnips in jam really doesn’t sound so bad in the grand scheme of things, it’s just the reason my mum always gave to explain her compulsion to jam.

For me, the reason can be summarised in one word: Freedom. I’m British, and live in Austria, and in both of those countries, the so-called Freedom, and Independence parties are making loud and troubling noises on the far right, promising their followers liberty. It seems that it’s all we want at the moment, and the demagogues tell their followers that if they like them on Facebook, vote for them, stand in the streets behind their leaders, waving flags and chanting, they will give them freedom.

It’s ludicrous. The people who follow these parties will never be free. With their party memberships and disappointing pension plans and mortgage worries and credit card debts, they are trapped. They can’t vote for freedom, they have no idea what freedom is.

Independence can only really be tasted by those who make. The smallholder with chickens and a few acres is free. The fluctuating stock market will not change his ability to feed himself and his family. The people who learn to sew are free of the vagaries of fashion, free to truly wear what they want, made by hands they know were treated well. The man who can’t make anything, who buys in 99% of what he consumes, will never be free. No matter how gilded his bars are, he will always be a slave.

I’m not the first to think this, since the Industrial Revolution, people have known that the fragmentation of labour into ever more specialised components does not make us happy. It makes a few very wealthy, and the rest of society very sick. If you work so hard that you have no time to feed your family, to interact with them, you are not functioning as a human being should. You are a cog in a machine. A nut or bolt, that when removed from the context of the engine that it drives, is useless, and can be switched out for a new one at any time. We are more than this.

And that is why we make, and forage, and grow, even if we aren’t really sure why, even when Tesco can offer us cheese at the fraction of the price and effort it takes to make it at home. Then we can say, at least my mozzarella knows liberty!

On the other hand, while I’m sure many reading this dream of, or have perhaps already achieved, a life totally off-grid, totally free, I’m going to make a confession. I quite like what I do. I’m a teacher, and I’m starting a new job in October, and I am very excited. I’ll be teaching a subject I love. I don’t know the students yet, but I know one of the teachers, and I find him an inspiring guy, and I’m looking forward to working with him. I’m sure many are in the same position. We don’t work in cubicles, or hate our jobs. In fact, we might even enjoy them a little bit, find they enrich our lives. Are we trapped?

Not at all. But there is always room for a little more liberty. And I truly believe that frugality is freedom. You don’t need to farm, or have dairy cows to find it in your life. The woman who rejects the overpriced gunk to make her face more pink, or brown, or golden, or matte, and says she is fine the way she is, she is a rebel. The mum or dad who packs their kid’s lunches, they are taking back control. The person who looks in their wardrobe and decides they are warm enough and dry enough and they don’t need more, they are finding a little freedom for themselves.

I live in a city. All my friends live in cities, and apart from one or two, would not say they were particularly interested in self-sufficiency. And yet they all do things that are self-sufficient. If you play your ukulele in the evening, instead of sitting in front of the television,  that was one evening when you were self-sufficient. If you are into drag, and sew you own costume, you were self-sufficient then too. Every time we cook our own dinner instead of ordering take-out, every time we walk, or bike, every time we reject consuming, in favour of creating, we are a little bit wiser, stronger, and more free.

No-one can give you your freedom. You cannot get it by marching, or posting angry messages against The Establishment. You can grant yourself freedom, by switching off the computer, and making something for yourself.

 

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