Monday, November 27, 2006

Why Would You Make It?

This is a phrase I encounter often, spoken or unspoken. Many, many people don't understand why you would make something you can buy, be it food, clothing, a quilt, candles...whatever. The other half of the phrase is when you could buy it?

I remember the first time Papa made homemade soup for my mother, and the best compliment she could give it was that it tasted very much like Campbell's. Not that Papa's soup wasn't delicious, because it was. My mother is just of an age when soup in a can meant freedom for her mother.

There was a time when a woman wouldn't have time to sit and write in a journal every night. A time when her every waking hour was spent working to keep herself and her family alive and well. Of course, that doesn't apply to my grandmother. However, as more and more time-saving devices and products became available to the middle economic class (and eventually the lowest economic class), I think perhaps two things happened. One, our standards went up, and two, our standards went down. For example, we expect our clothes, our homes, and our bodies to be far cleaner than was expected 100 years ago. We don't expect our food to be as good tasting and nutritious, and we don't expect our clothing to last. Heck, we don't expect a lot of things to last.

I know plenty of people who don't understand cooking and baking from scratch. Of course, that has a different definition now; most of us aren't growing our own wheat, milking our own cows, and making our own sugar. Still, I have friends (and relatives) who think that homemade cookies come from a roll of Pillsbury dough. Soup and beans come in a cans. Homemade chili involves dumping cans of tomatoes and cans of beans into a pot with some chili powder and ground beef. Even the great hallowed feast of Thanksgiving, if the full carts seen at the grocery store have any meaning, involved boxed stuffing, canned yams, jarred gravy, canned cranberries, frozen green beans, prebaked rolls, and Mrs. Smith pies.

Sure, preparing food can be hard work. We hosted a vegetarian Thanksgiving at our home once, and we did make everything from scratch. Cranberries with orange zest and Grand Marnier. Pearled onions in a sauce of real cream. Sweet potato soup made from real yams. Real mashed potatoes. Homemade rolls. Stuffed butternut squash, a lentil-nut loaf, homemade mushroom gravy. I even made the pies, starting with the crust. It was a superb feast. I know it was, because it happened 12 years ago and I still remember every food detail.

The thing is, the food is worth it. It is worth it not to take in too much sodium. It is worth it to not ingest artifical colors and flavors, and other food additives. It is worth it to not consume hydrogenated fats and high fructose corn syrup. It is worth it to not poison ourselves with pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers. Plus, the food tastes so much better!

There are many other things that people make because they want to. Why do I want to make the bulk of our holiday gifts? I want to show people, especially my children, that not everything comes from factories and stores. I want to give gifts that aren't emblazoned with logos. I want us to give of our time, our energy, and our talents. I don't want holiday giving to be about shopping and spending money. Perhaps long ago a premade present from the store meant something because it was probably made in the USA and crafted by an artisan. Artisan gifts are still special.

But really, what does it say if I give a microfleece hooded sweatshirt with the letters G A P embroidered across the chest? Maybe it says that I want you to stay warm. Maybe it says that I am hip to whatever the culture deems cool. Maybe it says that I know that kind of thing is important to you. Maybe it says I could afford to spend $50 on a sweatshirt. Maybe I don't mean it, but it says that I don't care about the company's labor policies. It also says that I don't care about synthetics and the fact that they are unsustainable, and it says I don't care if you have that against your skin.

Maybe all it really says is that I was out of time, I needed to buy a gift, and there was a display of these hoodies in front of the store.

Why make things? Because I can. I can buy or grow herbs and make my own blends for infusions and decoctions. The herbs are fresher and the packaging is minimized. It saves money too. I can use the same herbs for herbal medicine and personal care items. Why make herbal medicines and toiletries? The quality is better and it costs less. I think the skills are worth having, too.

I can knit a hat, and it is exactly the color and fiber I want it to be. Same for scarves, blankets, and other knit/crocheted items. I know the items weren't made in a sweatshop. I personalize the object made for each person, and I find that I think about them as I knit or crochet. Oh, I'm not perfect...I make stock-up gifts as well...but most of the time I do use my crafting time to meditate upon the recipient.

Why, oh why make candles? For one, it's an easy craft to do with my boys. Rolling beeswax requires manual dexterity, but not huge amounts of skill. The oys are proud when they make a candle, proud in a way that they wouldn't be if we bought one at Target. They can give the candle as a gift and know that they are giving a little piece of themselves a well. Again, we get a quality product. We'll be branching out to dipped and poured candles for next year.

The theme repeats over and over. Homemade cleaners are cheaper and safer for your family and your planet. Really, how hard is it to mix some liquid castile soap and some baking soda with tea tree and lavender essential oils? It takes me less than 5 minutes; I couldn't bike to the HFS in that time. Heck, that same "soft scrub" I make is safe and gentle enough to use on my body.

Why do I make things? Because I can...

No comments:

Post a Comment