“I am a huge fan of diy; I make my own bread, yoghurt, and soft cheeses, for example. I make pasta from scratch. I like making my own food and I adore chances to experiment and play around with recipes and ingredients. I am also under no illusion about the costs of these things, the investment of time, space, and energy required to make them happen. For me it’s easy because of my lifestyle; for someone else, it is not easy. Pretending like it is does a service to absolutely no one.
“There’s a certain sense of smugness in the diy community that becomes rapidly irksome when exposed to it for any length of time, a sort of one-upmanship that seems to consume people as they attempt to prove that they are the best at it. At the same time, they want to tell everyone that it’s effortless and easy and requires no special skills or investment on the part of participants, shaming people who don’t or can’t engage in diy. The message is clear: you will never be good enough because someone will always be better than you, but at the same time, you should keep trying, because it’s so easy.”
– s.e. smith, today at This Ain’t Livin’
When I started this blog, I thought I would write a lot about DIY, and created some categories to that effect. I DIY a lot: I knit, crochet, embroider, sew clothes (well, I can, but I haven’t done anything but mend for years), eat at home more often than I go out, and in either setting prefer food cooked from scratch over pre-packaged foods. I haven’t baked my own bread since I’ve lived in Portland (something about living with people who are just better at it than I am). And most of the people I surround myself with are
like-minded also insane, many far more so than myself. My household is equipped with a jerry-rigged sous-vide cooker and my housemates and friends do stuff like make their own kimchi, bitters, cast-iron pizza and ridiculously high-concept cookies.
Some of the stuff I make, I make out of necessity, or at least frugality. Cooking from scratch is usually cheaper — at least in the long term — than heating up packaged foods or going out; cutting and re-sewing a dress I’ve owned since high school (I love the fabric, but the cut no longer suits my taste) means getting, for all intents and purposes, A Pretty New Party Dress just for the price of a spool of thread (and maybe some buttons or a new zipper). I like making presents for people as well. It’s not truly economical if I take my time into consideration, and sometimes supplies alone are more expensive than buying a comparable object in a store (in that case, the object is always to make it so much better, or at least prettier or cooler — an object I don’t always achieve, but hey).
That’s really only part of the point, though. I like having something to do with my hands while I watch TV (I inherited this from my mother, who multi-tasked pretty much compulsively) and I just think food made from scratch tastes better.
Anyway, I’m pretty guilty of, “It’s just so EASY to…” about DIY: make your own pasta sauce rather than use the bottled kind!, whip up a cute winter beanie rather than buy your brother a Christmas present!, bake your own bread!, or “Why would you buy ___ when you can just make it?” pretty much since I started making stuff. (That was also when my mother was around to say, “Yeah, you could make something just like that yourself for less than the sticker cost, but will you?” Something I still keep in mind when this stuff starts coming out of my mouth. If I ever made an actual list of Projects I Intend To Do Really Soon, you would know why, but I’m pretty sure this advice applies to people who aren’t necessarily as ambitious or procrastination-happy as I.) If you DIY a lot, it ends up translating to: who even does that?
Which is pretty obnoxious, as rhetorical questions go (and rhetorical questions are usually obnoxious). And it’s not just because the answer is usually, “People with less privilege (or a different background/life experience) than you.” It’s also that sometimes, people just don’t give a flying fuck, and that’s OK.
I mean: DIY has always walked this line between something you do out of earnest necessity (everyone needs to eat, and you might as well do it from scratch!) and something you do because it’s creative and cool and maybe a little over-the-top (I can grow my own saffron, bitches!).But there is also this element not just of privilege but of taste performance, and with that comes this long list of things “no one” actually does or likes that is sometimes even leveled in discussions of DIY projects. Years ago, I was telling someone about drying basil in the food dehydrator at the end of the summer, and they responded, “Who uses dried basil?” I didn’t get clarification on this, but I assume either “everyone” lives in a place where 1) basil plants don’t die in the winter (I have never lived in such a place); 2) you can get fresh basil in grocery stores year-round (I didn’t grow up in such a place, though I live in one now); 3) knows the more “authentic” method of basil preservation is to make pesto and, I guess, can or freeze it.
Anyway, I wasn’t any of those people. The answer to “Who does that?”, in that case, was — not for the first time — me. Because, I guessed, I just didn’t know any better then, though I learned later.
Only in the last few years have I started to consider the absurdity of the whole idea of anyone knowing better when it comes to something so unbelievably trivial. I mean: pointing out that plenty of people don’t have the privilege to DIY or care about whether your basil is fresh from your garden or comes in little frozen cubes from Trader Joe’s, or a plastic shaker from the dollar store, it’s valid. But you know, even if people have the access or they “know better,” they might not feel like bothering at this particular moment or they might not care about what you care about, not enough to even buy into your definition of “better.”
And that’s OK.
Canned mushrooms are indefensibly sick, though. That’s just a fact.