Mere nostalgia for a so-called "simpler time" is not enough reason for me to do anything; I have to know there is some modern benefit, something to justify its practice in the here and now. The author of Made From Scratch does an excellent job not only convincing me of this, but stoking my excitement for it.
Of 11 chapters, I loved 6:
Chickens. Eggs aren't that expensive -they might be some of the cheapest sources of protein available- so why raise your own chickens? First, by doing so you'll know exactly how they've been treated instead of wondering by what loophole "free range" came to be stamped on the egg cartons at the grocery store. Second, fresh eggs really do taste better; they are higher in omega-3 fatty acids and lower in cholesterol than factory eggs. They even look better, with perky, deep orange yolks. Third, getting eggs out of your own backyard is a nice way to bypass the whole "eat organic vs. eat local" debate. Fourth, chickens will eat the slugs and other pests harassing your vegetable and herb garden. Fifth, when you change their bedding, the old bedding does wonders for your compost. The one glitch seems to be getting your hands on chickens humanely. She gets chickens through the mail, first two-day-old chicks who arrive in a box "parched and starved" and later pullets (chickens just a few weeks away from laying their first eggs) who arrive with clipped beaks.
Grow Your Own Meal. The food at the grocery store is a mystery. You don't know how it was grown, how far it was trucked, how long ago it was picked, who picked it, or what they were paid. It's coated in wax and dyes. It's oversized, dry, and flavorless. It's grown for shelf life rather than taste. And it's getting more expensive all the time. Not only does growing your own food cut all that out of the equation, it gives your kitchen scraps new purpose as compost.
Beekeeping. Honey! Wax! Support for the garden's ecosystem! Too bad I'm probably actually too afraid to try this one.
Old Stuff. "There are a lot of really good reasons I run to the past when I need something as utilitarian as a cheese grater: things were made better, looked prettier, and lasted longer before plastic took over. Buying from a neighborhood secondhand shop helps support the local economy and is a kind of recycling." -p. 78
DIY Wardrobe. There are two things that excite me about this chapter. First is simply the fact that I hate shopping for clothes; 10 minutes in a dressing room and I seriously ponder following the example of the woman who made a single brown dress and wore it for a year. My body type (like anyone else's) only seems to be "in style" once a decade, if that. Things don't look on me the way they look on the hanger/mannequin. I know I'm not the only one to have a great skirt hanging in the back of the closet for lack of the right shirt to go with it. I can't count on living to see the type of clothes I like (1930's, 1940's) being manufactured ever. Second is just enthusiasm for the idea that it is possible to REALLY make stuff with my own hands. "Most of us never even consider that something like a pair of jeans could actually be made without an assembly line behind it." -p. 90 It seems widely regarded that any homemade item is sure to be inferior, unsafe, or even flat out impossible. I think this is reinforced by "craft" stores like Michael's where to make paper, soap, candles, or chocolate you must first buy ... paper, soap, wax, and chocolate, merely shredding or melting it down and bringing it back together in a new shape. Even as a kid I thought that was pretty lame -and quite the letdown for someone high on reading Anne of Green Gables and the Laura Ingers Wilder books.
Research, Son. Seventeen pages of memoirs, how-to books, and websites that pertain to the topics discussed in the book.
The other five chapters are: The Country Kitchen, Working House Dogs, Angora Rabbits: Portable Livestock, Homemade Mountain Music, Outside The Farm, and Want More? The Country Kitchen is pretty thin, but is nonetheless why I now have (as of Sept 2011) a little handcrank radio playing away in the kitchen (She's right; it adds coziness to the room in a way a TV never could) and as many hand-powered kitchen tools as are practical (including a manual coffee grinder). When the power went out in California/Arizona/New Mexico/Mexico recently, I have to say it was extremely reassuring to have these things and the chickens and a way of composting food scraps should the trash collection get derailed. The black-out just came and went with no hiccup for us (also courtesy of the book Just in Case: How to be Self-Sufficient when the Unexpected Happens. And we'll soon likely have rabbits, I'm coming around to the practicality of having working dogs, and the chapter on Homemade Mountain Music got me started on listening to it which turns out to just be a gateway drug to needing to own a fiddle. So even the chapters that didn't initially fire me up seem to have been gestating in my mind this whole time.
I would give the book five stars but for layout. Because it is a memoir and not a how-to book, disrupting the chronology to arrange the story by project does not make the most sense.
Whether your interest in the DIY scene began with knitting a scarf and now you're looking for more, you crave the comfort of control that only self-sufficiency can provide in turbulent times, or you feel like there is nothing to do with your free time anymore but shop, this book is worth a look.
One more note: When I read this book in December 2008, though I enjoyed it, I was mildly disappointed that it was not (I thought) as useful to my situation as the preface had led me to believe. But six months later, as I've returned to this topic and started reading more about gardening, beekeeping, and chicken raising, I am amazed at how much I recognize, how much I already know that I didn't even realize I knew -about raised beds, queen bees, pullets- all from reading her stories. And I think a lot of that comes because she chose to share her difficulties and failures (by far the best parts of the book). As Michael Pollan says in Second Nature "...his failures have more to say to him -about his soil, the weather, the predilections of local pests, the character of his land. The gardener learns nothing when his carrots thrive, unless that success is won against a background of prior disappointment. Outright success is dumb, disaster frequently eloquent." (p. 121)
Two more things she said that have come back again and again:
1. Homesteading is about small steps. Be happy with what you can do today. This helps me not spoil my own excitement over everything I'm growing on my balcony with wishing I could fit a clothesline, rain barrel, composter, solar panel, mini-windmill, three chickens, and a pygmy goat, too.
2. Have a mentor. Reading is useful of course and a reference library will earn its shelf space, but also having someone from whom to learn is invaluable; they can show you with their hands when the book's diagrams aren't yielding their secrets and answer questions omitted by the index. I should've figured this out from giving up on both sewing and knitting after trying to learn solely from books, but it took her saying as much to get me moving on at least finding sewing and gardening classes.