enoughness by making; do not build it, they will come anyway
Welcome to Digestable, your mouthful of things happening in the world.
A small, organic farm: everything you might want from the place that makes your food. Careful growing practices, respectful relationships with plants and people and place, tasty veg. All of this is well and good, but you can only eat that stuff if you’ve got $3 for a few ounces of microgreens, or $10 for eggs.
I imagine you know this story, if you’ve ever been to a farmers’ market or tried to sign up for a CSA. This isn’t about the farmers, of course; it’s about the system in which they’re trying to do a small margin thing that’s completely essential to our survival.
The list goes on: woodworkers selling beautiful cutting boards for small fortunes, midwives supporting home births in multimillion dollar brownstones, tailors making bespoke suits for the elite.
Craft, perhaps the most modest word we have for ‘doing incredibly skilled labor that takes years to hone and yields particular products,’ is so often commodified, only possible if done in service of the very wealthy. There are places where craft skills are traded, or offered as gifts, but there are plenty of things we cannot gift-economy our way out of (debt, fuel demand, etc), and thus demand we earn money for careful work.
Capitalism gives us the language of scarcity: enough resources, enough money, enough time in which to work so as to earn money so we can purchase resources. I, like so many others, often struggle with the idea of enough, with the idea of meeting multidimensional needs and expectations so as to be satisfied. Reframing towards abundance, and away from this scarcity, is present in any kind of organizing work that’s trying to push us away from this world into the next one.
Although I have the words on hand to wax poetic about abundance framing, it takes a lot (a shameful lot, I often feel) to get myself to believe in this abundance, in enough-ness. One of the things that consistently satisfies me, calms the not-enough devil on my shoulder, is making things.
I don’t have a particular craft (as a devoted generalist!), but I love to dabble in anything that requires my hands and brain to work together to figure out a problem and make a thing. Today, I was lucky to get to spend a good chunk of my afternoon making something that I’d never made before, meeting my materials, changing their shapes and appearances.
While I worked, I felt myself learning, assessing; felt the new pathways forming in my mind between processes and outcomes. Figuring autonomously - another way of thinking about making - is a perfect kind of freedom, often untethered to others’ expectations than most other activities. This wandering towards a desired outcome makes me feel so human, so present. Making makes me feel abundance, both in myself and all around me.
That feeling says all that needs to be said about why people devote themselves to craft, I think, even when in service of people who are just wealthy, and might not deserve all that love and time and beauty. But the sensation of abundance that comes with making has me wonder: can we redirect this abundance towards our communities, rather than out of it? Can we find ways to share it amongst ourselves, rather than selling it at a premium?
The Second Look
Half-baked cultural criticism from Gabriel Coleman.
I held a little party last Friday in our garage. The weather was nice and a couple of friends ended up in town at the same time so we decided to make a thing of it. I love going into Mrs. Dalloway mode, putting a bunch of energy into a night and then getting to watch people enjoy themselves: slotting the final piece of friendship into the puzzle of a raucous night. My party prep, as usual, meant taking the day away from studying to clean out the garage, put together some mix ideas should the night call for a bit of boogie, and cook. I fixed up a set of snacks that had gone over well before: these nutritional yeast crackers and Paul Hollywood’s baba ganoush. It only takes a couple hours to whip them both up, and even less if you can manage to assemble the cracker dough while the eggplants char in the oven, though this guarantees your fire alarm will go off.
Not everyone is a fan of eggplant, but I’d highly recommend giving the cracker recipe a go for your next event. They’re so easy to make and nothing impresses people more than a homemade version of something they would normally buy in a package. I’ve even been told I should try and sell them—a compliment that immediately set off fantasies in my head of a little mail-order crackers and kombucha business. Dan Olson discusses this leap from the emotional profits of a nice night with friends to the financial profits of a small business in his video essay “Cooking Food on the Internet for Fun and Profit.” Olson compares the expectation-vs-reality of starting your own cooking channel because you like to make food, to starting a restaurant/cafe for the same reason.
Living under capitalism gives us this “if you build it, they will come” idea about making money: if you have a good enough idea and enough passion to start a small business, the right people will find it and you’ll get to experience that special kind of glowing happiness reserved only for small business owners. My current storefront fixation is the lack of bagel shops in Dublin. There’s only one sandwich shop that sells bagels and they are bad, so I feel that, as a half-decent baker who has worked in a bagel shop, I could open up a small bakery and blow everyone’s little Irish minds. It's a fun idea to play with, but the reality of space, licensing, health codes, suppliers, and promotion means that Gabriel’s Bagelrie would almost certainly flop in spite of its anagrammatic charm.
Capitalism also tells us we should be self-sufficient, something that came up in Twitterland last week when it emerged that Swedes generally don’t feed dinner to house guests, or ask them to contribute some cash for the food they eat. I can imagine Friday’s party wouldn’t have gone nearly as well if I asked everyone for a few euro to cover their cracker quota. As someone who consistently relies on the generosity of others to fill my belly, I can’t imagine the anxiety of attending a social gathering and not knowing if I can afford what’s on the menu. The implications of this Swedish system (1. everyone is on equal financial footing, has food at home and has a home at all and 2. every social interaction, especially the making and serving of food, can be reduced to a monetary value) make me deeply uncomfortable. But this is the same calculus that informs people who want to start a food business: if they enjoy and are good at making food, they deserve profit from it.
I’m helping cover a friend’s shifts in a cafe this next week despite having publicly sworn off coffee work. Any Dublin readers can swing through Blas on the 10th, 11th, 13th, or 14th to experience my mediocre, out-of-practice latte art. I’m a little nervous since I haven’t made coffee for 3 years, but I’m excited for it at the same time. It’s nice to work with your hands, tamping down espresso and steaming milk, and it’ll be nice to have a little under-the-table cash for the month. It's nice to make food for people and it's nice to make enough money to enjoy life. But I’m beyond trying to unite the two. I want to make music and art, to do research and cook people dinner, and I want to be able to afford to survive. Capitalism tells us that these goals should inform one another, that if you enjoy or are good at something, that should be how you make money to survive and the better you are at it, the more money you can make. The college I went to united these in the “Piper Center for Vocation and Career,” implying that what calls you should be your financial bedrock. But I think it's best if I can keep my interests as far away from monetization as possible. If food and music and history and art are my gifts, who am I to charge for them?