The Gustavian Weekly

Homeland security skills | The Gustavian Weekly

By Eliza L. Swedenborg Commentary Editor | February 27, 2009 | Opinion

You’ve heard the call. We’ve all heard it. The economy is tanking and only you can get it back on track. It’s time to gather your pantsuit collection, degrees and various electronic appendages and SUIT UP, America!  We’ve got an economy to save.

OK, now hold on a minute.  What if— what if the reason the economy is failing is that it was built to fail. A system dependent on constant growth, coupled with finite resources, cannot sustain itself. You global economy enthusiasts can shoot me all the mean looks you want, but I just thought someone should say it.

What if we judged our security based on our ability to take care of ourselves? I worry that in our push to become technologically, academically and economically superior, we are losing our grip on some of the most important life skills. Aside from nunchuck skills, bow hunting skills and computer hacking skills, I am talking about the ability to clothe ourselves, feed ourselves, entertain ourselves and generally help others do the same. I consider these all homeland security skills.

Remember in junior high when we learned about the women’s liberation movement, and how women don’t have to cook/clean/sew anymore?  I think that most of us young girls interpreted this to mean that we shouldn’t. That professional career women and men are the most admirable, and who needs to clean when your job pays enough for you to afford a cleaning lady or a Zoombot, anyway? Well, it turns out that these were very important activities, especially the ability to cook, but let me start with the ability to clothe ourselves.

Look at the tags on the clothes you are wearing.  Where were they made?  My guess is Southeast Asia. What would happen if suddenly we were no longer receiving fresh shipments of shoes, shirts, purses and bouncy balls? Most of us will probably survive without the bouncy balls, but eventually we will need to recreate the infrastructure that allows us to make our own clothes. This is my definition of homeland security—our ability to take care of ourselves. We can’t depend on the exploitation of cheap foreign labor and resources forever!

This is especially important with food. I don’t need to tell you that our food system has made us undeniably dependant on fossil fuel, from the distance our food travels to the petro-chemical-intensive doses of fertilizer prescribed by industrial agriculture. I also don’t need to tell you that the average produce item purchased at the grocery store travels 1500 miles before it reaches your home.  When we depend on foreign oil to get our food, we are by no means food secure.

Of equal importance is the ability to cook for ourselves. I don’t mean you have to be able to cook exquisite meals of filet mignon and chocolate soufflé, but you should be able to stock your kitchen with healthy food. In an interview with Bill Moyers, Michael Pollan said that one of the greatest predictors of whether a person has a healthy diet is not her or his wealth, but whether she or he cooks.  If we take extreme dependence on foreign fossil fuels out of the picture, then we need to be able to cook with the seasons again.

Eating seasonally isn’t a burden. Oh, contraire! Think of possible joys of autumn, for example: butternut squash bisque and honey-glazed carrots; garlic potatoes and hot apple cider; dreams of the first foods to come in the spring! (Yes, these are a few of my favorite things!)

Homeland food production and cooking skills mean food sovereignty, folks! Can I get a “Heck yes!”?

Along with this, it is essential that we learn how to entertain ourselves again. I’ll admit that I own an iPod and a computer, but if we start putting value in things like taking the time to cook our food, grow our food, repair and even make our own clothes/furniture/etc., then we have to accept that we may not have time to make the money to afford tons of technological luxuries. And good riddance! Do you remember how wonderful it is to surround yourself with people instead of machines? Or how about the ability to appreciate nature? Well, you’ve got to put down the iPod if you want to play the saxophone, my friend. In the words of Mr. Thoreau, “If the day and night are such that you greet them with joy — that is your success.  All nature is your congratulation.”

Yes, I realize that certain industries will struggle if everyone has this attitude. But as I said in the beginning, the current system cannot sustain itself. The important thing is that we can sustain ourselves.  If we Americans learn to produce our own foods, make our own clothes, entertain ourselves and generally minimize our dependence on others, this!  This is what homeland security looks like.

OK, I can hear you, you there rolling your eyes and saying, “Why don’t you just drop out of the cash economy already and get it over it?” Well. I’m working on it.

So.  Got skills?