This article was originally publised on Parent Co Magazine, January 15, 2016.
Yup, that’s me. Breastfeeding my daughter in our community garden plot – and having my husband take a picture of it. To my right are the carrots that we will harvest, save, and puree to become her first solid foods this winter; to my left is the kale that we have been pureeing into smoothies for my 4-year old almost every morning this past week (and he loves them). We also have a garden plot at home, right next to my husband’s bee hives which supply the honey that my family eats each spring morning to prevent allergies. Did I mention that my infant daughter was born naturally with the help of a doula and a midwife, with a little bit of help from my hypnobirthing and labor yoga classes?
On the spectrum from “Real Housewife” to 1960’s hippie flowerchild I fall somewhere in the middle, but there is no doubt that I have become what the urban dictionary calls “crunchy” (a derivative of “granola”), defined as: “politically strongly left-leaning and may be additionally but not exclusively categorized as vegetarians, vegans, eco-tarians, conservationists, environmentalists, neo-hippies, tree huggers, nature enthusiasts, etc.” Some folks out there look at my lifestyle as ridiculously alternative, but others would say I can’t claim the crunchy crown quite so quickly. After all, we do have two cars in our suburban driveway (though one is a Prius), I didn’t have a homebirth, I sport “business casual” attire on a regular basis, and we do eat (local) meat. I am even secretly relieved on rainy days when I can throw the cloth diapers in the dryer instead of hanging them one-by-one on the clothesline.
I wasn’t always this crunchy. My upbringing was decidedly middle-class suburban, some would say preppy. Though we grew vegetables a bit when I was young most of the time I never knew (or cared) where my food came from. In fact, I didn’t even used to like half of the things we now grow ourselves – tomatoes grossed me out, raspberries had too many seeds, and kale – I didn’t even know what kale was. I wore khakis with polo shirts and Tretorns, though I was part of the flannel shirt craze of the early nineties. And politics, well maybe I shouldn’t get into politics but let’s just say my roots are not as liberal as the branches onto which I have climbed. I’m pretty sure I would have scoffed at someone like me, especially if it was the mom of someone my age. I did not aspire to become a “hippie.”
So here I am, owning up to my crunchiness, and reflecting on my transformation. And here’s my confession – I have become crunchy as a result of peer pressure. Not the negative peer pressure that derives from wanting to fit in with those who are popular (I experienced my limit of that kind of peer pressure in middle school), but the kind of positive peer pressure that comes from seeing something you aspire to and trying to live up to it. It happened in baby steps, I suppose. First, I saw echoes of my future crunchiness when I split from the popular crowd in middle school, not entirely by choice, and became friends with a much more eclectic group of friends. Then I went to college and my inclination toward volunteerism grew into a passion for social justice; I bonded with friends who shared similar passions. After college, I lived in Washington, DC and met folks with whom I could identify politically. Moving to Vermont for grad school and deciding to stay sealed the deal. I fell in love with the environmentally-focused community in this beautiful place and I also fell in love with a partner who had the energy and follow-through to live a crunchy lifestyle way more than I could have on my own.
When I became a parent, it was totally natural that having kids would make me lean toward this lifestyle even more – not only because I want to create a certain kind of life for them, but because the act of parenting offers a multitude of values-based choices to which I can apply my crunchy ways. Someday our kids may protest or roll their eyes at our liberal “localvore” ways (ok, sometimes my 4-year old already does), but for now we have a family value that we can share. Come to think of it, I think that’s a big part of why I love being crunchy and being married to a spouse who is equally so. This value that we share creates all sorts of opportunities for family bonding – the farmers’ market on Saturday mornings; evening picnics at our community garden plot; picking berries; making our own wood-fired oven; hanging laundry on the line; laughing as my son asks whether we are using gas or battery power; and yes, breastfeeding. After the kids go to bed, it’s not unusual for my me and my husband to spend hours in the kitchen canning, preserving, or discussing what steps we want to take to weatherize our home. Those nights feed our relationship more than anything else. It can be a lot of work, but when you enjoy what you’re doing it doesn’t always feel like work. In fact, I hope someday we can do more of this kind of work and less of the kind that requires you to be in an office away from home.
Being crunchy isn’t just about being an environmentalist, or leaning in a certain political direction (though those parts of the definition do fit for me). It’s also about being a part of something – a big social movement, a strong local community and - most importantly for me - a happy family that spends time together. It doesn’t hurt that we eat so darn well.