Slow Shopping

I recently sat on a panel dedicated to the discussion of food sovereignty – a fancy title for a discussion of the ways we Australians might have more say in deciding what we eat, where our food comes from and how it is produced. Yes, it was a slow food event.

What stuck in this member of the chattering class’s mind was a comment from a senior National Party MP on the panel. Though he was a charming and sincere gentleman, we certainly parted ways on a couple of issues. My suggestion that we take responsibility for those less fortunate, that is, those who don’t have enough to eat, being dismissed with the comment that “We’ll always have the haves and have not’s”. Should we accept malnutrition because it has had such a long and distinguished tradition?

Then there’s the role of women. The gentleman referred to a phenomenon I must confess I hadn’t heard of, he talked of the “Wednesday” shop, which he compared with the weekend shop. It went something like this:

“Well it’s been well documented the way in which women do a hasty shop on Wednesdays and then do their ‘proper’ shopping on the weekends”.

He then went on to explain the bleeding obvious – that harassed Mum’s on their way home from work will tend to buy rather more prepared foods than on the weekend, when they are more likely to shop and cook from scratch. Should we overlook his clear understanding that shopping and cooking is the women’s domain – no matter if she also works fulltime? Perhaps we’ll deal with that one later.

I’m more interested in his acknowledgement of the distinction between the fast shopping that takes place on weekdays and the slow shopping we women do on the weekends. While I’m the first to acknowledge that I’m more willing to do the food shopping than my male partner, and better at it, I’m less thrilled with the notion of shopping as leisure.

Shopping for clothes, shoes and accessories, at least for myself, is something I consider to be a leisure activity because I do it during the time which I consider to be leisure time. I’m sure you women know what I mean here, the weekend, that time when we are supposed to enjoy not being at work. This leisure time we spend driving our children everywhere, cleaning our houses, cooking, shopping and doing the laundry.

So what should I do with the remaining hours of the weekend? Would I rather go shopping or sit in the sun reading that weekend paper that takes a week to get through?

It’s quite a simple task, rescuing a few slow moments from my weekend. Slow shopping? Maybe this happens on holidays, but doesn’t that leave an awful lot of slow activity for those two-week breaks? So when did holidays suddenly become so fast?

Dr Felicity Newman is a member of the Centre for Everyday Life at Murdoch University

We Are All Jewish Mothers

Last week I gave a talk for a group of senior Jewish women on the topic of Jewish food and Jewish mothers. I like to think we can consider the Jewish mother as a symbolic mother, not because Jewish mothers are any better, or any worse, than any other group of mothers. It’s a question of perception – Jewish mothers have had more publicity, not all of it good.

People often ask me why Jews take their faith from their mother’s not their fathers. I used to think it was suspicion of women’s fidelity then I discovered it had more to do with the way Jewish women provide their children with the cultural and spiritual tools to be Jewish, in other words, their identity.

Surely this can also be extended to women in general? For example when it comes to speaking a second language children will learn their mother’s language but not the father’s – unless both parents have the same language of course.

The ladies wanted to hear me eulogising the uber-nurturing Jewish mother. They wanted talk of chicken soup and dedication. Certainly this is the image we know to be the “yiddishe mother”. However what I wanted to talk to them about the way that image changed over time.

The Jewish mother emerged at the end of the 19th century. In the Jewish villages of Europe men’s lives revolved around the Synagogue and study while women took care of all the worldly details, small matters like money, education and feeding the family. If we examine other “traditional” cultures we come to understand that this behaviour is common.

Dr Felicity Newman is a member of the Centre for Everyday Life at Murdoch University

The Jewish women of Eastern Europe became the bridge between Jewish and host communities and these everyday skills meant that they adapted to life in the New World better than men whose religious education was no longer valued.

 

And somewhere between Minsk and Manhatten (or Melbourne) she went from being an angelic, long suffering mother always offering food of course, always leaving the lamp lit in case her wayward son might return, to some sort of obsessive force–feeding banshee. The Yiddish films of the early 20th century show them as dear old ladies obsessively loved by their bad boy sons.

 

By the time we get to the 60s and 70s writers like Phillip Roth and filmmakers like Woody Allen in particular, provided hideous portraits loosely based on their own mothers. What went wrong?

 

Were these women the victims of their own success? American Jewish women were well educated but expected to remain at home once married, providing the source of Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique. The result was feminism and perhaps her sons resented the shift in focus.

 

Universal indeed – today we women go freely into the workforce, but when it comes to chicken soup and compassion, not much has changed, we’re always on call. Yes, we are all Jewish mothers.