Martha Stewart, now serving her five-month prison term (but with a darned good chance of winning her appeal, in my opinion), is a perennial politically incorrect target for feminista vilification. You know, she encourages women to cherish the domestic arts–and we can’t have that.
But Martha could have solved her problems with the rad-fems if she’d only packaged herself as one of them. So now, meet MaryJane Butters, promoter of the same sort of intricately tatted lace doilies that would tickle Martha’s fancy–except that MaryJane wears work boots and flannel shirts instead of Martha’s designer tweeds, quotes freely from feminista proto-poet Marge Piercy, and above all, eats, breathes and sleeps organic, the politically correct way to farm. And MaryJane is the darling of liberals from the Slate magazine editorial staff (which gave her five full days of free essay space to promote herself and her enterprises last year) to the 60 thousand shareholders in her MaryJanes Farm organic food business, none of whom, she freely admits, has made a nickel investing in her.
I met MaryJane through Dana Goodyear’s profile of her in the Oct. 11 issue of the New Yorker. Sadly, the article can’t be linked online, but you can click to her MaryJanes Farm website to get the picture and a full dose of what she calls the “farmgirl” ethos. One of the first things you’ll discover is that MaryJane’s Farm near rural Moscow, Idaho, isn’t much of a farm. MaryJane tried the farming thing, according to Goodyear, but dropped it a few years ago when it didn’t pay off. She still raises vegetables and flowers in her garden patch and also tends some walnut and fuit trees. She also has a color-coordinated farmhouse, goat barn, and outhouse. She undoubtledly presents quite a contrast to her Moscow neighbors, who actually farm something for cash, namely wheat, using distinctly non-organic methods such as crop-dusters, and graduated some decades ago to indoor plumbing.
As for the organic food that MaryJane markets, it’s actually a line of organic-food mixes, ranging from just-add-water dried beans and pasta to some sort of quickie dough called a BakeOver that you can pour over the leftovers in your fridge, pop into the oven, and produce an instant casserole. She’s the Duncan Hines of the Earth First! set. The stuff costs a bundle, too: $3.40 plus shipping for a 2.5-ounce serving of instant lentil soup. Frankly, if I wanted instant lentil soup, I’d go for a package of Knorr’s at the supermarket at a fraction of the price, but then again, Knorr’s isn’t organic.
As Goodyear points out, the organic business is competitive (you can actually pick up non-MaryJane earthy soup mixes alongside the Knorr’s at my local Safeway and save yourself the shipping charges), so MaryJane just about breaks even on her food products. What she’s actually selling is the organic experience. Such as that back-40 flannel-shirt look (click here and here on her website to see her in two different flannels holding the very same bucket of vegetables and flowers). And here’s MaryJane in her infomercial for Slate:
“It’s 4 a.m. Sunday, and I am wide awake….Grabbing a flashlight and a pair of boots, I remember to make a bunch of noise as I step through the door. There’s a willow tree to the left of my porch, and last night I was startled by a bull moose eating its branches. Tonight, I’ll do the startling. After he thunders off and I’ve stepped onto the dark trail, I hear an owl. I think I hear a porcupine–they lumber and move a lot of brush….
“I’ve been wanting to hand wash and starch some of my mother’s doilies, but store-bought starch these days contains suspect ingredients I don’t recognize. How did my mother and other women of her generation care for doilies? And what did doilies mean to them?
“In old family photos, I see my mother’s doilies: big, white, and starched. In some of our old photos, you can see that the fuzz on the arms of the furniture is nearly worn away. But covering that ‘poverty’ is a bright white doily, my mother’s successful attempt to brighten our lives. I remember her hands making them, and I remember vividly what she did when she laundered them, which was often because there were seven people in our household, so the one sofa and one overstuffed chair in our small living room got a lot of use. After she washed the doilies, she dipped them in starch and then pinned them to our carpet with a thousand little sewing pins, so that when they dried, they were perfectly stretched into full size, ready for the arms of our chairs.
“Jo [one of MaryJane’s pals] said last Monday she made a pot of beans for dinner along with a pot of rice. She is from southern Louisiana, where red kidney beans and rice is a traditional Monday meal. That’s because Mondays were washdays. On Sunday night, soiled linens were put into a galvanized tub to soak, along with soap shavings. Because washday left very little time for anything else, a pot of beans was put to boil, and eventually turned creole with seasonings. Toward the end of the day, after everything had been washed’with a washboard’women cooked a pot of rice, using a little more water than usual. The shirts, decorative collars, handkerchiefs, and doilies that needed to be stiff were dipped into the rice water, hung to dry, and then ironed or shaped….
“The poet Marge Piercy said, ‘Every woman who makes of her living something strong and good is sharing bread with us.'”
Ah the joys of rural life. First spend the entire day washing and starching the family laundry by hand in a washtub, then settle down to some Marge Piercy.
Goodyear’s article, however, depicts a MaryJane Butters who spends less time slaving over the washboard and more time slaving over the layouts for her MaryJanes Farm magazine ($8.88 an issue with shipping) which doubles as a catalogue for a seemingly infinite number of MaryJanes Farm accessories such as crocheted clothes hangers for slinging the overalls over and custom-made hats for doing the spring plowing in. At a family cookout for her daughter Megan and brood, MaryJane won’t let the gang consume much of the food–s’mores made from organic graham crackers and such–because it’s reserved for a photo shoot. Why is it that when Martha pulls this sort of stuff, they don’t call her a farmgirl but a word that rhymes with “witch”?
Besides subscribing to the mag–or motoring to the farm for a $35-a-head lunch tour or a planned $170-a night “organic safari,” and buying a $37 skillet plus $9.50 ovenproof handle in which to bake the BakeOvers–you can also learn how to become an organic farmer yourself at MaryJane’s Pay Dirt Farm School. There, for a mere $2,950 a week–about the tuition cost of a full semester at state ag-school–you can have an experience that includes practice tool-sharpening, “weeding,” sewing on an old treadle machine, and eating an awful lot of BakeOvers and other MaryJane insta-foods. Most farms pay the apprentices, but at MaryJane’s the apprentices pay the farm.
Finally, next summer, if all goes well down at the farm, you will be able to buy a copy of “MaryJane’s Ideabook, Cookbook, Lifebook,” the first of an entire series of such tomes for which MaryJane has been paid an advance of $1.35 million by a division of Random House. Now that’s what I call organic farming!
Yes, Martha Stewart’s problem was that she aimed to introduce middle-income housewives to gracious living on a budget–tasteful sheets and towels from K-mart, for example. What she should have done was introduce them to feminism and faux-farm life. If only Martha had thought organic. If only she’d been politically correct.