Tuesday, January 17, 2012

what isn't authentic?

One of the keystones to modern homesteading, be it rural or urban, is striving for a more authentic life. You must read that phrase, speak it yourself, as much as I do. It comes up over and over in the world of homesteaders, small farmers, authors and bloggers. I've been thinking about it a lot lately, a whole lot. I'm trying to come up with what Authentic means to me, because I feel I have a long way to go. Having a farm, growing your own food, raising your own

This is harder than I thought it would be.

I find myself constantly getting caught up in other people's definition, constantly. To some people authenticity is more about the state of mind than lifestyle changes, they have no problem being "authentic" homesteaders with ziplock bags and cable. To others, it's stripping the house of anything that may bring inklings of consumerism, materialism, or character-building shortcuts. Some authors write about how the only way they felt authentic was being pulled out of a rut and forced to change to new circumstances, find themselves so to speak. It all seems like a fairly personal religion, and we could probably spend a lot of time deciding what authentic is to us and to society in general. I know I have my own ideas, a collage of things.

But I think it's easier to know what something is, by deciding what it isn't. So I ask you? What isn't authentic to you?

photo from thebritfarmer


Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

An example of what I mean: I recently read on the Firecracker Farm blog that Cathy saw single potatoes wrapped in plastic with microwavae instructions on them. Really.

That's a red flag in my book as well....

January 17, 2012 at 2:10 PM  
Blogger Green Zebra Market Garden said...

I take it you just read the latest Small Measure post about ziplock bags?

January 17, 2012 at 2:13 PM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

oh, no. I am sadly guilty of not reading anyone elses blogs save for the people I see regularly, like Jon and the Daughtons.... what did she say?

January 17, 2012 at 2:16 PM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

This was totally not an anti-plastic bag post! Nor an anti-Ash post. This is just me asking what you guys consider not authentic.

Ash is pretty damn authentic to me!

January 17, 2012 at 2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some things that make me unauthentic to myself:

*mindlessly doing things
*being a burden to others and myself
*buying ready-made things
*not trying
*staying focused on the past

I suppose that's a short list, but that's the point. There are more ways in life that I CAN be "authentic" instead of NOT being so.


January 17, 2012 at 2:18 PM  
Blogger Tracy P said...

This is something I have a hard time with, myself... I'm not sure if I would say what is or isn't "authentic", because everyone has varying degrees, if you will, of homesteading-ness... if that makes sense. So someone could be authentic to their own ideal, even if that meant using the microwave versus restaurant fast food. I often go back and forth between wanting to go completely off-grid and being totally self-sufficient, to thinking that in the end, does it really matter at all? But no matter where I'm at on the spectrum, I could be authentic to what I want. So, after that little ramble, I don't know :) each person would see things differently.

January 17, 2012 at 2:22 PM  
Blogger MIB said...

What isn't authentic? A view of how my social life should be based on the John Hughes movies I watched as a kid (as much as I still have a soft spot for them). Assessing my worth as a human being based on what neighbors/friends/co-workers are doing or have bought or read is the "latest thing." Getting so wrapped up in pop culture and pop fashion and pop ideas that I never think about what is being sold to me (metaphorically and literally).

For me, "authentic" is something that comes from within myself: it isn't derived from the expectations of my society or government or extended family or college classmates or what-have-you. I feel like I'm living an authentic life when my actions follow my beliefs--MY beliefs, not what I feel like I'm supposed to believe based on the latest thing on TV or what someone's neighbor said.

For example, after doing a lot of reading and thinking, I believe that the corporate agricultural system is harmful to both animals and people; therefore, I actively seek ways to not engage with it by providing my own vegetables, meat, milk, honey, etc. I believe that there is value in art, so I try to buy from artists and artisans selling directly from the places they make art. I believe that my time means something and that dedicating it to someone else shows that I care; the people I love get something I knitted especially for them at least once a year.

I guess what it boils down to for me is that "authentic" comes from a hard, thoughtful examination of this world and how we affect it. "Authentic" means we have value that is not just based on how much money we make or spend. "Authentic" recognizes both that we as individuals are important and that humans are not the be-all end-all of this place.

Wow, I wonder if anyone will read this whole thing. ;-)

January 17, 2012 at 2:23 PM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

MIB, that was worth me asking the question alone! Wonderful!

January 17, 2012 at 2:24 PM  
Blogger MIB said...

Thanks, Jenna. :-) I got a kind of self-conscious after my little screed, there, but I decided to hit Post anyway!

January 17, 2012 at 2:30 PM  
Blogger Mist said...

What is unauthentic? Not living in accordance with one's values, whatever they may be.

January 17, 2012 at 2:35 PM  
Blogger Tara said...

I agree completely with MIB (and yep, I read it all). I have a much easier time defining what authenticity IS rather than what it isn't. To me, being authentic means to really know who you are and what you believe in, own those things, and live by them. Put your money (and time and effort) where your mouth is, to whatever extent is possible for you (we all have real limitations, and no one is perfect). I think this applies to whoever and whatever you are. My brother-in-law, at a fancy family lunch, recently made the statement that he and my sister "don't really like fancy food." "We like nice, familiar chain restaurants" he exclaimed. This is not me. I do not share their feelings on this, but I absolutely MUST respect his good-natured honesty about it, and his unabashed willingness to own who he is. That, to me, is authentic behavior. A good example of a non-authentic equivalent would be my sister-in-law (other side of the family), who thinks we're horrible, horrible people for killing and eating our livestock, but who eats fast food EVERY SINGLE DAY without a shred of remorse. That to me would be NOT authentic.

I find it intriguing that you've spent a great deal of time thinking about this and trying to define it, as it's something I've spent virtually zero time thinking about. I guess I've never thought that authenticity meant doing everything right all of the time, but rather doing your very best to live according to your own standards. I want to know that the "you" that you show the world is the real you (at least mostly).

January 17, 2012 at 2:47 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Not an easy question. I think there's no definition that fits for everyone. Not losing oneself in other peoples' values, I'd say.

The wrapped potatoes go on my list as well, as does pancake batter in a bottle. But that's just me.

By the way, you inspired me to buy a banjo. Reading your posts on music helped me realise that it's worth a try.

January 17, 2012 at 3:05 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

I think authentic is what you believe in, cherish and wish to cultivate in your life. It is also being true to yourself and your ideals and working toward them as best you can. Maybe authenticity is growing your food and making everything by hand, maybe it is speaking up for something you feel strongly about when no one else is. This does not answer your question about what it isn't though :)

January 17, 2012 at 3:07 PM  
Blogger traxis said...

To me what is *not* authentic are any relationships where the ties between people, or between people and things are faked in some kind of way.

The potatoes are a good example of this - it provides a fake impression that potatoes outside of this packaging would not be as easy to cook or that the packaging adds some kind of intrinsic value to the potato. For me, this same premise applies equally to everything, from Baby Einstein to the Kardashians.

As for homesteading purposes, knowing the effort and work involved in, say, tending to a garden, or the time it takes making food from scratch, or that the source of of the chicken on my plate is/was living breathing animal are all important aspects of this relationship to food and work that should be cherished.

This is not to say that I'll never open a can of soup or hire a mechanic to fix my car instead of rolling up my sleeves to do it myself - to me that is not due to a lack of authenticity (perhaps a lack of energy or will!) but in any of these cases, I understand that this reliance is a choice I've made for myself, and is never the *only* choice available out there.

January 17, 2012 at 3:57 PM  
Blogger Beth of the Rocks said...

The only thing I can say about authenticity, is if you are authentic, you are true to yourself. Or, for a product, it is what is claims to be. For example, "authentic C.A.F. wool" can only come from your farm.

Um, not the best explanation, but short and to the point.


January 17, 2012 at 4:28 PM  
Blogger gooddoug said...

As you say, authenticity is in the "eyes of the beholder," but I think I see authenticity on two, orthogonal planes:
1) Authenticity of material, I personally dislike when something looks like what it isn't. My go to example for this is the fake cobblestone made of pressed concrete. Concrete has value as itself, cobblestones have value as themselves... let each material be authentic to itself
2) Authenticity in action, do what is right for you, and not what fits into someone else's definition. It's way too easy to get caught up in someone else's definition of "local" or "sustainable" or even "authentic." Doing things mindfully goes a long ways towards meeting my definition of authentic. Why am I doing this? Whom will it benefit and whom will it harm? If I can answer those questions, i can make a good decision on whether I think it is authentic.

January 17, 2012 at 4:44 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

We all have to find our own way in this big old world, picking and choosing what is important to each of us as individuals. I just try to be at peace with myself and keep striving toward the life I find most satisfying.

January 17, 2012 at 4:46 PM  
Blogger Nina said...

Ugh! (But a good ugh!) this is exactly what I needed to think about right now but haven't really wanted to. Does that make sense? I'm really good at talking the talk about homesteading, sustainability and so forth but I feel that I fall way short of walking the walk. I often use the excuse that I don't have the resources (money to buy/upgrade equipment, time to DIY, etc.) but in reality, I am being unauthentic. I suspect I will be pondering this post and these great comments for days as I search my soul for my own answers. Thank you!

January 17, 2012 at 4:47 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

When the name and the reality are the same. One of my pet peeves is when something is presented as something it isn't in order to inspire a feeling in the observer that causes them to behave in a certain way (usually to buy something). Put a little more understandably, when supermarket eggs are called something like "Happy Hen Farms" with a pretty drawing of a red barn and green rolling hills, when the farm is actually a big steel building crowded with hundreds of thousands of hens who are most definitely not happy. Or cookie cutter housing developments called things like, "Bridle Trail Estates," when the sight of an actual horse among the McMansions and petrochemical lawns would provoke hysteria on the part of the homeowners' association.

January 17, 2012 at 4:54 PM  
Blogger bookkm said...

Ok, here's my personal non-authenticity; playing Spider Solitaire until midnight and then moaning because I don't have time to write. Confession is good for the soul.

January 17, 2012 at 4:58 PM  
Blogger hayes8705 said...

I love this definition from Mist: "What is unauthentic? Not living in accordance with one's values, whatever they may be." The only thing I would add to that is not being yourself. Great post and great fodder for reflection. Thank you.

January 17, 2012 at 5:35 PM  
Blogger candisrrt said...

My idea of being authenic changes from day to day. Right now being authenic to my ideals is not eating fast food and growing at least part of what I eat. I have no desire to go off grid but would like to reduce my footprint a bit.

January 17, 2012 at 5:58 PM  
Blogger candisrrt said...

Holy crap! Jenna, I have one of those potatos wrapped in plastic in my fridge!

January 17, 2012 at 6:00 PM  
Blogger Christine said...

Ah, this is a trick question. It really depends on your background wouldn't you say? I was born and raised by homesteaders during the back to the land movement of the 70s. Homesteaders who already came from a long line of farmers. The farmers in my family predate this country. So my view on what is authentic is most likely a little skewed.

I clearly remember the day shortly after leaving home for college when I found myself in the first supermarket of my life. I'd bet ten bucks my jaw actually hit the floor. I mean I had NO idea. Doesn't everybody butcher hogs in their garage? LOL

I guess if I had to ponder it I'd say if the pioneers had it, then it is authentic. Otherwise, not so much.

January 17, 2012 at 7:26 PM  
Blogger Jake said...

This might be one of those cop-out answers, but I think you have it right in your post in a roundabout way. Everyone has their own 'authentic' experience. Trying to argue that someone's authentic experience is more 'authentic' than another's is...well, there's a few phrases for that but I don't think any of them are polite to publish.

If you want to measure something you have to agree upon a definition. With so many people living so many different ways, that's tough to do. And that's just fine.

January 17, 2012 at 7:28 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I believe the word "authentic" to be vastly over-rated. I prefer "genuine." It's more than a matter of semantics, it's a matter of ownership of this soul in this body warts and all.

Recently, I gave up everything to care for my aging parents. It's been a mixed blessing. During this time I realized all that I believed wasn't the real me. I followed someone else's path, while all I believed simmered under the surface.

So, I believe in the simple life. I believe in a higher enery guiding me along the way. I believe inthe wonder of this earth. I believe in the joy of caring for the two people who sweated and scraped so that I didn't have. I believe in the power of knowledge and mindfulness of a gentler life.

My mandra now: life is worth living, not chasing.

January 17, 2012 at 7:52 PM  
Blogger Glyndalyn said...

Authentic is the real thing. For me it means not made in the Phillipines or China. Not grown in Mexico or California. The real thing is producing a portion (or all)of one's own clothes, food, energy, and products. Authentic also means being "real" as a person.

January 17, 2012 at 8:05 PM  
Blogger Daisy Farm said...

One of my favorite comments shot my way happened many years ago. It was "you're not like anyone else." While not meant to be positive, I took it as such because it came from my soon-to-be ex-husband. And, he was absolutely correct. I think that if you are lucky enough to have a bit of a contrarian in you, consider yourself blessed. It will serve you well. Never become a blind follower of the masses. Spend time thinking and looking deep into yourself. If you do not rely on the accolades of others for your own self-esteem, you will be fine.

January 17, 2012 at 8:07 PM  
Blogger Drummond Farms Alpacas and Woolens said...

How we are guided, what makes us who we want to be and following our own path. This is what I see as authentic for me. This is what I feel we are trying to help our five children find. We each have our own view and each view is what is right for each of us. I do not see labels that fit everybody. How bored would we all be with that. Unauthentic is anything that tries to make us who we are not. Something that we find pulls us away from what we feel called to be. Following someone elses plan or path.

January 17, 2012 at 8:37 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Goyle said...

Hmm. Authentic? Well, I agree with the "Be true to yourself" crowd. I also am leaning towards the "Produce at least some of what you consume" folks as well (hopefully we'll be able to buy that 6.5 acres of land we're looking into). Can authenticity be defined with a single thought expressed in a few words? I'm not so sure.

Not authentic? Oh that's an easy one for me. Anything intended to deceive. Things like those plastic "terracotta" plant pots at Home Depot or Canadian Tire (which, as it turns out, isn't really Canadian-owned). And then there are those "I-can't believe-it-isn't-real-marble" statues you can put in your McMansion yard. And in reference to the Kardashians? Where in the world did she find her doctor? Those certainly ain't real. How about Splenda? "It comes from sugar, so it tastes like sugar." It might make me fat, but I'd rather eat the real stuff. Polyester clothing? It may look like natural fiber, but it gives you a yeast infection far more efficiently. We haven't even breached the topic of in-authenticity of behavior (the word "slacktivism" comes to mind).

So, do I know what is authentic? Nope. But I know what it isn't...

January 17, 2012 at 8:56 PM  
Blogger leafonatree said...

Jenna's prompt and all of the responses here are so thoughtful and inspiring. I do not have anything to add that others have not already said, but I am thoroughly enjoying this discussion. Thanks to all for sharing. (And bookkm's comment about spider solitaire really made me giggle... I, too, am guilty of that.)

January 17, 2012 at 9:17 PM  
Blogger Ngo Family Farm said...

Diane's comment is most along the lines of what I was thinking, too. In a nutshell, I would say being unauthentic is synonymous with being dishonest or hypocritical.

It's interesting, though, I always used to worry about calling our place a "farm" because we don't come from farmers, nor do we currently make our living solely from the land. For some reason I thought we could therefore never be a "real, genuine, authentic" farm. I don't really see it this way anymore, though, because I don't pretend I came from a long line of farmers or that I inherited this land from generations past. It's self-made, and I'm quite proud of that. I realize, though, that when we start calling everybody farmers, then maybe the historical value of that word gets lost....

That was a lot of "thoughs" ;) Thanks for the fascinating discussion!

January 17, 2012 at 10:25 PM  
Blogger admin said...

I haven’t spent too much time pondering this either beyond the “to thine own self be true”, but I know it when I see it, when I’m living it, can (usually) recognize when it’s not, and I value it, yet I also struggle for a concrete definition! MIB hit it pretty accurately, at least for me. Not losing oneself in another person’s values also rings true. I think like Christine I have a bit of a skewed idea of authentic when it comes to the homesteading/food spectrum of authentic…the first time I ate at a Subway was when I was almost 18—but I also realize that just because somebody buys their food from a supermarket vs. grown-their-own this doesn’t make them any less “authentic” in some regards …very complex thing this is. Recognizing and appreciating the true value of oneself, other people, work, leisure time, and things fits into my definition of “authentic” too somehow.

January 17, 2012 at 11:02 PM  
Blogger kippy said...

Respect yourself, don't change yourself to suit others' expectations/demands. Constantly strive to do things that make you happy, increase your knowledge and skills and help others. Keep interested in many subjects.
My friends and family all have different personalities and eccentricities. Yet, we accept one another for those differences.

January 17, 2012 at 11:10 PM  
Blogger Bovey Belle said...

Not a word which enters into my vocabulary, I have to say! Authentic to whom or when? It seems to translate best to me as my personal values. I guess every individual has their own creed by which they live, lines they won't cross. Like not buying caged-hen eggs, or pre-cut vegetables or McDonalds or "boughten" cakes or jam full of sugar and crap. Is authentic a state of mind then? Or a deliberate desire for "otherness" - a grasping of the moral high ground? Hmmm.

I'd like to think it's intelligent and informed choices rather than chucking everything with a plug on it or that smacks of modernity and living as basically as the Amish.

January 18, 2012 at 3:14 AM  
Blogger Rose said...

What isn't authentic to me is anything that seems to go against nature. For example, a box of sugar sweetened artificially colored breakfast cereal that is so far removed from whatever grain it started out to be. However, I have no qualms about buying organically grown bulk oats to make oatmeal.

January 18, 2012 at 7:33 AM  
Blogger Spiderjohn said...

What isn't authentic? To not sincerely feel what you purport to believe in.

January 18, 2012 at 7:51 AM  
Blogger Nikki said...

I think an authentic life has its roots in one's self-hood. It is hard to figure its parameters without also striving to understand our own truths. And that takes time and honest work to strip away the many layers of other peoples beliefs and expectations that we accumulate as we grow. I recognize my need to do this not because I'm rejecting those people, (including family), but in order to see clearly if these beliefs and expectations are also truly mine, and therefore worth building my life upon.

I find it's an ongoing task; one I come back to again and again. The rewards of the work are worth it.

January 18, 2012 at 9:44 AM  
Blogger Patsy from Illinois said...

I was in Krogers market and there were two bins of apples side by side for the same price. One was organic and one wasn't. People were buying the nonorganic because they were shinier. Huh?

Also two packages of romaine lettuce side by side. the organic was 60 cents more. To me a nobrainer but the nonorganic was selling more.
I want the real "authentic" food if I can afford it. If not, I will make do.

January 18, 2012 at 9:44 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

This is an important question in relation to self. I ask myself what am I doing when I am my most authentic self. Knitting, creating artwork, cooking, goofing off with my family (mom we got our weird from you you know), and being out in nature.

Now when I'm not authentic? When I'm worried about what other people think. When I'm worried that I'm doing everything wrong, and when I question the worth of my most deeply satisfying pursuits.

The satisfaction of authenticity is when I am aligned with my values AND am not feeling compelled to apologize for that.

January 18, 2012 at 10:29 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

January 18, 2012 at 10:29 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

Sorry, my post went up twice so I deleted 2nd.
Thanks for the discussion, loved to read all the posts!

January 18, 2012 at 10:34 AM  
Blogger Debi said...

Authenticity is more of a feeling for me. If I'm doing something, and I feel good about it, I can be fairly certain that I'm being my authentic self. I learned this lesson the hard way, by folloing someone else's plans for me. Living inauthenticly caused not only grief for myself, but those I love most.

Homesteading, and homeschooling my children are strange and somewhat scary concepts to the mainstream public. I've even lost friends because they couldn't understand or accept my decisions. But that's ok, because I am stronger, healthier and happier, for my choices.

January 18, 2012 at 10:53 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Personally, I am confused about what an "authentic" life means. What am I doing that hasn't been done or tried before? I think a more applicable word, for me anyway, would be "true", and all that means is living my life based on what I feel is true to me.

What isn't true (or authentic)? That's a tricky question with too many variables. Would I buy, today, a single plastic wrapped potato? No. But who knows what the future holds for any of us and maybe one day, under certain circumstances, I would purchase that single plastic wrapped potato and be thankful for it.

January 18, 2012 at 11:22 AM  
Blogger KirstenJL said...

Well, I'm not a homesteader, and I'm not even close to self-sufficient although my new flock of chickens has me doing a lot of reading in that direction. I just got an iPad for Christmas and it's quite the infatuation. It seems to me that more "authentic" uses of the device would be using the stargazing, writing, and art apps as opposed to the more "mindless" options; solitaire and such. If I'm engaged and using my brain, whatever I'm doing feels authentic to me.

January 18, 2012 at 11:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I think that anyone or anything pretending to be something he or she or it is NOT is inauthentic. Like if I pretend to be at all hip or "with it" it would be screamingly obvious that I am not. OH< and all those products that claim to be "green" and are clearly NOT...that is so inauthentic from a company ethics perspective. People think "Oh, I should buy this cleaner because it says right here made from natural ingredients!" When really you could get it just as clean with plain, old, very authentic vinegar and baking soda.

January 18, 2012 at 12:00 PM  
Blogger Lyssa said...

Hmm...yesterday I ate an animal I had raised and butchered myself for the first time. I felt pretty damn authentic, and the fact that I had brined the rooster in a big ziploc bag didn't bother me at all.

It was delicious.

January 18, 2012 at 12:05 PM  
Blogger Barbara Techel said...

I think when we don't live from the heart of who we truly are, this is not authentic. It is so easy to get caught up in what others expect of you, or society. But when you do, you are the one who suffers- you are then not authentic.
I think it takes courage to live authentically, whatever that is for you... and once you do, there is no turning back. You simply can't because your soul finally feels home.

January 18, 2012 at 4:38 PM  
Blogger Tracy said...

for me being unauthentic is being lazy and neglectful to the earth and it's living beings. in particular the smaller, easier things. for example, building a habit, such as using a reusable shopping bag, takes time and being an inconvenient ...if you forget it, leave the store & full cart and go to car and get it. this was the only way it became a habit for me. same with buying reusable containers, buying in bulk, reading lables, get educated and support companies that are doing the right thing...great source - the Better World Shopper shopping guide book

January 19, 2012 at 3:55 PM  
Blogger luckybunny said...

Well I'm with you on the single potatoes wrapped in plastic, I've seen them too and couldn't believe it. I also get annoyed with things like frozen sliced potatoes, not fries, but the ones that are just diced potatoes, or wedges. I understand some people are very busy and tired - but still.. it's a potato, it's not that big of a deal. For me, things like that make me think eventually people will forget all together how to really feed themselves. Of course not being true to yourself and trying to be something you are not - to please other people or because of what they think of you are the worst two things you can do. That and buy jarred garlic... Oh alright, buying jarred garlic isn't that bad...

January 21, 2012 at 8:33 PM  
Blogger Rowan said...

I'm new to the blog and live on the other side of NY from you (the flat - lake effect snow side).

My problem with the premise of this subject is that it feeds in to the whole "I'm more authentic than you" mindset of some homesteaders. People who bristle when someone with backyard chickens refer to their home as a homestead.

Maybe that family isn't as "authentic" as the people who have eschewed all modern technology and are totally self-sufficient. But isn't the point to get away from the modern industrial food system that has become common place today? If one more family raises their own laying chickens that is one more family not buying eggs from chickens kept in industrial, inhumane conditions. We should be welcoming them in, not shutting them out.

And often, those people who are "inauthentic" are going to do more to promote the cause than the die-hards. Friends who come over to dinner and see the flock may be interested enough to ask questions, starting thinking, start acting. If everyone has a "you can't do this unless you are ALL IN" attitude, those interested in dipping their toe in will be alienated.

So let's welcome them all in as "authentic" -- from those who grow tomatoes on their porch to have slave and bpa-free chili in the winter (full-disclosure: me) to those who go back to the land "Better Off" style.

February 14, 2012 at 5:08 PM  

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