I started writing this post for the purpose of sharing one of my new posts Morning Chores called Epicurean Homesteading: How to Be Self-Sufficient While Making Your Life More Pleasurable.
But then I realized, to those who don’t know the history and philosophy of Epicureanism, this subject might seem silly in the context of a pandemic and ongoing protests for equality in our legal system and other institutions. So, I want to explain why now is might just be the perfect time to begin transitioning toward a more Epicurean approach to living.
COVID-19 has changed the way we live so dramatically in such a short period of time. For many of us, suddenly our homes have become replacements for going to the office, eating at a restaurant, or heading to the park. Many homes now provide our fresh vegetables or backyard chicken eggs. They are also our sanctuaries from risk of illness.
If that last paragraph rings true to you, you are fortunate to have the resources to do all of those things at home. I am. And I am so grateful that six years ago I completely altered my life to create a rural homestead and learn the skills that have made navigating our present challenges easier.
Facing the Inequality of Choice
Unfortunately, not everyone has the same access to housing or materials for homesteading. There are people who can’t simply transform their spaces into safe havens with a few trips to the hardware store.
When you have no safe place to go during a pandemic, when there is no refuge for your family, when you are disproportionately affected by a non-discriminating disease because of where you live (the non-affordability of quality housing, the type of jobs available to you, and limited access to health care) — what choices do you have?
I don’t have a clue how to navigate these complex issues. I only know that we must address them, heal, and move forward toward a more equitable world. It will never be perfect. There are no easy answers. There will always be inequality and prejudice. But we can absolutely do better.
I personally started homesteading because I wanted to live in a way that was more environmentally equitable. I also wanted to heal something broken in me while healing an eroded piece of land. Doing so has brought me the greatest pleasure in my life.
I know first hand that working toward healing is not a hardship or a burden. It’s an incredible gift. This is why the idea of Epicurean homesteading has become increasingly more important to me over the last few years.
Epicureanism, despite popular misconceptions, isn’t about the blind pursuit of pleasure or unsustainable luxuries. It’s about choosing pleasurable pursuits that don’t encroach on other people’s rights to live pleasurable lives too. In other words, it’s about making sustainable, equitable decisions about what pleasures we enjoy with consideration for our fellow humans and the resources we all depend on.
For example, when you buy a grocery store tomato, the Epicurean doesn’t just see a tomato. You see the migrant workers who picked it for you. Today, you might acknowledge that they put themselves at risk of COVID-19 to pick it. You see the miles of transport and refrigeration energy costs that are contributing to climate change. You recognize it was grown using pesticides and herbicides with serious downstream consequences.
Yes, you also think of the taste, the smell, the color, the feel, the pleasure of eating it. Frankly, you might derive so much pleasure from tomatoes that you still buy them in bulk. Yet, you do so with awareness and greater appreciation for it’s true costs and value to you.
Then, perhaps at some point in the future, you’ll thank the people who helped make those delicious tomatoes cheaply available by voting in favor of living wages. Or maybe, knowing those costs will lead you to buy tomatoes seasonally from local organic farmers. Perhaps you opt to grow your own tomatoes using homemade compost.
This is a simple example. We all make far more complicated choices than this on a daily basis. We’re also already invested in many of our choices that are detrimental to the environment or our fellow humans. That makes it difficult to imagine managing our pleasures with regard to the greater good. Yet we can start, one choice at a a time, to be more Epicurean in our approach to how we live.
Epicureanism isn’t a philosophy that tells us how to decide. Instead, it encourages us to make conscientiously calculated decisions about the pleasures we pursue.
When you truly embrace Epicurean ideals, you’ll find that some things you once enjoyed bring displeasure because you don’t like to think about the ugly costs associated with them. However, you’ll also find that many things bring you so much more pleasure because you mindfully choose them with full knowledge and appreciation for their true price to our environment and each other.
Decision by decision, it gets easier to make a more comprehensive accounting of the consequences and pleasures of personal choice. At first, you might be afraid to make any decisions knowing that someone, somewhere paid a price you don’t want on your conscience. I know I was.
But then you realize that we are all grappling with these complexities. We are all participating in this system of difficult choices. None of our decisions will be perfect because we live in an extremely complicated world. Yet that act of carefully and thoughtfully choosing what brings deep, meaningful, and lasting pleasure — rather than thoughtless, frivolous, fleeting pleasure — moves you closer to a life of more equitable and sustainable pleasure.
COVID-19 has forced us to be more conscientious in our personal health choices. It has challenged us to consider the safety and well-being of others in our decisions such as whether to gather, wear masks, and social distance. Incidentally, this heightened focus on careful decision-making is exactly the same skill required to embrace an Epicurean lifestyle.
So, I do encourage you to read my post on Epicurean homesteading over at Morning Chores as inspiration. But I also encourage you to look deeper into some Epicurean theory on how to live a truly pleasurable life.
I’ve recently been re-reading, Catherine Wilson’s “How to Be An Epicurean: The Ancient Art of Living Well” to understand more about the philosophical foundations of Epicureanism. I can tell you, I don’t agree with all of it. But most of these concepts really do offer important guidelines for choosing a good life.
I’ve also been reading “The Epicurean Gardener,” by John F. Adams. This is not so much about Epicurean philosophy. But it’s rich with experience and information that can help you fast-track your appreciation for gardening in an Epicurean way. (Note: This book seems to only be available second-hand.)
Finally, if you want to explore an educational and meaningful memoir that reads like an Epicurean hero story, “An Unlikely Vineyard: The Education of a Farmer and Her Quest for Terroir” by Dierdre Heekin will offer you plenty of inspiration. It covers gardening, orcharding, biodynamics, cooking, and entertaining as well as vineyard development.