Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Looking Like an Elite

I'm laughing outside, but inside I'm crying. The infamous yuppie kitchen outfitter, Williams-Sonoma, is heading into backyards and offering a new "agrarian" line of products to include a spiffy, pre-fab abode for one's flock of laying hens.

I don't know what I think about this. I live in the suburbs, and so, of course, I'm drawn to these rustic-looking gadgets. I get a lot of catalogs from seed companies and garden supply companies, and I always love flipping through the pages and looking at how put-together everything is. So neat and tidy.

And, then, I go out into my own yard that's not neat or tidy or remotely put together, and I dream about those catalog pictures.

I also know that, even if I had the money to spend on those high-end products, once I brought them home and put them to real use, they would cease to be the picturesque displays one sees in catalogs. The fact of my life is that life is messy.

According to this article about Williams-Sonoma's new line of products, the line the company is feeding the public has to do with a desire to help families who are concerned about where their food comes from (i.e. locavores) and to help families who want to embrace this healthy lifestyle.

Personally, I think they're a little late in the game to be launching this line of products. It's something they should have done four years ago, and while I applaud their stated goal, I know, for them, it's a ploy to sell a product - just another follow-the-money scheme by a company that's watched its sales plummet as fewer and fewer people are able to afford the luxury of spiffy kitchen gadgets.

And, actually, it irritates me a little, because when companies, like this, jump on the bandwagon, it kind of does support the supposition that the local foods movement is elitist - which it's not.

I'm all for anyone who wants to grow his/her own food, and if something like this will get them started - more power to 'em. My thinking, though, is that Williams-Sonoma is shooting itself in the proverbial foot, because the local foods movement goes hand-in-hand with a very strong movement toward simplifying one's life, i.e. voluntary austerity ... which means that those folks who are attracted to the Williams-Sonoma designer chicken coop will soon realize that buying those high-end dishes and gadgets is ridiculous, and they'll stop shopping for shiny, new stuff, and end up at the thrift store looking for their neighbors' Williams-Sonoma cast-offs.

Better would have been for Williams-Sonoma to develop a marketing campaign to show locavores how much better all of that local food would taste when prepared using Williams-Sonoma cookware ;).


  1. on the other hand, those catalogs make for a great 'ideas' resource!

  2. I do have to agree with Elizabeth...they're great idea starters.
    But yes, it's almost laughable. If you're a REAL DIYer, you're going to be creating your own chicken coop from cast-off pallets or something.
    This reminds me of the Bed Bath and Beyond catalog that was selling pre-made lemonade stands for kids. Isn't part of the fun of making a lemonade stand constructing it yourself from stuff around the house?

  3. The other day I was looking through one of those garden supply catalogs, and they had some of the coolest planters. There was one, in particular, I loved. It was plantar boxes attached to an A frame.

    I've been looking out my window at my daughters' wooden swingset for the entire winter, and I imagined a plantar box growing system. See, they've pretty much outgrown the swingset, but the frame is still in decent enough shape. I figured I could attach planter boxes up the A-frame.

    And, then, I saw something similar in a catalog :). It was pretty funny! And neat to realize that my crazy ideas are actually possible :).

  4. You bring up really interesting points, and I'm curious to see if this effort will prove successful for Williams-Sonoma. I'm completely biased, as this collection includes two of my company's products, and I've been reading all the press lately surrounding tomorrow's launch. I haven't seen enough of the offerings to have a sense about this yet, although I do know that Agrarian is supposed to include 275 products, so I'm expecting it to be a varied category.

    Certainly this could have all happened sooner, although big retailers just don't seem able to move that quickly! In a way, independent stores are much more nimble in this regard and have been offering tools and goods for the foodie set for years now, as well as cultivating their loyal customer base.

    But, I don't agree that this move makes locavores seem elitist. If anything, it's just part of mainstreaming that phenomenon. Something that's mainstream exists across the spectrum from high-end products to free tutorials made from salvaged materials.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  5. I'll readily admit that I'm prone to flights of fancy inspired by pretty-looking catalogue pictures - perfect gardens, pristine yards, spotless kitchens, and gorgeous homes. Then I look around my own place, which is functional if quite a bit less tidy and lovely than what's shown, and realise that there are other options and that I really like working with what I have as much as possible.

    I have no idea how this will work out, but I suspect that the move towards more local foods will motivate people to purchase these things. I'm torn, though, on how I feel about it. A part of me is concerned that they're helping to push a trend that costs a bit of money and that won't necessarily stick, especially when things get a bit dirtied up or the appeal fades. But at the same time, I think that anything that helps to expose people, push them, or facilitate some more sustainable practices may not be such a bad thing in the long run, especially if it sticks for even some people.

  6. The positive side to this is that it may encourage people to start keeping chickens/growing veg who wouldn't have done before.

    I don't live in the States, so I don't know this company, but there's a company in the UK called Omlet who make a plastic house called an Eglu. Yes, it's plastic and brightly coloured but it also makes hen keeping accessible and less intimidating for someone who has no idea. It's expensive but it is very well designed, doesn't rot like wood or harbour red mite.

    When I first started keeping chickens 10 years ago I didn't know anybody else who had ever kept them and I scared myself silly reading about all the weird and wonderful diseases they might get. And then I was offered long term loan of an Eglu complete with 2 hens.

    I quickly realised that keeping chickens was no harder than keeping a pet guinea pig and I now have a dozen, plus some ducks, all in homemade enclosures with a salvaged sand pit base for the duck pond and a recycled dustbin as a water butt to refill that pond. (My mum now has 2 rescued battery hens in the original Eglu).

    But I did need that initial help (this was also before most of the homesteading blogs that I now read existed).

    On the other hand, of course, Williams-Sonama may make it into a fashionable garden accessory that will get dumped the first time it gets a bit difficult or messy and the next fad comes along...We'll see.

  7. One of my dearest friends works at Williams Sonoma in Westport, CT. She didn't know anything about the new Agrarian Line or the new coops. Thanks for the heads up!!