Reimagining the Good Life: The Meaning of Back-to-the-Land in a Global Corporate Food Regime

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Carol Carpenter
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The back-to-the-land movement is a recurring impulse in American history, characterized by the popularization of homesteading and subsistence farming through written works, as well as a temporary but significant demographic shift of movement followers towards such a lifestyle. After providing a history of this movement and charting the development of its political tenets and praxis, I use frame analysis and social movement theory to guide an investigation of the movement as situated on Cape Rosier in Maine. It is here that Scott and Helen Nearing, two leading figures in the back-to-the-land movement, situated their personal investigation of how to combat industrialism and alienation inherent in modern American culture. Through a close reading of their homesteading manifesto, Living the Good Life, and through my observations living and working among the community the Nearings left behind on Cape Rosier, I uncover the promises and tensions of the back-to-the-land framework of individual and cultural transformation. Finally, I discuss how this framework fits into a food movement discourse that challenges the dominant corporate food regime. In this regime, the avenues of participation in food systems change offered to us are couched in consumer choice. I argue that back-to-the-land provides a framework of food crisis as cultural crisis and mobilizes us to enact our political critique of the corporate food regime in our daily lives.