Subsistence as Resistance
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Initially published as a series of seven pamphlets for the rural poor in 1821, William Cobbett’s Cottage Economy aimed to conserve and promote knowledge of basic farming and subsistence practices, such as brewing beer, baking bread, keeping livestock, and kitchen gardening. G.K. Chesterton admired the book, writing, “A cookery book can scarcely be the basis of controversy, though it may be of combat; and the proof of the pudding is in the eating. This is merely the commissariat of his revolutionary army; and, like a good general, he paid a great deal of attention to it.”1 As Chesterton suggests, at first glance, Cottage Economy appears to be little more than a book of cookery, yet its genre is difficult to define: it combines cooking, gardening, and animal husbandry instructions with personal anecdotes and overt political commentary. Directed to a restless and discontent laboring class, Cottage Economy advocates for developing a subsistence economy that might provide independence from the vicissitudes and exploitation of the wage-labor economy. Extending Chesterton’s military metaphor for Cottage Economy, I argue Cobbett encourages using plowshare — the independent production of food — as a political maneuver that is, potentially, no less powerful than arming the poor.
KeywordsFood Sovereignty Social Ecology Moral Economy Subsistence Economy Political Register
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- 1.G. K. Chesterton, “Preface,” in Cottage Economy, by William Cobbett (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1979), ix–x.Google Scholar