Here's the Thing

by Bob Woolsey

At a recent party I found myself regaling a group with my premiere foray into making fresh cheese at home. I’d gotten the kit from a farmer’s market and I was quite proud of my delicious, cheesy results. Someone was quick to point out that she feels like a chump whenever she has to do something for herself that’s already available in its finished form. In her eyes, the whole DIY thing is a ridiculous proposal.

Lately, I’ve gained a lot of joy out of making things at home that I used to exclusively buy: beer, bread, the aforementioned cheese. Although my results aren’t always as good as the store-bought stuff, there’s a deep satisfaction that comes with making things myself. Granted, it’s time-consuming and if a batch doesn’t turn out it can be an expensive waste, but there’s just something about doing it yourself that’s so alluring to me. I’d never even considered that my efforts could make me a chump in any way, shape, or form. Had I been the victim of clever marketing or a cultural fad this whole time?

I grew up in a household where my mum cooked—a lot. Going out for dinner or ordering in was a rare and special occasion. From a very early age I remember being included in the baking and learning the basics of food. My dad is a tradesman and my brother and I were always watching over his shoulder as he would work on the family car, build us a fort behind the house, or fix the plumbing. While I’ve not pursued any of these skills seriously, this upbringing instilled a certain amount of normalcy in doing something for myself.

When I moved to Vancouver and met people born and raised in larger centres, my habit of cooking most of meals at home and being able to change the oil on a car all by myself seemed strange to them. In my hometown, I’m not considered a handyman at all. Here in Vancouver, I’m nearly an expert in home repair. It stands to reason that if you grow up in a rural area, you’ll pick up more DIY skills than if you grow up in a bustling metropolis. City living doesn’t provide the same access to the space you need to work on a car. In rural areas you don’t have a convenience store two steps away from your house so making your own food is somewhat more necessary.

The huge downside to having everything done for you—especially when it comes to food—is that you lose track of what’s going on behind the scenes. What are you really putting into your body when you eat that restaurant-prepared dish? How do you know if your mechanic is ripping you off when you have no idea what a carburetor is? Even if you never intend to make DIY your permanent lifestyle, shouldn’t you at least have a passing knowledge of how all the stuff around you is made?

Here’s the thing about this whole DIY movement: it’s not about the end result. If you happen to end up with a delicious ball of fresh mozzarella when you’re done, that’s awesome but it’s not necessarily the point. At the core of the entire idea of doing something yourself is also where the art resides. When a person makes something, no matter how technical that task may be, they put their own personal stamp on the process. It’s uniquely yours. Chefs refer to this as the love that’s put into the food. Doing it yourself transforms even the most routine things in life creative endeavors. If enjoying that makes me a chump, then so be it.