Well, I finally read the Pollan piece in the NYT. Very interesting, lots of detail, mostly true, and yet, once again, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being lectured to. It’s not a good feeling. I think it was this passage that did it:
…Kitchen work itself has changed considerably since 1963, judging from its depiction on today’s how-to shows. Take the concept of cooking from scratch. Many of today’s cooking programs rely unapologetically on ingredients that themselves contain lots of ingredients: canned soups, jarred mayonnaise, frozen vegetables, powdered sauces, vanilla wafers, limeade concentrate, Marshmallow Fluff. This probably shouldn’t surprise us: processed foods have so thoroughly colonized the American kitchen and diet that they have redefined what passes today for cooking, not to mention food. Many of these convenience foods have been sold to women as tools of liberation; the rhetoric of kitchen oppression has been cleverly hijacked by food marketers and the cooking shows they sponsor to sell more stuff. So the shows encourage home cooks to take all manner of shortcuts, each of which involves buying another product, and all of which taken together have succeeded in redefining what is commonly meant by the verb “to cook.”
It’s the lumping of mayonnaise with Marshmallow Fluff that did it. Is this really an equivalency in Pollan’s special little foodie world? I know, I know, mayonnaise is so easy to make, and the from-scratch product so much better, that it’s simply a crime not to do it yourself. I have made mayonnaise many times, and yet, I have a jar of store-brand mayo on the refrigerator door, and what’s more, I use it. Sometimes all I want for lunch is a little canned tuna mixed with a single chopped scallion, a squirt of lemon juice and a fat teaspoon of Hellman’s. Saltine crackers. Yum. I would say “bite me, Michael Pollan,” but I don’t think he’d deign to — he might get canned tuna in the bargain.
I also like vanilla wafers. Too much. As for frozen vegetables, I don’t use them often, but as a resident of the frost zone, I reserve the right to.
Why do these people act like it has to be all or nothing? Why can’t we live in a world where we make soup from scratch and enjoy an occasional order of McDonald’s fries? Of course I’d like to see people cooking more at home, but honestly, I don’t think the fate of the nation rests upon it. And in many ways, I agree with “veteran food-marketing researcher Harry Balzer,” who tells Pollan:
“A hundred years ago, chicken for dinner meant going out and catching, killing, plucking and gutting a chicken. Do you know anybody who still does that? It would be considered crazy! Well, that’s exactly how cooking will seem to your grandchildren: something people used to do when they had no other choice. Get over it.”
Pollan found his interview with Balzer “somewhat depressing,” and given that Pollan supposedly once stalked and killed a wild pig so that he could call himself responsible for every morsel on his table at a particular meal, I’m not surprised.
There’s a long section on food television, ostensibly the reason for the piece, which boils down to a lot of sneering that it isn’t more uplifting and educational and has too much bacon. There’s the obligatory slam at the evil American corporate machine that crammed instant mashed potatoes and Bac-Os down our throats, literally. And then there’s the conclusion, which trots out the only reason any of us have a right to care what our neighbors eat: Health. Even without national health care, obesity and heart disease and other diet-related illnesses can be said to hurt us all. Granted and stipulated.
We have many problems with food in this country; obesity and disordered eating — if you can call the way Americans eat disordered in general — are complicated issues entwined with science, psychology, tradition, public policy and probably a few other far-flung outposts of human endeavor I’m forgetting. Let’s have a conversation about it, certainly. But can we dispense with this Berkeley-based food fundamentalism? Can Alice Waters hold her tongue once in a while? Because listening to her is like listening to a more modulated but no less strident version of some Iranian ayatollah declaiming on jihad.
There was a quote that was plucked from an essay and trotted around the right-wing blogs a couple months ago. I can’t find it, but it ran something like this: Take two women of the same age, 50 years apart — today’s 30-year-old and her equivalent in 1959. Take two subjects: Food and sex. The ’50s housewife believes what you eat is your own business, but who you have sex with is governed by a strict set of social, religious and moral absolutes. The ’00s woman? Exactly the opposite. You can live in a polyamorous relationship, be homosexual, consider yourself transgendered and discuss your “top surgery” at the dinner table, and all that’s OK, but if that dinner table contains a dish of veal parmesan, something’s morally wrong with you.
Can we meet in the middle? Somewhere I can have my Hellman’s and humanely raised beef? Cook from scratch but occasionally reach for a can of Campbell’s Tomato? It will mean less work for Michael Pollan, but that’ll leave him more time for picking dandelion greens out of sidewalk cracks.
(One final note: I distinctly recall writing about this myself, back when I was being paid to. I sneered at supermarket checkout girls who had to ask me to identify the vegetables I was buying, so they could enter their UPC codes, and I’m not talking fennel or Jerusalem artichokes, I’m talking garlic and onions. I was onto this years ago, too. It never occurred to me there were New York Times Magazine cover stories and book contracts in it. Story of my life.)
So, a wee bit of bloggage? Sure thing:
She went to college, graduated and couldn’t get a job. So she asked the college for her money back.
Of Sarah Palin’s not-divorce, this is probably all that needs to be said.
WashPost writer calls out Gawker for journalistic parasitism. Makes some excellent points in the bargain.
New York magazine identifies the songs of the summer. I haven’t heard a single one. God, am I old.