Sunday, August 2, 2009

Michael Pollan Wants YOU To Cook!

Michael Pollan thinks I should cook more, he thinks you should cook more, he probably even thinks Michelle Obama should cook more. If we cooked more, we Americans would eat less fattening foods, our eating habits wouldn't support industrial farming, never mind packaging, and we'd experience the pleasure of making something, every day. With this it's hard, even pointless, to quibble. Pollan uses a luxuriously long article in The New York Times Sunday Magazine to make this point. He also uses the article to make the point that cooking more would not only make us healthier, it would make us more...what's the word....human.

Apparently, there's something about cooking that makes us human and it's not just the nutritional value of cooked food (which, according to people who should know, helped human brains grow). There's also the time it afforded us to get to know one another sitting around the table, time that we no longer use to cook and hardly use to sit around with friends. Instead, it's time that we now spend like teenagers with their first credit cards in front of the TV watching cooking shows from 8PM until whenever.

Pollan says these prime time shows are nothing like Julia Child's classic show that he watched with his mom in the late afternoons and that changed the way people cook. No, he says we're watching cooking competitions at night that have nothing to do with actual cooking but the fact that we're watching them means that we really, really want to cook. But he never gives us any evidence of the popularity of these shows, no ratings, no comparisons, nothing. So I wonder how popular these prime time shows are anyway. How do their numbers compade to, say, Rachel Ray's? Is Iron Chef more popular than Rachel Ray? The more interesting comparison of cooking shows then and now, the more compelling investigation of attitude towards cooking back when the idea of good food was just emerging against the backdrop of minute rice and canned vegetables and now is the comparison between Julia Childs and Rachel Ray. Both women show women (and men) at home how to cook before nightfall. Both Julia Child and Rachel Ray have sold millions of cookbooks (I'm sure) and Ray has that monthly magazine. So why does Pollan go on and on about Iron Chef when it's so obvious that he's comparing apples to oranges and there's a very good apple right there on the table?

Of course the good apple comparison of Ray and Childs doesn't do a thing for Pollan's argument about cooking and our lost souls and denuded environment. Plus, comparing Ray and Childs would make the essay all about women in the kitchen and Pollan wants to talk about culture and humanity, things that are so much more meaningful than women in the kitchen, right? It's like (mostly male) chefs cook serious food in restaurants and during prime time and women cook regular meals at home at 5:30 and we all know which is more culturally relevant. Insidious when you think about it. But, I still agree that it's a good idea for everyone to cook more and to buy less packaged foods. Except Michelle Obama. She doesn't have to cook more. She already does enough.

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