Although I’m a big fan of Michael Pollan, I was a tad apprehensive. I was tired, mind churning with the planning to get through the busy week that would begin in the morning. I wasn’t in the mood to worry about the future, to feel guilty about eating too much meat, about not buying local enough, about not holding up my end of the bargain to fix the food crisis in the United States. But I went home inspired, buoyed by Pollan’s optimistic tone and the simple message of his latest book, “Cook more. It’s good for you, and it’s good for the earth.”
Pollan’s latest book bridges the gap between the subject of his two biggest best sellers: Food (In Defense of Food) and Eating (the Omnivore’s Dilemma) by discussing the importance of cooking. By his own admission, “this is not a cookbook of 20 minute recipes.” Instead, Cooked is a celebration of cooking. Pollan’s discussion was filled with wonderful quotes about the importance of cooking:
The most important thing you can do with your health is cook. Cooking is more powerful than any medication.
Cooking is so central to our definition as humans. It’s what separates us from animals. THe discovery of fire and its use with cooking completely change our evolutionary curve, enabling us to shrink our guts and grow our brains.
The cook fire tamed us and socialized us by giving us the institution of the meal.
Poor women who cook have better health than rich women who don’t.
Cooking food creates a profound web of relationships, connecting us to each other and to the earth.
The book, which I can’t wait to read, is separated into the four types of cooking transformations: fire, water, air, and earth. It’s also filled with interesting anecdotes about the evolution of cooking through history and terrifying facts about the decline in cooking today. All in all, a manifesto to get people in the kitchen, a mission I share and the motivation behind this blog.
In many ways, the most exciting part of the discussion took place during the Q&A. That’s when Pollan had some surprising answers and statements. The first statement was when he was speaking about the next challenge of the good food movement: democratizing good food and making it available for all. He mentioned that the good food movement has not given enough credit to frozen vegetables and even canned vegetables in encouraging people to eat healthy all year round. As good local produce is only available all year round in a handful of locations in America, the championing of farmers’ markets and CSAs has been a very incomplete solution to improving our eating. Finally acknowledging that there’s nothing wrong with turning to the freezer case for peas, broccoli, and green beans for most of the year was beautiful vindication to my ears.
The second exciting answer was when Pollan was asked about his thoughts on the future of farming. I’ll try to repeat here as accurately as I scribbled it,
I think we’re going to see changes in farming, but we’re moving forward and not going back. Farmers out there are inventing new ways of doing sustainable agriculture, and it’s not all about organic.
This food system is not doing what it is supposed to be doing which is making food that keeps us healthy. Fertility [of the soil] is declining. Crops are not working as well as they used to. It is just not sustainable. WE annot continue to pump animals full of antibiotics.
I don’t doubt that in 50 years, we will see a different kind of agriculture. We need to foster research to support that. Farmers need all the help they can get to survive global warming. There is opportunity for farmers even in a corn and bean state like Illinois. Food service and healthy fast food is big dollars compared to farmers markets.
Closing on such a positive note was invigorating. It seems like the food revolution we all want may be further along than we thought. And if we can reverse the trend of eating on the run, bringing back a slow food mentality to this country, one homecooked meal at a time, that seems like a pretty wonderful way to continue to revolutionize our food system.