Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” was one of the first non-policy books on food that I found totally absorbing. It showed me food in a totally new light, never again would I look at corn the same way! So I look forward to reading his new book “Cooked” which is being released today. While the reviews at the New York Times, Washington Post or on NPR are generally warm, I am curious about some of the points that came up. I am a strong advocate for cooking at home. It is the healthier and cheaper option. But Mr. Pollan’s belief that people don’t cook because they are doing other things like surfing the Internet or watching TV is not a view I share. The pre-dinner hour is usually the craziest in a household with homework, piano lessons, soccer practice all converging and squeezing out cooking time. It is rarely a time to watch TV or surf the web, there are other factors at work here: lack of time, knowledge of basic cooking skills come to mind.
More concerning for me was his nostalgic call for a return to the “communal fire”. He posted this quote on Twitter: “The microwave is as anti-social as the cook fire is communal.” Food prepared in the microwave qualifies as “food” solely on technical points, I agree, but the communal fire is not the answer. There are many places in the world where even today, food is cooked over fire ( a real fire not the stove top familiar to us). This requires the women and young girls to walk miles in search of firewood, carry it back on their heads and then labor over starting and maintaining the fire to cook on, all the while inhaling huge amounts of smoke that is toxic for them and , indeed, for the entire household. So, for these women, an option to that fire is very welcome.
Mr. Pollan also makes the point that women left the kitchen to participate in the outer world but did not success in bringing men into the kitchen, other than in the form of the men who head the processed food companies. Well, if there is a movement on the part of men to occupy the kitchen, it has not hit my part of the world yet. The grim reality of home cooking is that it takes a whole lot of time: time to clean and prepare fresh produce/meat for cooking, the actual cooking time and then cleaning up afterwords and it is going to take more than one person to do all this so it requires a time commitment from everybody. And while watching amazing dishes come together on TV is mesmerizing, packing lunches and making dinner everyday is , to be honest, fairly tedious.Once we acknowledge this and also the fact that however boring and time consuming it may be, cooking at home is essential for a healthy society and for building family bonds we will be closer to working out a life pattern that works for everyone and still lets us eat home cooked food.