Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan: Why the family meal is crucial to civilisation

What’s for dinner? Where will you eat it? And who will eat it with you? Michael Pollan reckons that the answers to these questions could determine our survival as a species. In his own case, the answers are: meatballs, round the table, with his family.

An internationally successful food writer and campaigner, he’s just got home after a tour to promote his new book, Cooked: A Natural History Of Transformation. Now he just wants to unpack and do some cooking. “I’ve found this terrific new recipe using ricotta,” he says. “It’s so light.”

Cooked by Michael PollanHe won’t be serving it on trays, in front of the television because sitting round a table is so important. “It’s where we teach our children the manners they need to get along in society. We teach them how to share. To take turns. To argue without fighting and insulting other people. They learn the art of adult conversation. The family meal is the nursery of democracy.”

But the family meal, or “primary eating”, is in decline – down to 67 minutes a day, Pollan says. Secondary eating (while you’re doing other things) now takes 78 minutes per person per day. Astoundingly, 20% of food intake in America is now eaten in the car, says Pollan. It’s unlikely to be nutritious.

“I’m sure that some people are sitting in there eating organic baby carrots, but on balance what they’re eating is likely to be crap.”

Pollan has devoted years to attacking junk food, factory farming and agribusiness. He is also known for his advice on what we might eat, including the celebrated maxim, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Now he would like to add to that pithy advice: “If you can, cook it yourself.”

Cooking is what happens between farming and eating. It’s a political act, he suggests, because by cooking we can improve our health, break our dependence on conglomerates, and build community. But like anything political, it can provoke fierce debate.

Pollan courts criticism by suggesting that the modern-day reliance on convenience food, eaten in isolation, started with women going out to work. One American magazine writer said recently that she wants to “smack him with a spatula”, and challenged readers with the question: Is Michael Pollan a sexist pig?

“For a man to criticise these developments will perhaps rankle,” he concedes. “It sounds like I want to turn back the clock and return women to the kitchen. But that’s not at all what I have in mind. I’ve come to think cooking is too important to be left to any one gender or member of the family. Men and children both need to be in the kitchen, too, not just for reasons of fairness but because they have so much to gain by being there.”

His argument is not that feminism destroyed home cooking, rather that the food industry, eager to insinuate itself into the American kitchen, used feminist rhetoric to get there.

“Feminism rightly demanded a renegotiation of the domestic division of labour, a very uncomfortable process for millions of us, and the industry seized the opportunity to say, ‘Stop arguing! We’ve got you covered. We’ll do the cooking so you don’t have to argue about it any more.’ And we all leapt at the ‘solution’.”…..

The Guardian: Read the full article