I add my voice to the rousing chorus of fans singing the praises of Michael Pollan. He is the crème of the crèmes. His recent masterpiece is Cooked: A Natural History of Tranformation. In the introduction he states:
“The premise of this book is that cooking — defined broadly enough to take in the whole spectrum of techniques people have devised for transforming the raw stuff into nutritious and appealing things for us to eat and drink — is one of the most interesting and worthwhile things we humans have done.”
So. He suggests we all return to home cooking. Hmmm! Really?
Once upon a time we had to cook to survive.
Imagine, we wanted a bacon cheeseburger in the 19th Century. We would need to know how to raise cattle and hogs, how to bake bread and light a fire. (No lettuce, pickles, onion, sesame seeds, ketchup or fries on the side available).
Today we complain when we’re forced to stand and wait in line for a burger for more than three minutes.
We have surrendered our ability to cook into the hands of others. We are the willing accomplices of armies of food processing companies and their technologies. Sensors use refracted light to test the sweetness of preserves. Machines measure ingredients with uncompromising accuracy and mix, stir and knead a dough or batter to achieve the correct texture every time.
Radio waves detect the crispness of cookies before they burn. Hands of steel weave breakfast cereals from oats, wheat, corn and rice or engineer blends of multi-grains, and extrude them in a triumph of physics and technology married to food chemistry.
We may confess we actually prefer Kraft mayonnaise rather than homemade mayonnaise. We’d rather have V-8 than make juice from our own home grown kale, spinach and other worthy greens. Give us our daily bread (from the store) and Ben & Jerry’s instead of the pale slush we “make” in our very own electric ice cream maker.
For generations, we have been persuaded to believe we have the freedom NOT to cook.
A visit to Whole Foods or Wegmans or any supermarket is as thrilling as going to the Museum of Modern Art. We love to look.
But cooking is a far, far different thing. For some it is a joy — a creative, satisfying endeavor. For many, it is a chore. For the inexperienced, cooking is fraught with stress and fear of failure. It is not an indoor sport, though it’s certainly competitive. Timing is a mystery unless you understand the why as well as the how-to of preparing a meal for “friends and family.”
It is hard to understand why HGTV home buyers always insist on expansive space, stainless steel appliances and granite counter tops to entertain. Hardly anybody entertains at home any more.
A recent study reveals: “The average person spends less than an hour for both food and fitness in one day.” A young mother sighs, “I work all day, go to the gym and all I feel is — tired.” Too tired to cook. Almost too tired to toss a “square meal” into the microwave, but not too exhausted to spend hours watching the Food Network; a sensational trial; the super bowl; opening night of the Olympics; Dancing with the Stars or checking e-mails.
Of course, this turn of events is really good news for the restaurant business. Mr. Pollan, cook your goose if you wish. We’ll go out to eat and “have what she’s having…”
Food Job: Personal Chef