“It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic,” Michael Pollan tells Mark Bittman in today’s Times. Ever the troubleshooter of massive food systems, Pollan asserts that the easiest fix on the market is to stay away from easy takeout and all of those convenient prepared foods at the supermarket. Learn to cook it yourself, he implores, but that’s not all. Echoing parts of his epic conversation with Adam Platt in this week’s New York, the writer says it’s time to rethink home cooking. It’s high time for everyone to head back to the seventh grade and revisit the ins and outs of home economics — making pancakes from scratch, that kind of thing — especially all of you boys.
“If we’re going to rebuild a culture of cooking,” Pollan says, “it can’t mean returning women to the kitchen. We all need to go back to the kitchen.” He continues:
“First, we need to bring back home ec, but a gender-neutral home ec. We need public health ad campaigns promoting home cooking as the single best thing you can do for your family’s health and well-being.”
This makes perfect sense. Starting with raw, unprocessed ingredients always means there’s less of a chance of ending up with additives and other unhealthy ingredients in meals. And Bittman piggybacks onto the dream:
“There’s no longer a stigma attached to males cooking, and cooking is not only a democratic pleasure, it is also daily creativity, it’s economic, it’s healthy, and it’s a link to the natural world.”
Sounds good, but why is there a kind of matter-of-fact, conspicuous wholesomeness to the words healthy and economic? What is it about the phrase “link to the natural world” that makes it sound like benign sci-fi future-speak?
For starters, the promise of this brave new world of home cooks should also be one that’s bereft of bravado, of high-stakes cook-offs. We’re still very much living in a world of frantic chef-rock-star cruises and other moneymaking tie-ins.
Bittman argues that the “Food Channel fetishization of cooking” has made the actual process of preparing food look far more involved than it has to be, but it’s much more than that: Food TV has become a weird realm of content in which the adrenal overload of shouting and the time it takes to set up drama ends up preempting any actual instruction. It’s the slew of bad puns, geoduck innuendo, and suggestions of prescribed gender roles that Emily Nussbaum found when she recently went off in The New Yorker in search of something to make for dinner. Gender is spuriously introduced into the food chain whenever a new TV show is marketed. The problem is not that it’s there in the first place or there at all — it’s that its associated culture leaves us in the position of trying to make sense of a big, overcooked mess.
It would be great if everyone could get back into the kitchen, light the stove, and try some sauce Bolognese, as Pollan suggests. Most nights, however, it seems like it’d be much easier to order delivery and try to decide if purple Easy-Bake Ovens are in fact marketed more to girls than they are to boys.