Amanda already said quite a bit of what I was thinking about the stupidity of Michael Pollan’s recent article in the New York Times Magazine, though her main point is that if you’re writing for the NYT, you need to be fashionably ‘postfeminist’. That’s the nice version. Myself, I throw in a dash of cynicism that, having written a couple of books and needing a follow-up quick, Pollan has fallen back on the old back-in-my-day, world-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket that is just so much more salable when it’s about the loss of June Cleaver’s home cooking.
Pollan’s column is a sad example of a very unpleasant strain of Slow Food thinking; the ideal cook is a boho Trustafarian with unlimited money and time for meal preparation, and to the extent that the average woman cooking for her family doesn’t fit that mold, it’s a personal failing on her part.
Mollie Katzen pointed out some of the dangers of this thinking in a comment about her original Moosewood Cookbook: everybody she knew was an artsy slacker or a grad student, who could easily adjust their schedules to drift in and out of the kitchen all day long if they had too. The Slow Food movement is notorious for this kind of thinking, which you can understand in a grad student but is pathetic in a grown adult who can afford to buy hand-nurtured organic locally-grown zucchini blossoms.
And Pollan’s column combines this with a gobsmacking, unbelievably stupid paen to the fantasy that our grandmothers were the original Slow Food pioneers. Yes, my grandmother raised, killed and butchered chickens. That’s because she was poor, and it was cheaper to feed them on scraps and garden bugs rather than buy them at the butcher’s, not because she cherished the flavor of organic, hand-reared poultry. She certainly used pre-prepared foods and canned things whenever she could, as this was the era of the Modern Kitchen and manufacturers who printed tons of recipes using their products. As grolby pointed out in the comments at Pandagon:
From-scratch cooking had long since been seriously encroached upon by the processed food industry by the time Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique. Which is to say that, by his definition, many people were already not cooking, and so laying any responsibility at the feet of feminism is historically incorrect and irresponsible.
I’m being a little unfair, in that there really is a segment of the Slow Food movement that wants healthy, delicious, sustainable food to be available to everyone, not just those who can afford to spend $10 on a tomato or who can spend six hours making dinner because the nanny and housekeeper are taking care of everything else. Pollan doesn’t appear to be part of that crowd. But then, they’re not the ones getting checks from the NYT.