Michael Pollan: How Cooking Can Change Your Life

This is a great talk, given by Michael Pollan somewhere in England in 2013. Please, if you hate to cook, or don’t have time to cook, take 20 minutes to watch it. Not you people who already cook all your food and never touch a refined grain. You can watch if you want, since you might know someone to pass it on to. But mostly I want the folks who use Costco or Taco Bell or whatever, on a regular basis. This is FOR you.

You know, if you hate to cook, I totally get that. I hate housework. I hate it with an in-born, passionate hatred that has never abated a whit as the years have gone by. If Michael Pollen gave a talk about how we’ve learned that housework prevents chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure…

…I’d probably be obese with diabetes and high BP.

Okay, I’d probably do the same amount of housework I do now, which is just enough to keep the CDC from slapping yellow quarantine stickers all over my windows and doors. Which may be about the same amount of cooking you do, right? I just want you to know that I really understand it, if you hate to cook.

Because I love to cook, every cell in my body shivers in joyous resonance as I watch this video. I hear TRUTH. Better yet, I hear common sense. And I present this video to you with every hope and expectation that you will, too.

Except… you probably won’t. If you bother to watch it all, it might just make you feel angry. It’s just another granola-hippie telling you you’re doing it ALL WRONG, and who-the-hell-is-he (and who am I) to get off insisting you should cook, and don’t I know you have a job and a commute and a family with hectic schedules? Sadly, I don’t think there’s an effective answer to this. The people who like the message will hear it and try to do it. The people who don’t like the message won’t hear it even if they watch the video. Seriously, have you ever changed your mind about something because you saw a link on Facebook? I know I haven’t.

So why then, am I asking you to watch it? Well… I want discussion. Not argument. Not excuses. Not vitriol. Just discussion. What is means to you personally. To your family. To the life you see in your mind when you close your eyes. To the life your grandchildren will live, or might live.

Because, you know. Food, after all, is not housework, and its affect on our bodies and lives is real and serious.

Which brings me to one point I do want to mention before you march off to do your homework. It’s a point that Michael Pollan addresses in this talk: the role of feminism in the decline of home cooking. He says that feminism is NOT to blame, and he’s right. But in my mind, he doesn’t go far enough. He acknowledges that when women began to work outside the home in large numbers, that they could not be expected to do everything. As a society we needed to address this, but since that meant insisting that husbands and sons begin to do their share of housework and cooking, we instead took a sharp left turn and let industry give us ready-made food. It was much easier to do that, right?

Right.

But here’s the thing: throughout most of human history, the “housewife” did not do the cooking and housework. Certainly not all of it. No, she was a manager. She had servants to do most of the actual work. How many servants, and how much work she had to actually do, was directly related to how well-off her husband was. What about the poor women? Even these women probably had someone at home to help. A mother, sister, aunt, grandmother, or someone even lower on the social scale than she was. Let’s not forget that for most of human history, slavery was a normal state of affairs. For those women who had no help – the work mostly didn’t get done. The family lived in filthy hovels on handouts and crumbs.

So our modern idea of the happy suburban housewife doing it “all” is really just a myth, brought on by the anomaly that was the post-war period in America. We are still stuck with it all these decades later, along with the guilt it carries. This knowledge doesn’t help you – the modern wife/mother/bread winner who also does the laundry, shopping, management, and yes, cooking, however minimal, that must be done for the family unit. Of course you depend on Costco lasagna.

In the end though, there are consequences for the industry-driven food solution. You pay it. Your children pay it, and their cost is even higher than yours.

That’s why I encourage you to watch the video. Then talk.

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