I went to Michael Pollan’s book signing for his new book, Cooked at Barnes & Noble in Union Square a few weeks ago. (I am the queen of finding free shit to do in the city, by the way). It’s hard not to have heard of this guy or the new book. There’s been a media blitz about it in recent weeks: it’s been featured in The New York Times, NPR, The Colbert Report…
So who is this guy? Michael Pollan may not have been the first to discover the evils of the food industry in the U.S., but he’s definitely brought it to the masses. He’s also the author of crazy bestsellers The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Rules (among others but these are perhaps his most popular).
Full disclosure: I never read any of these but I have read the reviews and heard the talks enough to get the cliff notes. The message being: The majority of the food we eat is supplied by giant corporations that are more interested in profits than quality, so the meat and produce we find in our grocery stores are not only inhumanely and irresponsibly sourced, they are full of contaminants. And if it’s not meat or produce, it’s some form of highly processed frankenfood, which wreaks havoc on our bodies and makes us sick.
Basically, when it comes to food, if you’re not growing it in your own backyard, you’re fucked. (Which pretty much makes all of us).
Well not exactly, but you should at least be aware by now that this exists. But if by chance you are new to the planet and have not yet jumped on the where-does-my-food-come-from bandwagon, see Food, Inc. (2008). It is an eye-opening documentary, partially based on Michael Pollan’s writings (and in which he appears). It was my first foray into this highly depressing subject, and it will most surely piss you off, gross you out, and depress you too…to the point that you will go in your kitchen, open the pantry, and eat a whole box of corn-derived frankencookies ’cause that’s all you’ve got in the house.
Here are some of the highlights of the book signing for Cooked:
- As I’m sitting waiting for it to begin, Michael J. Fox walks in with his wife and sits two rows ahead of me in the VIP section—Michael J. Fox! Now remember people, I’m a New Yorker…celebrity sightings are as common as rats in the subway. But Marty McFly, Alex P. Keaton, Brantley Foster/Carlton Whitfield! (Bonus if you got that last one without looking it up)
- It turns out, Michael J. Fox’s wife, Tracy Pollan—who I couldn’t give two flying figs about when I saw her walk in ’cause I was too busy marveling over the presence of her husband—is Michael Pollan’s sister. Whutt???
- Although the book includes a few recipes, it’s not exactly a cookbook, but more an argument for cooking at home, and a history of the ways cooking has evolved. Pollan believes that the single most important thing a person can do to eat healthier and support a sustainable environment, is cook.
- The book is divided into four pillars of cooking or transforming food: Fire (grilling food), water (cooking in liquid), air (making bread), and earth (fermenting food, like sauerkraut and kimchi)
- Fire became a means to cook in order to make food more digestible
- We are not meant to eat raw foods exclusively (sorry vegans). “Any vegan I know has a good blender,” says Pollan. It takes too much time and effort to chew and digest food. Apes, for instance, generally spend 4-6 hours a day just chewing (who has the time?)
- “Amazing things happen at the table,” says Pollan, referring to cooking at home and sitting down at the table with the family. It’s where children learn countless lessons and figure out what it is to become an adult. “Cooking is about democracy, learning how to share, take turns, listen to adult conversations,” says Pollan
- “At first, we had forgotten where our food comes from, but now we’re rediscovering it and going overboard,” he says
Wait. Are we?