Sunday, August 2, 2009

Food, Cooking, Julie & Julia and Michael Pollan

The Sunday New York Times has 2 stories today about food and J&J... One, of course, is about the movie Julie and Julia which opens this week. I certainly plan to see it; what person my age (and interested in cooking) doesn't remember Julia Child? ... and seeing Meryl Streep playing Julia has got to be a treat!

The review of the film by Brooks Barnes makes an interesting comment that food movies are a difficult sell. Michael Pollan explains some of the "why" in his much longer article that goes into depth about our current American attitudes about food, and cooking.

He says, "Today the average American spends a mere 27 minutes a day on food preparation... less than half of when Julia arrived on our television screens."
(Currently the most popular meal in America, at both lunch and dinner, is a sandwich; the No. 1 accompanying beverage is a soda.)

The same process of peacetime
conversion that industralized our farming after WWII, giving us synthetic fertilizers made from munitions and new pesticides made from nerve gas, also industralized our eating habits, persuading us to develop a taste for meals that were not far removed from field rations, according to Laura Shapiro in her book, “Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America.”

Pollan says it wasn't an easy sell to get housewives on the boxed mix bandwagon; instead it took years of dedicated marketing campaigns. It was only when the marketing people found out that by having the "cook" add something to the mix... an egg for example... then the cook was able to take ownership of the result. Boxed mixes haven't changed much, but the proliferation of frozen meals has. You can buy almost anything frozen, ready to heat and eat.

TV cooking shows are designed towards buying a product, not cooking it. Real cooking would require leaving the couch (and TV) for the kitchen so network TV has transformed cooking into something you watch, not something you do.

Today what we call 'cooking' would astonish our grandmothers... heating a can of soup, or nuking a frozen meal or pizza would not be considered cooking to them. I stress real cooking here at home, even simple fare like mashed potatoes.

My fast-food junkie niece loves mashed potatoes; I just threw away 25 pounds of home-grown potatoes leftover from last year because boxed instant potatoes are easier for her than peeling and cooking potatoes.
When I point out the cost and nutritional differences, she says, "Get over it."

Pollan says, when we let corporations do the cooking, they’re bound to go heavy on sugar, fat and salt; these are three tastes we’re hard-wired to like, which happen to be dirt cheap to add and do a good job masking the shortcomings of processed food.
80 percent of the cost of food eaten in the home goes to someone other than a farmer, which is to say to industrial cooking and packaging and marketing.

There's an inverse correlation to cooking and obesity, too. In general, households that prepare and cook their meals are healthier and have a lower incidence of obesity. Maybe it's time to start cooking again?

Since I'm sure most of you have seen the trailer for Julie and Julia, here's a cute old video clip with Julia Child. Take time to note her ingredients as they flash by... Alpo dog food can, shaving cream... it's really quite funny!


  1. LOL... cute!

    Now, I think I'll give that way of preparing eggplant a try!

  2. I'd completely forgotten about this post, and the video clip. It was funny this time, too!


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