Lately, I have become a huge fan of Michael Pollan and Michael Ruhlman. Michael Pollan is a writer of such books as The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
and this spring released his latest: Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation
(which is awesome). He has been featured on several news shows and his face, voice and text seem to show up on all of the latest foodie documentaries and even adorn the walls of favorite restaurants. He has become an expert, rather, an authority on the subject of food in our country and in our Western culture. He explores the behind-the-scenes way in which our food is processed, bought and sold, and has become a HUGE advocate for cooking more, at home, with our families’, friends, and neighbors. Heady, compelling, and excellent stuff.
Michael Ruhlman, is also a writer, a cook, and somewhat of a pontificator on great food-related items. He has chronicled, written about, and generally followed some of our best US chefs including Thomas Keller, Eric Ripert, and Michael Symon. He has also teamed up with Anthony Bourdain to eat and banter back and forth on several of Bourdain’s popular TV shows. He has authored or co-authored several books on cooking, including a book devoted to chicken fat in The Book of Schmaltz: Love Song to a Forgotten Fat, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing, both of which explore French and Italian meat-curing technique (which I have been learning and working through), as well as others.
The bottom line is that both of these Michaels have worked their way into the spotlight, through their research, writing, and commentary on the industrialized food machine and has brought it all the way down, somewhat alarmingly, to the home cook.
There is much to say here but I want to “introduce” them both to you by way of this blog post.
The first is a piece of writing from Pollan’s latest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.In a nutshell he does a test with his family comparing how long it takes to cook from scratch versus microwaving the family dinner.
Microwave Night turned out to be one of the most disjointed family dinners we have had since Isaac was a toddler. The three of us never quite got to sit down at the table all at once. The best we could manage was to overlap for several minutes at a time, since one or another of us was constantly having to get up to check the microwave or the stovetop (where Isaac had moved his stir-fry after the microwave got backed up). All told, the meal took a total of thirty-seven minutes to defrost and heat up (not counting reheating), easily enough time to make a respectable homemade dinner. It made me think Harry Balzer might be right to attribute the triumph of this kind of eating to laziness and a lack of skills or confidence, or a desire to eat lots of different things, rather than to a genuine lack of time. That we hadn’t saved much of at all.
The fact that each of us was eating something different completely altered the experience of (speaking loosely) eating together. Beginning in the supermarket, the food industry had cleverly segmented us, by marketing a different kind…
Whoa. I know that wasn’t much, but you will have to buy the book to get the rest of the story. Fascinating just doesn’t quite cut it. It was a powerful comparison and study, and frankly, angers me a little how much the big food machine and their supermarket trolls have “segmented” us from each other and our innate desire to connect with each other around mealtime.
The second piece, is a video (below) from a great Ruhlman blog post that he wrote on cooking at home and the primitive reasons we should continue to do it ourselves.
Now my turn.
Cooking represents many things. For some it is simply about learning traditions from our parents and grandparents. For others, it is a way to teach and expose new cuisine, cultural heritage, and tradition. Most religions have food at the center of many of their most revered festivals. When I think of my childhood and my extended family, I also think of food. Sorry.
I remember having large family meals around Thanksgiving loaded with uncles, aunts, cousins, board and card games and you guessed it, tons of food. I remember when my dad worked for the Spokesman-Review as a truck driver and his Christmas bonus was his choice of ribs, steaks, or roast, vacuum sealed and ready for my mom to cook for Christmas Eve. Potlucks, picnics, volleyball, holy board and other games all surrounded by sizzling meat on the grill in the summer, alongside Mom’s awesome macaroni salad, and of course loads of awesome desserts (I especially loved my Aunt Nancy’s homemade peach ice cream). Food and family is where many of my best memories were made and as you may have observed in Ruhlman’s passionate commentary, it is where community, dialog, and working together are learned perhaps better than in any other setting.
The Challenge: Let us rely less on others and more on ourselves when it comes to feeding our families. Less frozen dinners, less trips to the restaurants, and more time building relationships, cooking with our children, and gathering around the dinner table. Happy Eating!