Why Cook – Part 2

Why Cook – Part 2

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!

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Why Cook – Part 2”

  • I agree wholeheartedly and I have some cillempong anecdotal evidence to back it up. My two teenagers and I are allergic to corn. You wouldn’t believe the lengths we must go to find unadulterated staples in this country. Since corn is subsidized, it is used for everything under the sun. It is almost impossible to find a packaged product that doesn’t have some form of corn in the ingredients or in the packaging or manufacturing process (the last two don’t have to be labeled). That’s fine with me, but you would be shocked to learn how difficult it is to find corn-free meat, produce, dairy and grains. We cook everything from scratch, but we have been forced to go without basic food groups because there is no corn-free version available.Examples in my city (I have no Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods): There is only one brand of corn-free cheese available, there is no safe chicken, beef or pork in any of my stores (I have to buy half a grass fed cow and get it custom butchered) and we went without milk for three years the only safe dairy product in any of my stores was full fat Daisy sour cream and we used it for all our baking. I still have not found any corn-free wild caught salmon, bacon or cream cheese. There is only one wheat flour and one salt that is absolutely corn-free and fruit is very hard to come by. I shop at the farmers market and the natural section of my Kroger. I would say that there are no more than 25 (generous estimate) items in my store that are completely corn-free and it’s a large Kroger. (You might go and find plenty of items that appear to be corn-free but they will contain hidden corn from the manufacturing or packaging processes like baby carrots washed in citric acid, apples coated with corn wax and cheese dusted with cornstarch so it won’t stick to the package. Those products will not list corn derivatives in the ingredient list because the FDA doesn’t require it, but the corn is there nonetheless.)Now, did I mention that we eat whatever we want to cook (and can find the ingredients) and we all lost weight when we removed corn from our diet? For a while after we found safe raw goat milk, we made vanilla ice cream every single night and we still lost weight! I dare say that the labor involved in making desserts from scratch should regulate the amount of sugar you eat. When you cook every single morsel from scratch, sometimes the effort of making something that is totally extraneous just isn’t worth it. Desserts are an occasional treat simply because we are not up to making them every day .it works for us.

  • Let’s see open fewer containers, chop a bit of this, heat some of that, walk a liltte each day, and have some quiet time for ourselves. Seemingly, these would be a good sensible start in the right direction towards better health. Unfortunately, we are, in the aggregate, a lazy lot, as Tracie deftly points out. As one from the South, I am likely spoiled as to availability of fresh produce. Certainly, their are the mega-stores offering varying degrees of fresh’ produce, but the South, in particular, and America, at large, is blessed with ubiquitous farmer’s market’s and roadside stands. As ya’ll know, in the South, farmer’s markets are surpassed only by quilt sales and flea markets! Seemingly, the availability of food in the land of plenty’ is not an issue unless one is destitute, in which case, everything is an issue. Adding that food is thrown out each day, I say we should put that food to good use brother! Fortunately, good effort is expended towards that very cause. Since I tend to believe the vast majority of us live with a reasonable distance to a mega-store, or fresh market, or what-have-you, I wonder if preparing food daily is the crux of the good tasting and healthy food issue. Convenience surely plays a part, but it is our own choice as to whether we stop at a drive-thru, order out, or cook at home. Some posting here indicate difficulty finding quality food produce. Poppy-cock! Must we cook like Eric Ripert with a mise-en-place suitable for Le Bernardin? Must our raw foods be of impeccable quality else we decry what are palate must endure? Of course not. But, if so, we are missing the point of MR’s blog. Yes, I tend to think MR would disagree with this perfection mentality that all must be of the best quality at home or forget the experience and exposure. Further, I am pretty sure MR would agree that a bruise or two here and a bit dry there will not spoil the party if properly prepped prior to cooking at home. High end has its place, no doubt, but only a professional chefs should aspire to consistently put out professional quality dishes and that’s only at work. Stereo-typically, Italians get this instinctively! Wonderful food can be had with what is at hand. I mention MR here as this is his blog spot and MR seems (if I’m understanding correctly) to have this perspective on food and cooking. I invite Michael to correct me if I’m wrong with the above, but I doubt I am. A bit lazy are we? Yes. A bit stuck on ourselves? Perhaps. What is interesting to me here is the correlation that exists between Tracie’s premise concerning food, laziness, and in the larger sense, America’s health habits, and that of MR’s blog spot position. I believe that correlation to be America’s composite health picture would change if we could get more folks into the kitchen to prepare simple foods. To me this is exactly’ what Michael’s blog is about; that of exposing folks to the enjoyment of the most basic of human needs in a way that will hopefully encourage one to start with basic foods and techniques, sans high-end expectations, and enjoy the experience just enough to do it again and again. I also believe that is the exact prescription to preclude laziness in the kitchen and the ills of convenience. Enjoy.

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