I have been dwelling on Michael Pollan's NYT article "Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch" for the last month or so. He makes so many points that I feel so conflicted about: I feel pride, I feel guilt, I feel indignation, I feel feministic pissiness.
His premise is that although Julia kicked off an era of courage with cooking, those televised food evangelists that followed have done nothing but contribute to the decline of home cooking by making it a spectator sport. Oh, there are others who contribute to the decline, like women who chose work over home, the availability of fast-food, and the encroaching ease of processed corporate food. We find ourselves paying a steep price for this trend: obesity and perhaps a decline in our very cultural identity.
And now I feel guilty that I don't make my own breakfast cereal.
I know my house isn't typical because we are food obsessed. My husband is a trained chef, though he's not actively cooking in a professional kitchen anymore, and I have spent much of my adult life either working in the food/restaurant industry or writing/yakking about it. It's true that I have taught myself how to debone a chicken, and that I buy the birds from my local butcher, but sometimes my kids want to eat chicken fingers—and I let them.
Last night I made a quinoa salad to go with the pork I was grilling. The quinoa came from a box (meaning it was rinsed for me), but it was quinoa, the Incan master grain. Do I still get points? Tonight we're going to Punch for pizza, so someone else is making my food and I can't account for every ingredient, but I think it's a good option for a night crammed with activities. Or should my kids not engage in sports so that I can stay home and cook for them? And although I have made my own mayonnaise in the past two weeks, there is Chinese takeout in my fridge.
For a while after reading Pollan's piece, I felt like our downward spiral was as ineveitable as my 14-year-old coming home from SuperAmerica with a Vanilla Coke. "Who is going to teach the next generation to cook?" was a line from the piece that kept spinning through my head. For all my personal exploration and gabbing, I'm not sure I have done enough to encourage my teenage boys to participate in the process.
Then my college kid called from her first apartment in Kansas. She was calling because she wanted to make soup. So I reminded her to clean the leeks and we talked about the difference between yukon golds and Idaho russets. In my first apartment, Campbell's was cooking. I didn't make scratch soup until I was 30, but once I did, I have never gone back. And I would say that making a pot of soup in our house is more than a monthly occurrence.
I considered this when my 6-year-old asked for scoopy eggs (we have an affection for soft-boiled eggs) this morning. There's no chance that I will keep chickens in my yard, the urban chicken movement has come too late in my life. But maybe not for Jake. Maybe he'll find home-raised chickens as essential as I find homemade soup.
My final peace with the Pollan conundrum comes with knowing that the Food Network and its ilk are not the only things evolving. The food movement is bigger than that, as is obvious by sales of Micheal Pollan's books. While there are large factors that may devolve the actual process of cooking, there have never been more amazing, people-driven opportunities to learn about food. Has it ever been easier to access millions of recipes or first-person accounts of cooking? Had you ever heard of a farm dinner 10 years ago? Could you imagine a SOLD OUT make-your-own mozzarella class in the '80s? Was CSA in your vocabulary even five years ago?
This learning and hands-on experience with food is what drives the personal journey, not boob-tube entertainment. Just because NASCAR exists doesn't mean there won't be a gathering of the hot rod guys at the local drive-in. So I guess I'm not going to collapse in a panic because I don't always make my own stock. And I think the humans I've been feeding and raising can enjoy a bit of Man vs. Food with me on the couch after we've all cleared the table.