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Michael Pollan talks about his new book

“Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”  Recently, I attended a talk at The Isabel Bader Theatre in Toronto to see CBC’s Matt Galloway interview sustainable food champion Michael Pollan.   Many of you will recognize those words from his bestselling book In Defence of Food  – An Eaters Manifesto as well as,  “Eat Food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”  Pollan’s voice is a prominent one in today’s discourse around food.  His new book Cooked  explores why our society has handed the control over what we eat to large corporations that process food and run restaurant chains. 

Summer Quinoa Salad underway

Summer Quinoa Salad underway

Now he had turned his attention to the act of cooking.  One of the most common reasons people give for not cooking is “I don’t have time.”  Pollan contends that we’ve carved out some time over the last 10 years to spend 2 hours per day online.  Where did we find that time?   Interestingly, we’ve taken it from watching TV and yes- from cooking.  The amount of time that people spend preparing their meals has dropped to 27 minutes a day.  That’s down by half since the mid-sixties.  This is less time, he points out, than it takes to watch an episode of Top Chef!   Clearly, cooking our meals has become somewhat of a spectator sport based on the number and variety of cooking shows and competitions on our various TV channels.

Why should we care?  There are so many reasons.  Statistics about diet-related obesity and disease abound.  In the book, Pollan poses this question to a veteran food industry researcher:   If there was just one thing our society could do to repair the damage industrially prepared food has done to our diet,  what would it be?  ‘Cook it yourself’ was the answer.  But his industry is banking on the assumption that most people will continue to rely on convenience foods, or as they call them, home-meal replacements. (Doesn’t that sound delicious?)  What we do know is that cooking skills are not being passed down from generation to generation.  Our Grow Cook Learn program aims to fill that skill gap.  Eating home cooked meals around the table give us more than just calories and nutrition.  It is a time to commune with the people we love.  “The shared meal is no small thing”, Pollan says “It is the foundation of family life, the place where our children learn the art of conversation and acquire the habits of civilization:  sharing, listening, taking turns, navigating differences, arguing without offending.”  

I’m just digging into this book and I can see that when it comes to food, this is where our collective focus needs to be right now.  As we concentrate on the act of cooking, we engage more closely with our natural world.  We consider how and where our food grows, how much it costs and how it impacts the environment.  Pollan acknowledges that there is a continuum between ‘cooking from scratch’ and eating a meal out of box.  He encourages us to move toward the former by cooking “a few more nights a week than you already do, or devote a Sunday to making a few meals for the week, or perhaps to try every now and again to make something you only ever expected to buy…”  You could basic-vinaigrette-rs-1074710-xstart small – how about salad dressing?  As I read on, I can see that Michael Pollan’s own transformation is something I can relate to in my own efforts to make more time to cook and in the breakthroughs I see in our Grow Cook Learn classes.  We hope to see you in one of our upcoming workshops.  You might have a breakthrough of your own.

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