Well Being

Michael Pollan Says Get Back In The Kitchen

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As you probably know, Michael Pollan has been on a crusade for some time to get us to “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” And now, he’s arguing vigorously that we should be cooking those plant-based real food meals ourselves, too:

“Cooking is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your diet. What matters most is not any particular nutrient, or even any particular food: it’s the act of cooking itself. People who cook eat a healthier diet without giving it a thought. It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic.

…you’re going to use higher-quality ingredients than whoever’s making your home-meal replacement would ever use. You’re not going to use additives. So the quality of the food will automatically be better.

You’re also not going to cook much junk. I love French fries, but how often are you going to cook them? It’s too hard and messy. But when they’re made at the industrial scale, you can have French fries three times a day. So there’s something in the very nature of home cooking that keeps us from getting into trouble.”

On the one hand, Pollan is definitely right to note that cooking at home can lead to heightened awareness regarding the foods we put in our bodies. And this is good.

But honestly, this argument leaves me with mixed feelings. First of all, in my humble opinion, it seems factually dubious that cooking at home will cause you to use higher-quality ingredients, and that you won’t cook much junk food. When I’m “cooking” at home, it’s definitely Kraft singles-based grilled cheeses all the time. With a frozen potato of some kind: oh, tater tots. Oh, waffle fries.

But if I run to the deli, I can have a salad with a bit of real mozzarella and tons of veggies, for about the same time & effort. What’s the big deal? And, even worse, if you plan (unrealistically) to cook at home, you may end up not cooking at all, instead falling in the door after work and plopping down on the couch with a bowl of cereal. Or impulsively ordering delivery from your phone. Is that really better than having bought yourself a decent sandwich or something? At the end of the day, you know which food choices fit into your life much better than Michael Pollan does, and you’re responsible for striking a balance amongst taste, nutrition, and convenience.

True, it’s difficult to teach people which restaurant and prepared foods are the genuinely healthy ones, and which ones have been misleadingly advertised. But it’s similarly difficult to teach people which stuff to buy at the grocery store. And that weak will of yours follows you around, whether you’re tempted to make unwise purchases at the grocery store or elsewhere. If you’re learning about nutrition in general, you can apply that knowledge to either domain, and you’ve got to develop a sense of restraint in either case.

But ok, let’s even assume home cooking is somewhat more likely to be healthy. Here’s Pollan again, revealing his real motivations: “The problem is we’re not valuing cooking enough. Who do you want cooking your food, a corporation or a human being?

Oh please, spare me the moralizing. Who is Michael Pollan to tell me what to value? It’s one thing to explain to people the joys of cooking, and to encourage them to give it a try. It’s quite another thing to say, even to otherwise healthy, successful, and accomplished people: “if you don’t cook, you’re doing your life wrong.” Ladies, remember that much of this guilt-induced cooking burden will fall to you. And if you don’t wanna do it, it’s because you have objectively incorrect values. Awesome.

I’m sure Michael Pollan enjoys his cooking very much, and if you do too, then go right ahead. But please don’t assume that my frequent outside-the-home food purchases indicate that I’m some kind of moral nihilist. I value plenty of things – including my health, corporate responsibility, the environment, and animal welfare – but standing (barefoot?) in the kitchen for its own sake is not amongst them.

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