Friday, May 10, 2013

Slow Food

First let me say that I have a lot of sympathy with the Slow Food movement.  I make a weekly menu - and I print it out! It includes each day's weather forecast and scheduled activities.  Plus relevant clip art.  This week's menu depicts a runner because Ellie will be in the Girls on the Run 5K downtown on Saturday and a carnival because it's time for the girls' annual school PTO blast.  I buy organic when I can (when I can afford it, when I can find it, when I have time for it) and I shop around the outside of the grocery store before venturing into those processed food aisles.

But I read Emily Matchar's Salon article, "Is Michael Pollan a sexist pig" with great interest this week.  And while attempting to write a comment about it on a friend's Facebook page, I inadvertently wrote an essay.  So I decided to post it here, instead.

I'm a fan of much of what I know about Pollan's work, except where he falls into the occasional trap of romanticizing the past.  I was really disappointed to read what he said about, "genuine wisdom that some American feminists thoughtlessly trampled in their rush to get women out of the kitchen."

I find the whole feminism connection mystifying.  Have you checked out any 1950's cookbooks?  Long before women went to work in droves (middle class women, as working class women frequently lacked the opportunity to stay home) Food, Inc. existed.  Post-WWII American society embraced processed foods and the assumed superiority of modern food technologies.  I absolutely don't get all this discussion of the 1970's as the critical problem point when people were eating their Swanson's TV dinners in 1950's living rooms.  (Pollan discusses this in Cooked, yet still comes back to feminism.)

Pollan dismissed “The Feminine Mystique” as “the book that taught millions of American women to regard housework, cooking included, as drudgery, indeed as a form of oppression.”  It wasn't a book that taught that; it was the NECESSITY of the daily cooking.  The difference between a passion/hobby and a chore. 

I think the workforce/time argument is a bit of a red herring. A big difference between the 19th and 21st centuries, for the majority of Americans (not just the top 1%) is leisure time and the idea that we can/should get to choose the way we spend our time outside of work hours.  Herein lies the rub with Slow Food.  Pollan's work is full of the language of virtue when discussing slow food cooking (and dissing of cake mixes, etc.).  This is far from unique to Pollan, FWIW, and is endemic in foodie and slow food cultures.

One of my favorite bits from that Salon article: "The term “foodie” was originally invented to describe people who really enjoy eating and cooking, which suggests that others do not. Yet today everyone is meant to have a deep and abiding appreciation for and fascination with pure, wholesome, delicious, seasonal, regional food. The expectation that cooking should be fulfilling for everyone is insidious, especially for women. I happen to adore cooking and eating, and nothing is more fun for me than sharing a home-cooked bowl of pasta puttanesca and a loaf of crusty bread with friends. Yet, I know for a fact that others would much rather go kayaking or read magazines or write poems or play World of Warcraft or teach their dog sign language."

As for me, I enjoy doing a little of all of that.  I really enjoy cooking.  Sometimes.  But not everyday and not three times a day, everyday.  I prepare most meals by necessity rather than passion.  And I eat out when I can.  What I wish is that there were healthier "convenience food" options and that most restaurant meals were both healthier and fresher.  (It's hard to know what's prepared on-site vs. processed elsewhere and packed full of preservatives, for example.)

And I wish we could separate out the "health" bits from the heavy "virtue" language.