It's no secret that I like Michael Pollan's food books, and I'm fifth in line for his latest, Cooked, at our library. In the meantime, here's a chance to hear Pollan speak on the nutritional value of home cooking. (H/T DSTB) I'm sorry I can't embed the interview; you'll have to click on the link to hear it. Here are some quick excerpts:
Why don't people cook at home anymore? Skills have been lost over the last two generations, and people are intimidated by culture of cooking they see on television.
Time is not a valid issue: "people make time for things they've decided are important."
Neither is demographics: "poor women who cook have better diets than wealthy women who don't."
"Built into the very nature of cooking at home is a curb on consuming the worst possible food."
The best diet for an American today? Pollan, quoting a marketing researcher in the food industry itself: "Eat anything you want, as long as you cook it yourself."
Pollan's final recommendation leaves me scratching my head, however: Cook at home, and get soda out of your house, and obesity is taken care of.
It sounds great, but reminds me of the facile advice I heard years ago that an easy way to gain more time is to cut down on television viewing, or that you can save a lot of money by quitting the smoking habit. What if you don't smoke and don't watch TV and still find yourself short of time and money? What if you already cook at home and don't drink soda?
If that depresses you, take a moment to enjoy the story of Rowan Jacobson's (author of Fruitless Fall and and Chocolate Unwrapped) attempt to break all of Michael Pollan's Food Rules in one day.
Saturday, May 4, 2013 at
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Jacobsen was funny. I still haven't read Chocolate Unwrapped. I'll have to find it.
"...that an easy way to gain more time is to cut down on television viewing, or that you can save a lot of money by quitting the smoking habit. What if you don't smoke and don't watch TV and still find yourself short of time and money?" This is like the parenting advice that always bugged me. It seemed like the solution to every parenting problem was to take TV viewing away from the kids. Well, what if your kids don't watch TV? Then what do you take away? Books?
I see your points, and I enjoyed Jacobson's article, but I'll attempt to be the downer that brings you up. Let's look at the definition of cooking. What do you keep in your fridge? Could you make it yourself? If you made all of your own bread, yogurt, (and cheese if you want to be extreme), sauces, salad dressing, pasta, hamburger paties (check!), ice cream, cereal, crackers, canned your own tomatoes and pickled your own cucumbers, etc. etc. you would certainly end up eating less. The question of what cooking from scratch means changes a lot how you view cooking. One of the big shifts I had to make when adjusting to a tiny Swiss fridge was that I could no longer think about what I'd like for lunch and go get it, but rather had to look at the fridge and ask "what needs to be eaten?" If you stock the fridge well that means eating more veggies before they go bad rather than going for an easy fix of crackers and peanut butter. Simply having less storage means keeping only the most basic of ingrediants and combining them to get a nice tasty variety. It would also solve the stuffed fridge problem!
Yes, I know, nothing is as simple as all that and if you make all your own cheese you've used up the time you gained from cutting computer instead of TV - as with everything there's a balance. Either be encouraged that you're doing better than most or look too the places where you can easily make a change (I know some things like growing tomatoes just doesn't work so well in FL).
Of course, the sad thing is, like the parenting and TV problem, this kind of advice is really only the first step, and pretending it's the whole solution is a little short-sighted - but many, many people are in need of that first step!
Yes, Michael Pollan's advice often falls apart if you push it too far, but it's still, as you say, a good first step.
Interesting thought about the over-full refrigerator problem. If we didn't think of lunch as a buffet-style, "what do I want?" meal, we would not only eat up leftovers faster, but would save room by not stocking so many different sandwich ingredients.
Sarah, I too felt the pain of not having TV to take away as a punishment. These day, I believe video game deprivation serves even better for some. Hmmm. Maybe if we pushed TV and video games the way we push books, and took away books as punishment -- do you think kids would like books better and TV less? Probably not; there's the addictive nature of the medium to deal with. Yet we know plenty who are addicted to books....
I have a book on my TBR list that might relate to this topic:
Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn't Cook from Scratch by Jennifer Reese
I half disagree. Making butter is work, but it's also fun and tasty and you get buttermilk, too. I wonder why she says not to make it - too dangerous or expensive?
without having the book at hand, I'll make a stab at the answer by saying it all depends on your criteria. A blurb I read about the book starts out, "When Jennifer Reese lost her job, she was overcome by an impulse common among the recently unemployed: to economize by doing for herself what she had previously paid for." If that's the basis of the book, I'm guessing that buying cream to make butter is not a bargain. On the other hand, if you have good, fresh, raw-milk cream skimmed from the top of your reasonably-priced milk, that may be a different story. Not to mention the other factors, like fun, taste, freshness, and knowing your source.
Time is a factor, too. I've heard of a book (don't know the title) where a do-it-all homeschooling mother says that if she were doing it again, she'd buy her bread and spend more time with her kids. But if you're making your bread or butter with the kids....
I believe you are correct about her reason for saying buy the butter. I used the "look inside" feature and found that she said it was minimal hassle to make, but that it cost $3.39 to buy the cream to make 1/2 pound of butter, but you could buy that for $1.75. (We found this when we were making ice cream - it was fun to make, but after buying the ingredients, it would have been cheaper to buy).
It seems like she did try making all of the various items in her book and she includes recipes. She gives her reason for saying either make or buy. Her reason may not apply to you, though.
There has to be a trade-off. For some things, you get a unique product. Like making bread, you may be able to make something you are just not going to find in the store. For things like butter, I can buy something that suits me perfectly well and will cost me less. There are also things that don't get used that often and the start-up (both time and money) is not worth it. Ketchup comes to mind. Probably not hard to make, but making it to accompany the occasional meal I need it for just adds more work for me without any perceived benefit.
I am going to be trying my hand at making almond milk. I have been purchasing it, but I think it would be better if I could control some of the ingredients. I'll tell you how it turns out after I get a chance to make it.
When reading my comments, remember that I consider cooking a chore. Other people enjoy it and it is a hobby. That could make a difference, too.
I have the book now, and the problem with making butter is definitely the cost. And here, I'd add, the annoying fact that all the cream is ultra-pasteurized. Maybe we can make butter with your good cream this summer, Janet!
Sure! It's not that hard (I never bothered to 'ripen' it), but does make dishes, which is why I stopped . . . Joseph is old enough that he might enjoy the shaking process as well.