“Say hey, goodlooking! What you got cooking?”

A Feminist Critique of Michael Pollan’s “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch

We cook.  We eat.  Sometimes we cook fancy meals, and eat off bone china by candle light in the dining room. Sometimes we cook not so fancy meals and eat of plastic plates in the kitchen.  Sometimes we don’t cook and eat at restaurant that a food market research would describe as mid-range, family oriented. And sometimes we don’t cook and eat at a restaurant that is run by one of our nation’s top chief.  At the mid-range, family restaurant – a Bugaboo Creak Streak House at a near by mall – I’ve ordered filet mignon, ceaser salad and a glass of California Cabernet. At Jasper White’s Summer Shack, I’ve ordered a cheeseburger and a beer.  Cooking, as well as eating, is seldom all or nothing.  To have meaning, cooking and eating require context. 

Cold cuts, for example.  For Michael Pollan, putting cold cuts between two slices of bread is a sign that American women have beaten a path out of the kitchen and into the t.v. room to watch FoodTV. If Iwere to take those same cold cuts, roll them up, put them on  a plate with some olives, and a piece of cheese, am I more or less an authentic cook than the sandwich maker?  What if the sandwich maker made the bread that frames the sandwich? 

Harry Balzer, the food-marketing research that Pollan interviewed, clearly did not know my grandmother.  Gran was a famously bad cook and the idea that she is spinning in her grave over how I prepare a meal is laughable. (Actually, Gran was cremated, so becoming a dust devil would be a more appropriate image.)  Born in 1911, my material grandmother was a gin-drinking flapper who raised three children and overcooked everything.  I highly doubt that she ever rung the neck of a chicken or churned butter.  She rarely seasoned with anything other than salt and pepper.

Like Michael Pollan, I watched Julia Child cook on t.v. sitting next to my mother.  This is when my mother’s cooking began to go beyond her mother’s mushy green beans and tough as nails leg of lamb.  This is the foundation that my cooking is built on.  Sometimes I make salad dressing.  Sometimes I don’t.  What I pour on the lettuce has little to do with what agribusiness would have me believe is better for my family and everything to do with how much time I happen to have.  However, even when making the dressing from scratch, I didn’t press the olives to make the oil, or fire the kiln that baked the salad dish. There are only so many hours in the day.

The most important thing about Julia Child, a point that Pollan misses, is that she wasn’t presumptuous.  She told us something that we always suspected – that a well made sandwich is better than an ill cooked roast.

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