“Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation,” Michael Pollan’s latest contribution to the literary world, explores the human connection with food, and implores the reader to find balance between our reliance on others for food and our ability to produce food for ourselves. Pollan contends that the act of cooking is part of what makes us uniquely human and, according to anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, is the act with which culture begins.
Cooking, according to Pollan, helped us evolve and fed our relationships through shared experiences. “Cooking gave us not just the meal but also the occasion: the practice of eating together at an appointed time and place. This was something new under the sun, for the forager of raw food would have likely fed himself on the go and alone, like all the other animals. . . . But sitting down to common meals, making eye contact, sharing food, and exercising self-restraint all served to civilize us.”
Alternately, our current reliance on others for our food – the modern food system – is helping us to devolve. The convenience of meals on-the-go and our fast-paced lifestyles have us reverting back to eating alone, often at the expense of our health. “Corporations cook very differently from how people do (which is why we usually call what they do “food processing” instead of cooking). They tend to use much more sugar, fat, and salt than people cooking for people do; they also deploy novel chemical ingredients seldom found in pantries in order to make their food last longer and look fresher than it really is. So it will come as no surprise that the decline in home cooking closely tracks the rise in obesity and all the chronic diseases linked to diet.”
Pollan believes that our current dependence on the modern food system is creating a disconnect with food in general. Cooking, guided by the four elements – fire, water, air and Earth – is reduced to chemical processes far removed from our kitchens. “Nowadays, only a small handful of cooking’s technologies seem within the reach of our competence. This represents not only a loss of knowledge, but a loss of a kind of power, too. And it is entirely possible that, within another generation, cooking a meal from scratch will seem as exotic and ambitious – as “extreme” – as most of us today regard brewing beer or baking a loaf of bread or putting up a crock of sauerkraut.”
In “Cooked,” Pollan states that one of the most important ways we can help to improve the American food system is by reclaiming the art of cooking for ourselves. This will not only help us to reconnect with nature but also with culture, and will strengthen our relationships and our health. “Cooking has the power to transform more than plants and animals: It transforms us, too, from mere consumers into producers. Not completely, not all the time, but I have found that even to shift the ratio between these two identities a few degrees toward the side of production yields deep and unexpected satisfactions.”
Most consumers today are more than two generations removed from the farm. They don’t understand why farms look like they do today, why beneficial technology is used, or other recent advances in food production.
One of CFI’s goals is to facilitate an informed conversation on food topics. While discussing the book with consumers, we encourage you to use values-based statements, such as those below. CFI can help you tailor this information to your particular state or operation.
- Consumer choice should be celebrated and protected. At the same time, the food system must be allowed to responsibly use technology and innovation to produce more food using fewer resources in order to feed a rapidly growing global population.
- The best food choices for one family may not be right for another. We should support the right we each have to choose the food that fits our lifestyle and our family budget.
- Understanding our choices and how they affect our food supply is vital to preserving our personal right to choose the best food for our family’s dinner table.
- Supporting today’s food system in order to produce the food we need using fewer resources is the ethical choice for people, animals and the planet.
- We should each be free to buy the food that works best for us. Access to abundant and affordable food is necessary to ensure that millions of American families do not go to bed hungry.
- If we relied on the food production systems of 1950, approximately 150 million people living in the U.S. would be without food.
- Whether we choose food that is organic or vegan, prepackaged or fresh, locally grown or conventionally raised, from the supermarket or from the farmers market, we all want food raised in a responsible way, food that is safe, wholesome and meets our family’s needs.
- Buying organic or locally grown foods are great options. However, if we limit our ability to produce the food we need, we will increase hunger and food insecurity.
If you would like additional information or have questions, please contact Abby White at firstname.lastname@example.org; or contact the CFI Help Desk at 1-877-402-4CFI (4234).