Monday, August 3, 2009

Cooking: the American Spectator Sport

Apologies for not updating this blog. I got sick and had to watch my food consumption for a while, and SpectralCat was very understanding. We've got some great veggies from the CSA but mostly I just stir fried it with eggs in the mornings upon realizing that a newer shipment would soon come in. Am convelecsing at the parents' house for the rest of the week, and hope to have new cooking adventures documented soon. I've done some hard core bread baking, and overdosed on quinoa (pictures to come). The semester starts in a just four weeks, and I hope to get lots of culinary and academic acheivements by then.
In the meantime, I read Michael Pollan's recent NYTimes article about the death of cooking in American homes. Very interesting article trying to determine the reasons for why corporations/for profit institutions have taken over cooking in the United States. Like a good researcher, he explores the possible arguments: namely is the a demand driven or supply driven phenemonon? He starts out his observation: why are Americans watching food shows (Iron Chef for fellas, Rachel Ray for the ladies) but unwilling to spend 30 minutes a day in food preparation? Pollan points out that one's health is strongly linked to home cooking, as lower income families the engage in home food preparation are healthier than higher income ones who do not. While MPoll is hardly a ranting leftist, his healthy suspicious of the commodificaiton of food productiond drives his answer. Rather the "conventional" explanations that increased women in the workforce or the lack of leisure time in America (we work on average 2 weeks more than our European counterparts, 4 weeks more than we did in 1967), Pollan argues that the creation of prepared/ready to eat/food sciency products largely took off the 1950s, a time when traditional gender roles were still quite entrenched. Perhaps a military Keynesianims- one that supported industrial agricultural and war time production- created this supply-side transformation.
States Pollan, Those corporations have been trying to persuade Americans to let them do the cooking since long before large numbers of women entered the work force. After World War II, the food industry labored mightily to sell American women on all the processed-food wonders it had invented to feed the troops: canned meals, freeze-dried foods, dehydrated potatoes, powdered orange juice and coffee, instant everything. As Laura Shapiro recounts in “Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America,” the food industry strived to “persuade millions of Americans to develop a lasting taste for meals that were a lot like field rations.”
I appreciated as well Pollan's sensitivity to the role of gender. While women have traditionally been the ones who engaged in the labor of food preparation, the issue of feminism and cooking remains a fraught one. He even notes how Simone de Beauvoir had an ambiguous relationship with the kitchen. On the one hand, it represents partriarchal domination, yet on the other hand, it can be a creative and fufilling endeavor. Perhaps this move towards commodification of food production has been worsened by our collective inability to deal with the care question. As couples move towards more equal partnerships, the lack of cooking skills (by either gender) has led to the "best solution" of take out and ready-meals as the compromise.

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