Some thoughts about food, the production thereof

There’s a terrific essay in the Sunday’s NY Times Magazine: “The Age of Nutritionism,” by Michael Pollan. (Full disclosure: I am most inclned to believe an essay is “terrific” if it espouses a position with which I am in full agreement, and this one does.)

Briefly, Pollan argues that scientists, in an attempt to find the silver bullets that will put an end to human illness and suffering, have divorced food from its natural physical and social contexts. In doing so, he writes, they have created an American culture of food in which the population is both sicker and more clueless. Favorite line (perhaps paraphrased): If it’s something your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food, don’t eat it.

Now, my purpose here isn’t to recreate Pollan’s essay. You’ll have to go read that for yourself. But once again today I’m baking bread, a task best done with love, a hands-on technique, and the simplest of ingredients. I learned much of the technique from a Julia Child’s recipe I clipped from a newspaper more than 30 years ago, I’m sure. I’ve probably mentioned it here before. But her technique in this particular piece involves a food processor, something for which I’m sure she was paid handsomely by this new-at-the-time industry. But you can tell from her qualified comments that she really doesn’t espouse the use of this machine and clearly prefers a manual technique. There are repeated warnings about the heat from the processor and the problems it can cause.

The food processor, to my way of thinking, is one of the most useless machines ever invented. It doesn’t do anything that you can’t do with a good set of knives and some patience and attention. I suppose if you routinely catered lunch for several dozen people, it might be handy. But I still object, because the fact of the matter (experiential evidence only, no scientific backup) is that, like the microwave oven, the food processor in its operation changes the physical characteristics of the food it’s processing. I don’t think that can be totally healthy.

Another useless piece of technology is the bread machine. It probably makes your kitchen smell good, but it doesn’t produce anything remotely resembling real bread. If you think I’m being foolish, go read the label on one of your bread mixes. Then compare that with Julia’s fine French bread recipe–flour, salt, yeast, and water.

“Real” food is an interaction of plants and animals with their environment. Many natural processes occur in the food chain to produce complex foods that contribute to the health and well-being of any organisms, not just humans, that feed on them. In our rush to haste and convenience, we’re rapidly removing the “food” from our diets to replace it with “nutrients,” something about which it becomes increasingly obvious that we know little and understand less.

I’m sure I sould like a Luddite. I’m not. I just think the stuff we put into our bodies to nourish them deserves far more respect than it gets these days.

There’s a whole other aspect to food that is primarily social, but I think this has gone on long enough to wear on your patience, so that will wait for another day.

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3 Responses to “Some thoughts about food, the production thereof”

  1. whitishrabbit Says:

    I am interested to read more of your thoughts on this. I’ve arrived at a similar conclusion. I feel we are in such a rush nowadays! It used to be that making a good meal for one’s family was a primary task, so time was set aside specifically for doing that. I find baking and cooking the ‘manual’ way to be therapeutic, and nourishing on more than a physical level. Warm, good food that you spent time and energy preparing brings a satisfaction deeper than satiety. I’m not decrying modern convenience, or hankering for the ‘good, old days’, but I do wish efficiency didn’t rule every moment of modern day life. Nowadays, a person has to make the conscience decision to put time aside and create something of quality with their own two hands.

  2. mklekacz Says:

    Dear Rabbit, thanks for your interest. I’ve bookmarked your blog. I suspect we have a few things in common, like writing.

    As to your request–I’m about to post a few more thoughts on this topic, this time from the consumption end, so stay tuned.

  3. A little more about my greatest fears–the blessing and scourge of technology « Marianne’s Virtual Salon Says:

    […] think the editor is sharing some of my deepest, darkest concerns. I mentioned the piece on “nutritionism” in an earlier post. Yesterday’s lead feature is about the spring fashion collections. […]

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