Are you cooking?

There was a thought-provoking piece in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine by Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “Botany of Desire.” The article, “No One Cooks Here Anymore,” examines how cooking in this country has become a spectator sport, and the consequences of that shift.

Using Julia Child and the new “Julie & Julia” movie as a starting point (if you’re as overloaded by press about this movie as I am, don’t worry, this peg is worth it) he touches factors that have removed many people from the kitchen – despite the fact that we seem to be talking about food more than ever. During the women’s movement, the kitchen was seen as a prison, and running from it true freedom. Pollan says that was a mistake: “Julia Child tried to show the sort of women who read ‘The Feminine Mystique’ that, far from oppressing them, the work of cooking approached in the proper spirit offered a kind of fulfillment.”

I was one of those fleeing women. When I graduated from college, I would have ripped my own hair out by the roots rather than be in a kitchen, making macaroni and cheese casseroles like my mother. It was after Watergate, when every J-school grad wanted to be the next Woodward and Bernstein.  My idea of dinner was a package of frozen Chinese vegetables (we didn’t call things “Asian” then) mixed with canned chicken, or a trip to Wendy’s.

Time passed, and I found I was more interested in people and their lives than in scandals. I admitted I knew nothing about food when an editor asked me to be food editor for The News & Observer. Learn, she said. The more I did, the more I found that fascinated me. Not just the human connections that food and cooking promotes, but the personal satisfaction. The “pings” of jars of jam sealing on the counter. A new recipe I’ve never tried before coming together into a beautiful meal. If nothing else is going right in my life, here is something I can do.

Pollan finds that even the definition of “cooking” is changing. He speaks to a food marketing researcher, who says: “A hundred years ago, chicken for dinner meant going out and catching, killing, plucking and gutting a chicken. Do you know anybody who still does that? It would be considered crazy! Well, that’s exactly how cooking will seem to your grandchildren: something people used to do when they had no other choice. Get over it.”

Read Pollan’s article here. What do you think? Am I and others like me on our way to join T.Rex?

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