Michael Pollan wants you to cook

Michael Pollan.

Image of Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation
Author: Michael Pollan
Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (2013)
Binding: Hardcover, 480 pages

In Michael Pollan's latest book, "Cooked," he's hoping he can convince readers to slow down and cook dinner tonight -- instead of microwaving a pre-made meal.

"I really think that we've been sold a bill of goods with the argument that [cooking] is drudgery and we lack the time and we lack the skills," he says. "It's one of the most democratic of pleasures available to all of us."

As cooking shows become more popular, we're paradoxically seeing a decrease in home cooking.

Since 1977, it's fallen by half. Pollan says that has "disastrous effects, both for our agriculture and for our health" and that shift has in part been a result of marketing efforts that have been "designed to get us out of the kitchen" in favor of pre-prepared meals that bring in more dollars for food companies.

"All the money in the food industry is in processing," he says. "It's very hard to make money selling simple ingredients."

There are other economic reasons fewer people are cooking: In an age when time is money, cooking takes a lot of time. Pollan says it's not so much about time as it is about putting value on a home cooked meal.

"We find time for the things we value."

He points to the two hours a day we spend outside of working surfing the web.

"We don't value cooking," he says. "We've fallen into this mode where we let the corporations do the cooking for us. The problem is, they don't do it very well."

Though prepared foods can be cheap and fast, the process to make them involves cheap materials and a ton of additives.

"This is a great case where the efficiency of capitalism is actually undermining the health of people."

AUDIO EXTRA: Michael Pollan on how the popularity of cooking shows doesn’t necessarily mean we’re cooking more, what he calls the "cooking paradox."

Are you cooking more or less? Comment below or tweet us @MarketplaceAPM.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
Image of Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation
Author: Michael Pollan
Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (2013)
Binding: Hardcover, 480 pages
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Tremendous article. Would love to see the actual numbers of home cooked meals vs. eating out!

Thanks Michael,

When I was wandering the country as a contract programmer, I always rented places where I could do my own cooking. After eight, ten or twelve hours of meetings, panicked users and arcane logic, massacring hapless vegetables for a stir-fry or even a simple steak, potatoes and salad is a wonderful way to relax. Who wouldn't want to cook? Besides it's a whole lot cheaper.

Pollan made a naive and arrogant assumption when asserted that the extra two hours we used to spend cooking we now spend surfing the internet. Time at the end of the day, after a full day of work, is not interchangeable with the time when we are well-rested, and have the energy to shop, cook, and clean, especially if that job requires you to be on your feet all the time and requires manual labor, something Pollan doesn't experience on a regular basis. People need down time to replenish their energy reserves.

I'm all for scratch cooking; I do 10 hours of it every other weekend. But I'm in a DINK situation. I can't imagine a family where both parents work, with two kids, having time or energy to cook more than a two days worth of meals each week.

When listening to this piece, I happened to be in the process of making a spinach, onion, and garlic fritta, flavored with turmeric and pepperoni--made from local, free-range eggs and topped with my Fromage Blanc made with milk from a local dairy.

When food shopping, our carts are mainly filled with ingredients rather than processed foods, and I think we, as a family, are better for it...

What I like are all the people who spend tens of thousands of dollars on kitchen remodels or build-outs (Viking - Sub Zero) and they don't cook.

In VT, where I live, slow cookers have become increasingly popular. Perhaps that's true elsewhere. We also use microwaves--to re-heat portions of the ample slow-cooker meals ;-) Into the slow-cooker we put local raw materials: chopped root-vegetables, a great variety of soaked beans, herbs, spices, sometimes a little bit of browned venison or lamb. Prep the night before, start cooking in the AM (set up in 0.5 hr), cook for 10 hrs: wow! Such flavor, nourishment, and value. And it can last for days. Serve over brown rice, red quinoa, cous cous...Perfect in cold weather--of which we have a lot ;-)

Corporations and restaurants cook for taste and not so much for health (so that you keep buying). Taste is instant gratification, health is comparatively a slower process.

You mean to tell me that with the incredible following of FoodNetwork and all the other cooking shows, along with the massive number of online recipe and foodie sites that people are cooking LESS? Walk into any department store and the food prep department has grown by leaps and bounds. Are people buying the $150 frying pan to leave it in the cabinet? I find this hard to believe. (BTW. I love to cook, so I do it all the time. I even wrote a cookbook!)

So "Michael Pollan wants me to cook." I'll just bet he does -- along with everybody else in this house. If he wants to do something useful, how about he takes a turn? Better yet, he could start a restaurant, where he can peel, and grate, and slowly cook to his heart's content. Let's see how long he lasts...And whether he ever finds the time to write another book telling all the rest of us what we should be doing. The only reason I have time to listen to Marketplace is because the microwave is cooking the rice...and I wouldn't have it any other way!

This is an ad hominem with extra yards for assuming facts not in evidence. What about his message?


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