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Michael Pollan on Julia Child

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  1. Wow - thanks. Had no idea they posted such articles as previews ahead of Sunday.

    1 Reply
    1. re: MMRuth

      They always have a preview of one article from the magazine every week.

    2. Thanks for the heads up. I read the first page so far, and it looks very interesting.

      1. Great "food for thought" - literally. The idea that cooking freed early humans to spend more time thinking is one I'd never before come across. Thanks!

        1. I never would have seen this if you hadn't posted it and I want to thank you. So much of what Pollen writes is right on the mark. Quotes like:
          "How much do you learn about playing basketball by watching the N.B.A.?" when discussing learning to cook by watching the Food Network.
          "The Food Network has helped to transform cooking from something you do into something you watch ..."
          "Buying, not making, is what cooking shows are mostly about now - ....." sums it up pretty well especially when one takes a long, hard look at Food Network sponsors.

          The influence of Julia Child on today's home cooking is discussed in detail and Pollen relates several examples of how it affected him personally.

          Michael Pollen has written an excellent article and I'm certain that we will hear more about it. Again, billieboy, thank you for posting it.

          1. My quibble is the distinction Pollan makes between consumption and production. While one can eat without cooking, it's pretty hard to cook without eating: tasting is an important part of most cooking, except perhaps some baking. Becoming a better taster can dramatically improve cooking skill.

            In Top Chef, for instance, one of the judges' most frequent criticisms (across numerous seasons) is the lack of acidity to balance fat or richness. That inspired me to think more about citrus and vinegar to balance flavors in my own cooking.

            I see his point that shows celebrating food consumption probably won't make someone start cooking from zero, but people who already cook even a bit can learn plenty from consumption-oriented shows.

            1. Wow!! What a great writer and a brilliant article!! I've shied away from him in the past because i thought his prior books to be kind of pedantic & preachy (without reading them, I know, I am evil, but I grew up and live in the Bay Area currently- Just so over the whole Berkeley Bowl crowd.....). Makes me want to buy any and all Julia Videos, books, etc. I despise the whole Top Chef, iron Chef, Diner Chef, Skinny Chef, Fat Chef, Tablescape Chef mentality that's pervasive on food shows these days. Just show me a recipe I can conquer and adjust, if need be, that TASTES and LOOKS appealing. Spare me the histrionics and narrators and "surprise" ingredient challenges. There are enough surprises in life.... adam

              10 Replies
              1. re: adamshoe

                I guess his article explains why Sarah Moulton isn't on FN any more. She had a show where people could call in and ask food questions that she'd answer on air while cooking. Not surprisingly, she worked for Julia Child early on. Luckily public tv still has some shows that are really informative.

                1. re: toonie

                  FN currently has "Ask Aida" starring Chow's own Aida Mollenkamp. She answers viewer's e-mails and phone calls during the show.

                  1. re: kmcarr

                    Ask Aida...not anything comparable to Sarah Moulton..IMO. It's okay. Lot's of times, she never really answers the questions...and frankly, most of the questions are so elementary.

                    1. re: melly

                      Yes - the few times I've watched her show, I've had the sense that she'd been prepped on the questions. On the other hand, Sara did do the questions pretty much cold, as far as I could tell the time I called & got on the air.

                      1. re: MMRuth

                        Very cool - what did you ask of Sara Moulton, MMRuth? And what was her answer? LOL

                        1. re: LindaWhit

                          Actually, I didn't really ask her a question. She was using her zester incorrectly and said she couldn't figure it out why it wasn't zesting well, so I called in and explained it. ;-)

                          1. re: MMRuth

                            ROFL! OK, now THIS is something to tell the grandkids!

                              1. re: greygarious

                                If I recall correctly, she was using it backwards - I think it was one those zesters that has a handle and then about four little holes on top, if that makes any sense at all.

                                Edit - This one:

                                http://lib.store.yahoo.net/lib/popeil...

                      2. re: kmcarr

                        And she is totally lame: doeas not understand questions, really doesn't have a clue how to cook. Very embarrassing.

                  2. "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"

                    Harry Balzer's next client after chain restaurants and food manufacturers will likely want the marketing and consumer behavior metrics to get people to switch to Soylent Green.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: PorkButt

                      OH I hope not. My grandaughter is 4 and the first thing she says when we get together is, "what will we cook?"

                    2. Great article - I loved the comment re: the timed competition shows: "(If you ask me, the key to victory on any of these shows comes down to one factor: bacon. Whichever contestant puts bacon in the dish invariably seems to win.)"

                      But of course. ;-)

                      But how sad is this statement? "Already today, 80 percent of the cost of food eaten in the home goes to someone other than a farmer, which is to say to industrial cooking and packaging and marketing."

                      I do, however, disagree with Henry Balzer where he claims “We’re all looking for someone else to cook for us. The next American cook is going to be the supermarket. Takeout from the supermarket, that’s the future. All we need now is the drive-through supermarket.” I think there will always be those that refuse to follow that path. While I will take advantage of some of the shortcuts provided by these corporations, I cannot ever see me going the takeout route...although I know there are many who do so right now.

                      1. Yet another insightful article from Michael Pollan.

                        1. I'm still wondering what to make of: "...yet all American women now allow corporations to cook for them when they can" at the end of the 2nd paragraph of Section 5 (The End of Cooking). I have my own inferences, but wonder what others took away from that paragraph and phrase.

                          13 Replies
                          1. re: MMRuth

                            I read it as saying the majority of what American people (I'm not going to limit it to just women!) buy for the food that goes on our tables is coming from behemoth corporations - they've done the "prep" (i.e., killed and plucked and skinned and boned and wrapped the chicken for us). Most of the vegetables are grown by conglomerate-owned farms. Dairy etc. comes from the same huge conglomerates.

                            Unless people are living off the grid and growing their own food, milking and/or butchering their own animals, there is no getting away from those corporations.

                            1. re: LindaWhit

                              It's the "when they *can*" that I guess I object to. I.e., "I can buy jam from a corporation, therefore I must by jam from a corporation." And, he is a careful writer, and so I do question his use of "all women" in that sentence, rather than 'all adults" or "some women" etc.

                              Does he mean that if I buy Heinz ketchup, I am allowing corporations to "cook" for me? He seems to be putting on end his own discussion of what it means to cook. I can see how if one buys all frozen or prepared meals etc., produced by corporations, that one could be said to be "allowing" a corporation to cook for one.

                              Maybe I'm hooked on semantics here, but word choice does matter, and either he's chosen poorly or he means something that I guess I disagree with.

                              1. re: MMRuth

                                I agree with you on the choice of words (which is why I said American "people" vs. American "women" - women aren't the only ones cooking).

                                And yes, perhaps by buying a bottle of ketchup, Pollan does mean you are allowing a corporation to cook for you, although I do think if that was his intent, he's *really* stretching it. I would be interested in having a bit of clarification from him on that point.

                                1. re: LindaWhit

                                  Hope I can explain this right… I read that he is speaking about "women", and not "Americans". Looking as comparison to what we as women encounter daily today, as opposed to what Julia Child encountered daily. Women now compared to women then. Women then were not working outside the home as women now do, and the art of cooking is diminishing as women's time in general diminishes. As they work outside the home and the way the corporations know this and are able to market effectively towards this group.

                                  1. re: michele cindy

                                    He is not attributing it just to the fact that women joined the workforce after WWII. Read the beginning of the paragraph that MMRuth quoted - he specifically states "It’s generally assumed that the entrance of women into the work force is responsible for the collapse of home cooking, but that turns out to be only part of the story. Yes, women with jobs outside the home spend less time cooking — BUT SO DO WOMEN WITHOUT JOBS. [Emphasis by me] The amount of time spent on food preparation in America has fallen at the same precipitous rate among women who don’t work outside the home as it has among women who do: in both cases, a decline of about 40 percent since 1965."

                                    So it doesn't have anything specifically to do with women entering the workforce. But my comment was geared to the fact that he is using only one gender in his references - women. They're not the *only* ones who do the cooking or whose time has diminished giving less time to prepare meals - men's time has diminished as well. Perhaps once is was that way (women doing the majority of the cooking), but it isn't any longer. So his continual use of "women" in this context was poor word choice.

                                    1. re: LindaWhit

                                      It's at the very least an uninformed sociological study - and rooted heavily in economics, at that (and more than a little ethnocentric). He may as well be writing about a foreign culture. So much has changed in this country in the last 50 years, especially with respect to food and not that much of it is bad. It's far too complex to address in a few paragraphs and he oversimplifies (as he is wont to do).

                                      1. re: LindaWhit

                                        It has to do with the force but also the ease at getting away with not cooking these days vs. 40 years ago which I also state. And I still think he meant to use the word "women". He's probably proofed the article a gazillion times + there's editors and proof readers.

                                        1. re: michele cindy

                                          If he meant to use the word "women", that's disappointing.

                                          1. re: LindaWhit

                                            I'll give him a reticent "pass" on the women thing - it has been, is, and ever shall be women doing most of the cooking as we are the ones with the lioness' s share of the work of feeding the children. And he started the article with Julia, Julie, and his mother....so perhaps it's a follow-through on that theme. Or do we get to have white wine with Michael and Michelle in the Rose Garden? ;-D

                                            1. re: greygarious

                                              True on the basic theme of the overall article being focused on Julia/Julie/his mother. Either way - I did enjoy the article.

                                              And I'll pass on the white wine in the Rose Garden. The beer was stupid enough. ;-)

                                    2. re: LindaWhit

                                      In fact, unless we know if men are also cooking less (or perhaps even cooking more), I question any conclusions that he may have drawn. And I agree with you regarding the word choice--if he means "poeple", then say "people". Otherwise, if he's approaching this from a gender angle, he needs to consider BOTH genders (it is possible that men are cooking more and perhaps making up for the reduction in the cooking by women). Additionally, the definitions of cooking (vs. assembly) are somewhat arbitrary.

                                      That said, I enjoyed the piece very much--he is an accomplished writer, gifted with language and passionate about his agenda. It certainly is a thought-provoking article, as I had many "now wait a minute, Michael" moments while reading this!

                                      1. re: nofunlatte

                                        he does briefly address men cooking - if I remember correctly he says they now account for 13% of the cooking done (which is a larger percentage than in the past). It comes up in the section about grilling, and how this is just about the only place where people are spending more time on cooking not less...

                                2. re: MMRuth

                                  There is a long tradition in the U.S. to blame women for the poor food offered on the typical American table.

                                3. Excellent article. I appreciate his inclusion of the argument that fire led to the ability to cook meats and therefore accelerated the evolutionary process of early man as I happen to agree with that theory. While I believe that the degradation of the modern family is partly to blame on the lost tradition of eating dinner together at the kitchen table. I failed to recognize until reading this article than communal eating, cooking and sharing may have been an equally important evolutionary variable.

                                  "The skills celebrated on the Food Network in prime time are precisely the skills necessary to succeed on the Food Network in prime time. They will come in handy nowhere else on God’s green earth."
                                  Great quote.

                                  "People think nothing of buying frozen peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches for their children’s lunch boxes."
                                  I am, and will always be, baffled by this phenomenon.

                                  "...a 1992 study in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that poor women who routinely cooked were more likely to eat a more healthful diet than well-to-do women who did not."
                                  I assume current statistics would reflect the same trend. Are there any current measurements on this?
                                  "Who is going to teach the next generation to cook?"
                                  For me my first answer would be Chowhound, but I really do wonder about the other people who also need to learn.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: enbell

                                    I certainly disagree as to the "excellence" of this piece. Pollan's starting to morph into Andy Rooney.

                                    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/0...

                                    1. re: ferret

                                      You are certainly entitled to your opinion. I don't believe Rooney covers the depth or breadth of subject matter Pollan does. Thank you though for the contrary point of view, as it always forces me to examine my own opinions.

                                      1. re: enbell

                                        Enbell. I really like your way of thinking. A great way to look at things. A good thought to the end of a long week.

                                        1. re: michele cindy

                                          Cheers! Have a wonderful weekend :)

                                  2. This piece left a bad taste in my mouth and others here have observed one of the reasons: whether he 'means' to or not, he lays the decline of cooking and health at the feet of women who were 'taught' by those feminists that housework was drudgery. (Because women like Friedan were brainwashing a legion of happy housewives, and not expressing shared frustration, and wonder about this hidden and unpaid labour.) The issues about cooking, which seems to be defined according to standards that cannot be met by anyone not part of a class with leisure and resources (cars, location, time, as well as money) lend to the unsettling tone of the piece, I think.

                                    Fortunately, a number of intelligent people have provided their commentary so I don't have to:

                                    http://themamabee.wordpress.com/2009/...
                                    (She very effectively points out the questionable attitudes smuggled in by Pollan's lament.)

                                    http://pandagon.net/index.php/site/yo...

                                    http://thestoppedclock.blogspot.com/2...
                                    (A question that has been explored here on Chowhound: where does 'cooking' begin?

                                    )

                                    http://www.mythago.com/blog/2009/08/0...

                                    http://www.salon.com/mwt/broadsheet/f...
                                    (The comment section here, as usual, absolutely depresses me with its staggering displays of classism and misogyny.)

                                    1. I enjoyed the piece very much, and I agree with Pollan's point of view. I don't think he's blaming women. I think he's blaming corporate America, mainly.

                                      One thing I can't figure out: If it's true that the overwhelming majority of the food Americans eat is packaged and processed, what's all that produce and raw meat doing in the stores? When I go to a grocery store I see ready-made meals, sure, but I also see several aisles of food that needs to be chopped, sauteed, fried, boiled etc. Who's buying all that stuff? Surely more than just a few members of a tiny foodie elite?

                                      1. A Vancouver newspaper article on Julia, with extra attention to Judith Jones, her publisher

                                        http://www.vancouversun.com/life/Juli...

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: paulj

                                          Nice article. I was taken by one quote which reminded me of another.

                                          "Women in that period had been brainwashed by the food industry," says Jones. "It was considered demeaning for women to cook. They [the food industry] wanted them to buy their products."

                                          A spokesman for a major food producer. Swanson's or the like said this once in a lecture.

                                          "200 years ago everybody made their own clothes. Now nobody makes their own clothes except as a hobby. In 50 years nobody will cook except as a hobby."

                                          I think he is wrong. All the hype surrounding this movie will bring Julia Child into the younger person's mind. I predict the sales of Julia"s book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" will go through the roof.
                                          I hope I'm right.

                                        2. Michael Ruhlman had some insightful things to say in his analysis of Pollan's Times piece. Unfortunately, he didn't address Pollan's focus on women and cooking or lack thereof, but he did have some other worthwhile things to say.

                                          http://blog.ruhlman.com/ruhlmancom/20...

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: bear

                                            Here's the round-up that I could find:

                                            Salon is angry that he mentions feminism:
                                            http://www.salon.com/mwt/broadsheet/f...

                                            Jezebel is intrigued by these themes and wants to expand on them:
                                            http://jezebel.com/5326596/julia-chil...

                                            One of those "women who don't cook" weighs in:
                                            http://www.dirtcandynyc.com/?p=682#mo...

                                            Michael Pollan continues to promote "Julie and Julia" on NPR:
                                            http://www.npr.org/templates/story/st...

                                            On the Huffington Post they say that Pollan's piece changed their life:
                                            http://www.alternet.org/rss/the_wire_...

                                            The Feedbag takes a dig at the piece and then the comments section gets really weird and wants to know about the blog's stance on serving in the military:
                                            http://www.the-feedbag.com/elsewhere/...

                                          2. The letters to the magazine editor, published this weekend, were interesting (on the whole rather milder than some of the postings here and in blogs referred to here). I was amused to see s/o wrote in to say that Graham Kerr doesn't get the respect he warrants as a culinary educator - especially since one of the things Mr Pollan adduced as reflecting JC's influence on his mother's cooking was chicken Kiev, which was actually a Graham Kerr introduction as I recall.