Michael Pollan is probably not a sexist pig

In a post on The Dirt a few weeks ago, I commented on an article in Salon.com about the movement toward home cooking, and whether it was a call to women to get back in the kitchen.

Photo: PopTech, Creative Commons, some rights reserved Photo: PopTech, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Photo: PopTech, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Emily Matcher’s Salon article provocatively asked, “Is Michael Pollan a Sexist Pig?”

Pollan is best known as author of “The Omnivore’s Delimma,” which was a call to many Americans to steer clear of prepackaged processed products at the supermarket, and eat “real” food.

Pollan’s new book, “Cooked” laments the loss of cooking in American kitchens, and glorifies cooking.  Matchar quotes Pollan, the “demigod food writer and activist,” as saying,

“[The appreciation of cooking was] a bit of wisdom that some American feminists thoughtlessly trampled in their rush to get women out of the kitchen.”

Matchar responds:

“Comments like this make me–owner of not one but two copies of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”–want to smack Pollan…upside the head with a spatula. Claiming that feminism killed home cooking is not just shaming, it’s wildly inaccurate from a historical standpoint.”

Perhaps Matcher hadn’t yet seen “Cooked” when she wrote this. Her article appeared  only a few days after the book was published.

In it, Pollan acknowledges concerns like Matcher’s:

“To certain ears, whenever a man talks about the importance of cooking, it sounds like he wants to turn back the clock and return women to the kitchen. But that’s not at all what I have in mind. I’ve come to think cooking is too important to be left to any one gender or member of the family; men and children both need to be in the kitchen, too, and not just for reasons of fairness or equity but because they have so much to gain by being there.”

Pollan understands that the gender politics of food are complicated.  He talks about men taking on “heroic” tasks, at the barbeque and the four-star restaurant, while, “For most of history most of humanity’s food has been cooked by women working out of the public view and without public recognition.”

Pollan’s new book doesn’t “shame” women to start cooking again; it’s a call to everyone, including him, to get into the kitchen.

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  1. Again, the problem with Pollan's comment is that it is historically inaccurate. The move away from home cooking took place well before the feminist movement, as agriculture and food production were industrialized in the first half of the 20th century. After WWII, companies that grew up on the new technologies like General Foods, Birdseye, and Kraft aggressively marketed their processed foods as the modern way to go. Growing up in the 60s, I remember my grandmother singing the praises of canned and frozen food, well before the consciousness raising of the women's libbers.

    In fact, the feminist movement might not have been born if the traditional women's work of preparing and cooking food (and other household tasks) had not been usurped by corporations. Freidan's "problem that has no name" is, in part, the frustration that women felt in the 1960s and 70s at being left at home with no job to do. Pollan's claim that he just wants to get everyone back to the kitchen would be more believable if he took the time to examine how we got where we are today.

  2. I guess I had a sheltered life growing up in the 40's and 50's. Yes, there was some processed foods, canned and frozen, but most meals were prepared from scratch or near scratch, including cakes and pies.
    We hardly ever at out.
    The same holds true today.
    What I least like to do is eat out. It costs too much and takes too much time. And since you can't smoke in restaurants anymore, when I do eat out, I leave as soon as the meal is done, skipping both coffee and desert.