Michael Pollan: 'We watch people cook on TV more than we cook ourselves'

First aired on Q (06/06/2013)

Michael Pollan altered perspectives about the industrial food system and sustainability in his 2006 bestselling book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, calling for the growth and consumption of food cultivated closer to home. 

His new book is called Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation and it chronicles his pilgrimages to people who are keeping culinary traditions alive, even as many in North America continue to let the art form slide by.

cooked-pollan-150.jpg"This book really grew out of this journey I've been on for 10 years or so, following the food chain from the farms and feed lots into our bodies," Pollan told Q's Jian Ghomeshi. "The longer I was at it, the more clues I kept finding that the key to the whole system was, 'Who's doing the cooking?' When industry is cooking for you, you're going to have giant, industrialized agriculture. Also, when I looked at diet and health, I gradually came to the conclusion that it wasn't a matter of nutrients or calorie counts. It was really this matter of, are you eating corporate cooked food or human cooked food?"

Pollan explained that when we eat fast or readymade food made by conglomerates, we're consuming meals cooked quite differently than what people make. It might look the same but is actually filled with cheap raw ingredients, salt, sugar, fat and dubious additives that disguise the fact that the food was prepared long before it was purchased, possibly in a galaxy far, far away. 

He went on to suggest that marketers are rather soft on defining what cooking is--any combination of two or more ingredients. So, lettuce and dressing? Cooking. You made a sandwich? Congratulations, you did some cooking. In a sense, the notion of making food has been distorted and manipulated and some are fooled into thinking that heating up a frozen pizza means they know their way around the kitchen.

After Ghomeshi noted that we live in a time where some of the world's bestselling authors write cookbooks and TV's biggest stars are on the Food Network, Pollan discussed something he calls 'the cooking paradox.'

"We're spending more time watching other people cook food on television than we are cooking ourselves," Pollan said. "I think on some level we understand how important cooking is and we miss it in our lives. So, we're trying to have it vicariously by watching other people do it and some of it does what television does, which is pin you to the couch."