Michael Pollan, best-selling author and journalism professor at UC Berkley, addressed a jam-packed Miller Auditorium last Thursday night, Nov. 6. The Kalamazoo Community Foundation invited Pollan to talk about the importance of creating a healthy food system.
After the standard comments about the Glenn Miller song and Derek Jeter, Pollan presented his theme for the night: cooking.
Rather than vaguely covering the many issues that plague our food system, Pollan focused on the one essential skill that makes us distinct from other species. It’s the “externalizing part of the digestion process,” as a dictionary may read, or it’s the more simply put “cooking.”
The average American spends 27 minutes per day cooking. (If that sounds too high an estimation, which is scary in itself, consider that the market researchers’ definition of cooking is combining two or more ingredients. Making a peanut butter sandwich qualifies as cooking.)
According to Pollan, we’ve outsourced this innate and sensual process of preparing our nourishment. He puts part of the blame on big food corporations that brought the daily activity of the home kitchen into the factory. As American citizens, particularly women, began to spend more time in the workplace, a market opened up for convenience eating.
The commercial food industry seized the opportunity, and our food started to be ‘cooked’ in incomprehensible quantities, with the cheapest ingredients and most appealing packaging. But, as the consumers and demanders, we can’t blame the producers entirely. “We are all complicit in this system,” Pollan said.
He admitted that the ‘foodie’ movement annoys him as much as anybody at times, but he sees it as benign excitement about remembering this innate practice that is so sustaining and life-giving.
Carrie Pickett-Erway, President/CEO of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, selected several questions from the plethora that were submitted. When asked how to make healthy food more accessible to low-income populations, Pollan said, “Well, we could start by paying them more!” Applause rippled from the audience.
It is not about bringing local food costs down; “Your local farmer is not getting rich.” It’s about reexamining our government subsidies and restructuring our ‘living wage’.
Pollan thinks the next wave of the food movement will happen at the institutional level. It’s all about procurement; where are you buying the food you’re buying. “Corporations and institutions have incredible power to change the system.”
Pollan’s talk brought the systemic and complicated food crisis to a more basic, personal level. What can we all do now to make a difference in the way we eat? Make a difference in the way we eat.