It probably comes as no surprise that I tend to follow the work of Michael Pollan. One of his most recent articles in the New York Times, Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch, is no exception. I ran across it shortly after it was published and can admit it took me a few days to get through its eight rather comprehensive pages.
However, while I pride myself on being a feminist and do believe gender roles should be banished forevermore, while other people were responding with concern of it’s more sexist undertones (those I see, but think have been taken out of context — another story, for another day) I was busy fixating on another point made in the article.
Pollan says of a conversation had with Harry Balzer, a veteran food-marketing researcher:
Like most people who study consumer behavior, Balzer has developed a somewhat cynical view of human nature, which his research suggests is ever driven by the quest to save time or money or, optimally, both. I kept asking him what his research had to say about the prevalence of the activity I referred to as “real scratch cooking,” but he wouldn’t touch the term. Why? Apparently the activity has become so rarefied as to elude his tools of measurement.
And goes on to add:
“Here’s an analogy,” Balzer said. “A hundred years ago, chicken for dinner meant going out and catching, killing, plucking and gutting a chicken. Do you know anybody who still does that? It would be considered crazy! 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.”
Now, with the exception of some occasional hot dog dinners that fulfill my husband’s deepest processed food desires, I pride myself on home cooking. Or do I?
As I spent six hours in ninety degree heat and humidity stacking literally ten full tons of hay today Michael’s words came pouring back. While Balzer’s scenario above isn’t so far from reality for us — I have gone out, caught, killed, butchered and then promptly cooked a chicken for dinner — even I tend to overlook the work that goes into preparing many of our foodstuffs; especially the meats. The hay we stacked today, after all, wouldn’t even touch the amount needed to winter over a family’s stock of beef cattle. It’s just enough to get two horses through from October to May in the northern Midwest. And I’m whipped; my fingers are blistered from the day’s work.
Sure, I have an excuse, we don’t eat red meat from the market if it can at all be avoided. Venison hunted from our own woods is substituted in all our beef recipes. From meatballs to steaks the whitetail deer is what graces our table, but I’m no stranger to a juicy Black Angus burger either.
The truth is, while I can tell you the hours spent tending a tomato patch or the blanching time for green beans, when it comes right down to the work of — as Pollan calls it and Balzar dismisses — real scratch cooking. My knowledge and efforts are incredibly lacking. And I’m still not sure it’s an entirely bad thing.
In the end, someone has to support grass-fed and pasture-raised family farms like those featured at Eat Wild. Just as we’ve relied in the past on people supporting our poultry farming efforts I like to think at least some of my blissful ignorance serves a purpose. Does yours?