Michael Pollan isn’t the bad guy

Michael Pollan does not hate feminists.

I don’t know the man personally. Like many in the food business, I follow his work and think he’s done wonders to raise the awareness of the state of agriculture and food politics.

But he’s recently found himself the target because of statements in a New York Times book “review” that have been perceived as being anti-woman. Anna Clark called him out for “feminist baiting,” claiming that Pollan isn’t being fair to women because he didn’t combat the claim by author Janet A. Flammang in her new book “The Taste of Civilization: Food, Politics, and Civil Society” that second-wave feminists are to blame for the rise of fast food and our collective inability to cook because they abandoned the kitchen.

Pollan, because of his powerful status in the food world, has borne the brunt of the criticism online, but in a chat with Slashfood, he points out that he agrees with Flammang that it’s everyone’s responsibility to (re)learn how to cook:

“Flammang says that women should return to the kitchen along with husbands and children,” says Pollan. “It shouldn’t be a woman’s sole responsibility, and I completely agree.”

However, Pollan does point out that Flammang, who is credited as “scholar of the women’s movement,” thinks that “feminists are having second thoughts about encouraging women to get out of the kitchen and are now realizing the costs of doing so.”

This is where I have a problem, not with Pollan, but with Flammang for implying that women, self-proclaimed second wave feminists or not, who went to work or simply refused to continue cooking for their husbands or families should regret doing so.

I love this tidbit from Tracy Moore in the Nashville Scene:

When women went to work, there was stuff at home they stopped doing. The cult of domesticity was no longer. So shit didn’t get done, and, shocker, men didn’t exactly rush in and start vacuuming their balls off either.

Yes, the rise of feminism happened to coincide with the popularity of corporate, processed food and our detachment with cooking and nutrition, but to blame women is absurd. By placing the blame on any one group (the government for inflated subsidies, women for stepping out, men for not stepping up, fast food marketers for selling it to us, food corporations for creating products that eliminate the need for cooking, the economy and agribusiness for making mindless food so cheap), regular old Americans get off the hook for taking the easy, fix-it-and-forget-it route when it comes to food for the past three or four decades.

Until recently, food just wasn’t that high on our priority list, but what a cop out to blame your mom or wife for doing something else than cook for you or teach you how to cook for yourself.

Last time I checked, parents stop spoon-feeding their kids before the age of 2, and if you can tie your shoes, you can make yourself a damn sandwich.

Pollan isn’t the bad guy here. We are all responsible for paying more attention to where food comes from and how to cook it.

4 responses to “Michael Pollan isn’t the bad guy

  1. FK,

    Flammang’s point seems problematic to me, too, but I think I’m unwilling to let Pollan off the hook. While I think that his intention may be to encourage everyone – men and women – to get back in the kitchen, his rhetoric mostly focuses on women. After recently reading In Defense of Food, I found myself startled by the number of times Pollan burdens mothers with the responsibility of transmitting food values. “Of course when it comes to food,” he explains, “culture is another word for mom” (133). Later: “Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize” (148).

    Why must the responsibility for encouraging healthy eating rest with mom? Why can’t Pollan mention Dads, brothers, sisters, single women, etc?

    • Good points, Sarah. That grandmother quote gets reprinted a lot, as if our grandfathers would have recognized Twinkies any more or less than their spouses.

  2. Pingback: Civil Eats » Blog Archive » What Women Want: A Man with a Pan·

  3. Oh, but the fact IS that the grandmother had a lot more to say about what food was cooked and eaten. Cooking was in many cases her pride and a big part of her identity. Lots of grandpas would be clueless–they were consumers, not in-the-kitchen producers. Of course they grew meat and sometimes even gardened; they had their preferences, certainly; but Grandma put the food on the table. Think of their amazing power!

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