>I agree with the basic tenet of Michael Pollan's writing about food: what is mass consumed in Western culture is full of chemicals, leads to unsustainable farming practices, and is bad for everyone's (and I include the earth as everyone) health in the long run. My (organic, grass-fed) beef is with his analysis of how people ate in the past, and what we can do today.
Over at BlogHer, I address the gender absurdity he ignores. (In a sustainable, farm-raised nutshell, he says that people spend less time cooking wholesome foods at home because women have jobs, and does not ask the pivotal question: why don't men pitch in now that women have less time? Instead, it is the fault of feminism for rushing women out of the kitchen. Sigh. I suppose you can say feminism also failed in convincing men to do "women's work," like cooking, so the lack of time spent cooking is therefore also the fault of feminism.)
The other problem with Pollan is how he looks at the past. I read In Defense of Food for my book club, and we all thought it was condescending bunk. He claims that we should go back to cooking and shopping the way that our great-grandmothers did. This idealized notion of home cooking assumes that our great-grandmothers didn't work 14 hour days at shirt-waist factories, were not bent over fields doing sharecropping, or otherwise occupied in a struggle to earn some sort of income for their families. Further, it assumes that people had access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Photos that I have seen of cities from a century ago tend to depict vendors standing in the street with raw sewage at their feet. Of course, that assumes that my great-grandmother even had the money to buy fresh items - the reason that the Federal Poverty Level is based on the cost of a basket of food is because food was the biggest expense in a family budget in Ye Goode Olde Dayes.*
My guess is that my great-grandmother did not spend hours cooking after she arrived home from the sweatshop as a young woman; she was just glad when people in her household had anything to eat. In fact, back in Pollan's Ye Goode Olde Dayes, the infant mortality rate was much higher and people died (for a lot of reasons) younger than our diabetes-infested society members do today. One of these reasons is that poor people (who make up a lot of the population) had limited access to nutritious foods.
Pollan wants to return to a past that never existed for many people. Without acknowledging why affordable, fresh food and nutritious has always been a problem in some way or another, he prescribes solutions that are ridiculous. Spending more time preparing healthy, delicious food at home is a good goal, but how can we achieve it when fresh food remains unaffordable to so many, as it always has? (Seriously, when I was at McDonald's last week, I got a small meal for less than $4 - I can't eat for even close to that at my local farmers' market.) How can we change the industrial farming practices that Pollan so rightly abhors as stripping plants, animals, and the earth of its nutrients, and make sure that people can afford to buy what is produced? How can we re-direct farm subsidies that go toward harmful practices to get better, affordable food? How do we help people find the time to cook, and make sure it is an enjoyable way to spend time so people will choose to cook?
Blaming feminism and ignoring the realities of the past is easy. But it won't solve anything.
*Today, the cost of housing is by far the largest line item.