Classic Michael Pollan.

3 08 2009

I’ve been working on the syllabus for my first class on the history of food in America. I won’t teach it until spring, but since somebody at Fort Lewis (I think) did a class on porn a few years back, now all syllabi for special topics courses in the entire CSU system have to be approved months in advance. I had already planned to close the class with Omnivore’s Dilemma, recognizing that the course has to make it up to the present. However, another soon-to-be-classic article in the NYT Magazine reminded me that Michael Pollan can be very historical too:

The amount of time spent on food preparation in America has fallen at the same precipitous rate among women who don’t work outside the home as it has among women who do: in both cases, a decline of about 40 percent since 1965. (Though for married women who don’t have jobs, the amount of time spent cooking remains greater: 58 minutes a day, as compared with 36 for married women who do have jobs.) In general, spending on restaurants or takeout food rises with income. Women with jobs have more money to pay corporations to do their cooking, yet all American women now allow corporations to cook for them when they can.

Those corporations have been trying to persuade Americans to let them do the cooking since long before large numbers of women entered the work force. After World War II, the food industry labored mightily to sell American women on all the processed-food wonders it had invented to feed the troops: canned meals, freeze-dried foods, dehydrated potatoes, powdered orange juice and coffee, instant everything. As Laura Shapiro recounts in “Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America,” the food industry strived to “persuade millions of Americans to develop a lasting taste for meals that were a lot like field rations.” The same process of peacetime conversion that industrialized our farming, giving us synthetic fertilizers made from munitions and new pesticides developed from nerve gas, also industrialized our eating.

You can read a lot more of his articles if you click here and scroll down. My favorite, indeed the article that started me down the not particularly long path to vegetarianism is “Power Steer.” In a wonderful piece of timing, I got to see Pollan in the movie “Food, Inc.” this afternoon. It too is more historical than you’d think. It kind of implicitly asks the question, “What happened to food?,” and then answers it in very gory detail. I recommend it highly.


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