The Whys of The Transformer: Michael Pollan Calls Us Back to The Kitchen

A Natural History of Transformation

I haven’t ordered Michael Pollan’s new book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation yet – but I know that it will soon take up residence next to my copies of Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food and Food Rules.

From reading the reviews, I wholeheartedly agree with his assessment that cooking is probably the most influential thing you can do to enhance your diet. As a mom and food reform advocate, he’s preaching to the choir on this one. I love to cook.

At the same time, as I sit here at my desk at work, watching the clock tick closer to 5:00, I realize that unlike some of the other dictums Pollan has offered in the past: Eat food, Not too much, Mostly plants, this one is harder for the average person to grab onto.

The fact is that I am the person in my household who handles the lion’s share of the cooking duties. Whether or not that is fair or can be renegotiated is the topic of a future post, but when I am traveling, working late, or just generally too overwhelmed or exhausted to face food prep, I make other choices, and they are not always ones that might pass muster with my nutritionist friends.

I realize that I am lucky enough to not have to turn to KFC, Stouffers or one of the other sugar, salt and fat laden alternatives, but my family does not reap the advantages of a home cooked meal as often as I would like.

This worries me because I’m one of those people who knows how important it is to make cooking a priority. More than that, I know how to cook and I like it.

While not one of those lucky ducks who learned at home (my mother can barely boil water), through trial and error (O.K. a lot of error), I can now honestly say that preparing food (when I have the time and inclination) is one of my favorite pastime activities.

Despite all that it is now 5:00, I have no idea what is in the refrigerator or pantry and, even if I left the office right now (instead of finishing this post) I won’t get home until 5:30, later – if I stop first at the store.

None of that is a huge deal, my kids are young (9 & 10) so we can still make eye contact when we talk but not super young. They can wait until 6:30 or so to eat. But it would be so much easier to make some Annie’s Mac & Cheese, steam up some broccoli and call it a night.

Again, not complaining here. Annie’s products are pretty good (given the alternative of the big blue box), and I guess boiling water and steaming broccoli count as cooking. But if I were walking my talk, I am more comfortable feeding my family food whose ingredients I can (mostly) control and that nutritionally and environmentally reflect the values I preach in the FoodFight workshops.

I know the answer (at least for me) is in the planning. I have to make the commitment to get to the grocery store on Sunday, plan menus, cut up veggies, make big batches of rice, beans, legumes to use in weekday meals, etc. I want to be a good role model for the transformational power of home cooking.

Sometimes I wish there was an Autobot at home who could do it for me, but lacking such a luxury, here are a couple of other things I make a habit of doing to make my home cooking go farther:

  • Set realistic goals for how often to cook (3-4 times/week); look at eating out as a treat and break from the kitchen (not to mention doing dishes)
  • Cook once, eat many times (works great for soup and chili)
  • Have my kids help me prep ingredients for a morning green smoothie the night before so we can start our day by making it together – great way to get our leafy greens in, even if we then have to double time it to get to school

And now it’s 5:15 and I have to make a move if the home cooked meal is going to happen!