Q&A with Michael Pollan

The biggest name in American food activism and author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, The Botany of Desire, and In Defense of Food discusses his new book, Cooked: a Natural History of Transformation.

By Allison Jones May 1, 2013

How does the act of cooking at home fit into the larger sustainable food movement?
The local, sustainable food movement depends for its continued growth on people buying unprocessed produce—both vegetables and meat—directly, or nearly directly, from farmers. If we insist on having large corporations cook our meals, this movement will top out pretty soon, because big corporations don’t know how to buy from small farmers. Big deals with big. So in my view, building a new food economy depends on our willingness to cook—not every day, but whenever we can and more often than we do.

How do you make time to cook, given your travel and teaching schedule?
Some days it’s tough. But it takes time to wait in line for takeout or for restaurant food, too, don’t forget. There are plenty of 20-minute meals I make on busy days, and I will often use half of a weekend day to make several meals, like homemade pasta sauce or soup, for the week and for the freezer. 

Michael Pollan will discuss Cooked with OPB’s Dave Miller at the Newmark Theatre on May 14 at 7:30 p.m. 

You’ve called Portland, Maine, “one of the most interesting food towns in the country.” How does Portland, Oregon, rate?
Both the Portlands are great food towns, bracketing the country admirably. I always eat well in Portland, and I particularly like what the great grass in the Pacific Northwest means for those of us who like pastured meat and eggs.

In an article for the New York Times Magazine in 2009, you wrote about the paradoxical relationship between our love of food television and the decline of home cooking. Do you think your new book can succeed in bringing people back to the kitchen, when so many culinary personalities have failed?
I hope so. This book is not a diatribe or lecture—it’s a story: the story of my education in the kitchen, the brewery, the dairy, and the BBQ pit learning a new set of skills and a new way of engaging with the world. I discovered just how rewarding and pleasurable this “work” can be, so much so that I hesitate to call it work. My hope is that the book will help people see that cooking deserves a little more of our time and attention—and that we always find a way to make time for the activities we value.  

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