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Bless These Hands That Instagram My Food


Jun 14 2013
Michael Pollan and today's foodie culture make home cooking hip.

Lord, bless this food, and bless the hands that prepared it…

As far back as I can remember, whenever I heard this particular cliché in a mealtime prayer, I'd involuntarily picture a pair of magically disembodied hands, white and fluffy like Mickey and Minnie's gloves, hovering over the kitchen counter, chopping carrots, lifting pot covers, and sweeping minced onions into pans of sizzling oil. "Why are we blessing the hands?" I'd think. "Why not the rest of the person?" It seemed a strange way to bless someone, especially at church dinners, where we all knew the women whose hands had prepared the food, and who, quite often, did the serving and cleaning up as well. Even so, this blessing did evoke the hidden nature of so much domestic work. It still does

Emily Matchar recently took author Michael Pollan to task for blaming women for the decline of home cooking. She notes that in his popular book The Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan insists that appreciating cooking "was a bit of wisdom that some American feminists thoughtlessly trampled in their rush to get women out of the kitchen." His take resembles Barbara Kingsolver's, who in her memoir of local eating claims that the food industry essentially encouraged women to devalue home cooking as they sought equality in the workplace.

Pollan's newest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, consciously takes a few steps back from that harsh assessment of feminism's impact on home cooking, noting that while women's liberation is sometimes blamed for the decline in home cooking, the actual situation is more complicated. The decline, he writes, also involves the remarketing of prepared food after World War II. Foods like dehydrated potatoes and Spam—the goods that sustained U.S. troops and kept the wartime economy booming—were no longer just for the battlefield, but now could help women spend less time in the kitchen.

Throughout Cooked, Pollan distances himself from some of his earlier, un-PC commentary. He states right up front, in the introduction:

For a man to criticize [the decline of home cooking] will perhaps rankle some readers. To certain ears, whenever a man talks about the importance of cooking, it sounds like he wants to turn back the clock, and return women to the kitchen. But that's not at all what I have in mind.

What Pollan does have in mind is the idea that home cooking serves as an act of rebellion against the Evil Empire of the Food Industry; a protest against "the total rationalization of life." None of us really has to cook anymore. The "hands that prepared" our food are increasingly invisible and disembodied, as prepared or partially prepared foods have become so cheap and ubiquitous in our grocery stores, freezers, and pantries. Cooking has become a choice.

From: June 2013

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