The Home Cook’s Dilemma

130328_FoodPoliceBadge picMichael Pollan, arch-foodie and author of the food-Luddite tome The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has a new book out, entitled Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. Like his previous efforts, the book calls hard-working Americans to more hard work in the kitchen, because Pollan believes that slaving over a cutting board is better for our souls or our health than allowing industry to help ease the load.

To promote the new book, Pollan sat down with his comrade at The New York Times, Mark Bittman. Needless to say, Bittman raves about the work, praising it and the act of cooking as ways to stick it to “the corporations” supposedly ruining everything.

Pollan’s “solution” to the non-problem of people occasionally eating out is raising taxes on restaurant food, since in the Church of Foodieism not cooking is a sin. However, before Michael Bloomberg decides to mandate purchase of the book in advance of banning restaurants, there are a few problems with Pollan’s approach.

First, Bittman and Pollan simply deny that some people think cooking is a chore, not an enjoyable pursuit (especially after a hard day’s work). The Mark and Mike brigade’s approach to dealing with these problematic preferences is to pooh-pooh them, only stopping to ensure that both sexes labor equally. There’s nothing wrong with home cooking and quite a lot to be said for it, but ultimately it takes time and effort that some people simply don’t have or would rather spend on other things. Punishing restaurant eating would unfairly target low-income people who work physically demanding jobs over long hours.

Second, the essence of Pollan’s pro-local, anti-corporate ideology is based on a fallacy. Because of comparative advantage, it can be better for everyone—including the planet—to produce and ship foods from where it is most economical to grow them. Regardless, doing things Pollan’s way is much more expensive (even before any new taxes), which in a time of economic struggles is far from appealing.

Finally, Pollan’s default claim that cooking for yourself is healthier than going out to eat or taking advantage of a prepared ready-meal isn’t necessarily true. He could have found that out from Bittman, whose cheeseburger recipe in How to Cook Everything has more calories and fat than a Big Mac.

Cooking, like many other activities, is enjoyed by some and hated by others. Many of the people who enjoy it will buy Pollan’s book—those who don’t enjoy it can only hope they stick to their own kitchens and avoid the food policing instinct to mandate their preferences for everybody.

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