Thursday, May 27, 2010

Michael Pollan and I Are Offcially Breaking Up

Michael Pollan. Seriously. Stop it right now. I want to like you! I want to believe everyone who says you're the savior of food in America! That would make my life so easy. But instead I keep noticing that you have a hard time wrapping your head around feminism's role in the U.S.'s approach towards food over the past 50 years, and you don't seem to be all that interested in the complexities of women's relationship to food either. Other people have called you out about this, thankfully. Plus you seem to have some freaky grudge against vegetarians, who you claim are naive and sentimental. Just shut up and eat the $10 local grass fed burger you guys!


Pollan seems to think that all the vegetarians of America want to make meat-eating illegal. This seems strange, since in my (admittedly anecdotal) experience many vegetarians choose to eat they way they do because they acknowledge a lot of the same sick practices of the meat and dairy industries that Pollan points out in his books, and they decide to opt out of that system altogether until it gets better. Sure, some people could just pay up to their local Joel Salatin for the "humane," environmentally responsible meat, and that would be great! Bill McKibben loves it too! But not everyone has the money or the resources to do that, and some of us are just creeped out by the idea of eating flesh--sorry Michael.

And apparently, according to Michael Pollan and his single foot note citing chapters from Al Gore's books as an example, the "environmental movement" has never cared much for food or agriculture reform because those hippies are too busy getting back to nature and whatever. As far as I know, this is a new thing for Michael Pollan to write haughtily about. It's hidden all over the article for the New York Review of Books, where he even goes so far as to snidely note the "dismal choices typically posed by environmentalism, which most of the time is asking us to give up things we like." Poor baby. Is that what all of your writing is actually about, Michael Pollan? You just have really great taste and refuse to give up anything because vegetarians and environmentalists annoy you?

And yeah, the women thing. Michael Pollan is really bad at this, it turns out. The idea of corporations "replacing" mothers has now come up, as far as I'm aware, in two of Pollans books, three of his articles, and once in a quote he uses from Wendell Berry that accidentally illustrates the idea that where women once served in their appropriate place as feeding and cooking robots, Cargill has now taken over. Think of the children! And then there's this:

In a challenge to second-wave feminists who urged women to get out of the kitchen, Flammang suggests that by denigrating “foodwork”—everything involved in putting meals on the family table—we have unthinkingly wrecked one of the nurseries of democracy: the family meal. It is at “the temporary democracy of the table” that children learn the art of conversation and acquire the habits of civility—sharing, listening, taking turns, navigating differences, arguing without offending—and it is these habits that are lost when we eat alone and on the run. “Civility is not needed when one is by oneself.”

I'm sorry, I can't hold it in any longer. FUCK YOU! Fuck you so much, Michael Pollan! I have not read Janet Flammang's new book, but hm, whoa, somehow it is one more women's fault not only for ruining food and handing it over to corporations, but we're also responsible for the death of civility! And if that really is what Flammang is asserting (rather than what Pollan is projecting on her work for his own misogynist convenience), Michael Pollan really seems like he should be smart enough to challenge that idea rather than gulp it down so pathetically. Of course it's followed up by a convenient caveat about "well okay, men should go help cook now," but somehow Michael Pollan never really wants to talk about why women have always been expected to cook or why we maybe got sick of it, or why men somehow have never been expected to participate in the kitchen until this very moment.

He also totally ignores the existence of both women and men who do not have the time, ability, energy, or money to cook, let alone sit down for a family meal. People work, Michael Pollan. They work a lot, and really hard, and still don't make enough money to craft a lovely meal out of farmer's market produce like you want them to. Or they get home late when the kids are already in bed, or maybe the kids are older and they work too. Pollan does take a moment to point out that WIC and food stamps are now being accepted at a wider variety of places (markets, co-ops, etc.) but he doesn't bother to address the context of those changes, opting instead for a shame-tinged approach that essentially writes anyone who's not white or middle class out of the history of cooking and eating. In the same vein, Pollan points out that food "is one of those subjects, like sports, that people can talk about across lines of class, ethnicity, and race." Kind of, but...no, not really. Access to food, especially the kind of food Pollan talks about, has everything to do with those three categories. I don't see why there would be some kind of guarantee that conversations about food are free of controversy, especially since now every time Michael Pollan tries to talk to me about food I am overcome with anger.

Michael Pollan, if you want to have a food movement at all, one that is meaningful and inclusive even for people who don't look just like you, earn just like you, cook just like you, or consume just like you, please be smarter about how you present your issues. Even if you're changing people's minds about food all across the country, I see you confirming gross ideas about almost everything else, and that's not worth the trade-off for me.

UPDATE: The conversation is continuing in the comments over on Jezebel, where some folks have made other prescient criticisms of Pollan's attitude towards women. Another thing that occurred to me in light of some of those comments is that Pollan also ignores the fact that many, many women were expected to cook and clean for strangers and their children as a job, and then were supposed to come home and do it all over again for their own family; not only does this explain why some women may not be all that thrilled to be told to get back into the kitchen by Pollan, but it also reveals that the women who worked as maids and cooks were doing that work so that upper- and middle-class women didn't have to. This magical past Pollan always cites, where every woman in America cooked wholesome, homemade meals for her family and loved every second of it, bears virtually no resemblance to reality or women's actual experiences. Not that he seems to care.

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