Why Michael Pollan Is Wrong About Artisanal Food

I’m kind of exhausted with food talk these days, so I almost skipped this interview. Glad I didn’t. It’s a great change of pace.

Farm products are not food; they are the raw materials for food. Turning plants and animals into something edible is just as difficult, just as laborious as farming itself. Very few of our calories come from raw, unprocessed food. And if those calories are from fruits and vegetables, then it’s only because centuries of breeding has made them less chewy, more tasty, and easier to digest. Cooking, which is one part of processing, went hand in hand with becoming human. Human food is processed food. And there are good reasons for this. Overall, processed foods are easier to eat and digest, more nutritious, tastier, safer, and longer lasting. The idea that any change made in the raw material is detrimental is just flat wrong. […] That we can talk about “A cake made from scratch” when the butter, sugar, and flour that go into it are are highly processed shows how we have lost awareness of the energy that formerly went into food preparation.

Why Michael Pollan Is Wrong About Artisanal Food

Can authenticity be aware of itself as such and still be authentic?

Michael Pollan, talking about the way we talk about food, specifically, the bullshitting/storytelling endemic to Southern barbecue culture (which is part of its charm, right?).

Are There Fundamental Laws of Cooking? | Wired.

They found that [the food pairing hypothesis] was true, at least when it came to Western cooking. North American and Western European cuisines, which share many of the same ingredients, both adhere to the food pairing hypothesis: Foods in the same recipe often have the same underlying molecular components. However, once we stray from these cuisines, the food pairing hypothesis breaks down. East Asian and Southern European recipes use ingredients that do not overlap in their flavor compounds, implying that these styles of cooking are in fact quantitatively distinct.

Paris Review – The Art of Nonfiction No. 3, John McPhee

Great interview. McPhee says gathering facts and writing nonfiction (as opposed to more self-generated fiction stuff) is like going from the grocery store to the kitchen:

I always say to my classes that it’s analogous to cooking a dinner. You go to the store and you buy a lot of things. You bring them home and you put them on the kitchen counter, and that’s what you’re going to make your dinner out of. If you’ve got a red pepper over here—it’s not a tomato. You’ve got to deal with what you’ve got. You don’t have an ideal collection of material every time out. […]

Once I’ve written the lead, I read the notes and then I read them again. I read them until they’re coming out my ears. Ideas occur, but what I’m doing, basically, is looking for logical ways in which to subdivide the material. I’m looking for things that fit together, things that relate. For each of these components, I create a code—it’s like an airport code. If a topic is upstate New York, I’ll write UNY or something in the margin. When I get done, the mass of notes has some tiny code beside each note. And I write each code on an index card.

That’s laying it all out where he can look at it. It’s a technique he got from his high school writing teacher. One cool thing he found is that when you get the structure set, you can let the juxtapositions do some storytelling for you. In Encounters with the Archdruid, for example:

The whole book had thirty-six components. What I ended up with was thirty-six three-by-five cards, each with a code word. Some of these things are absolutely dictated by the story of the journey down the Colorado River. But the choices are interesting where it’s not dictated, like the facts of David Brower’s life.

I knew where I was going to start, but I didn’t know the body of the thing. I went into a seminar room here at the university, and I laid the thirty-six cards out on the table. I just looked and looked at them. After a while I was looking at two cards: Upset Rapid, which is a big-time rapid in the Colorado River, and Alpinist. In Upset Rapid, Brower doesn’t ride the rapid. Why doesn’t he ride the rapid? His answer to Floyd Dominy is, “Because I’m chicken.” That’s a pretty strong scene. What next? Well, there are more than seventy peaks in the Sierra Nevada that were first ascended by David Brower, hanging by his fingernails on some cliff. “Because I’m chicken”? This juxtaposition is just loaded with irony, and by putting the Alpinist right after Upset Rapid, in the white space between those two sections there’s a hell of a lot of stuff that I don’t have to say. It’s told by the structure. It’s all crackling along between those two things. So I put those two cards side by side. Now there are thirty-four other parts there on the table.

Paris Review – The Art of Nonfiction No. 3, John McPhee