Lunch with the FT: Michael Pollan
By Simon Schama
"...One part of Michael Pollan is in awe at what agribusiness has achieved: the delivery of low-cost food on an unprecedented scale. But the better part of him is appalled. “What’s happened is Walmartism: the reverse of Fordism,” he says. “Ford raised the pay of his assembly line workers so they would buy his cars. Walmart pays low wages, knowing workers can always get bad, cheap food.” The result is a burger and jumbo-sized cola addicted population. No one is better than Pollan at giving the devil its due, conjuring the unmistakable, almost narcotically addictive “fry-fragrance” to which junk food junkies helplessly gravitate. It is, he thinks a kind of ersatz “home”: some imagined smell of childish security in that oily-crunchy, burgery squishy provision – as if fast food momma was one gigantic American tit on which the infantilised masses of America placidly suck.
"Anyone who has read Pollan’s coda to The Omnivore’s Dilemma, called “A Perfect Meal”, knows he is not just a historian and prophet of food but a hell of a cook too. So I ask him about the paradox of our time in which the obsessions of food – celebrity chefs, food columns in every paper and magazine, the marketing of gourmet kitchens – has somehow coincided with people cooking less not more. Television cooking we both think has became a kind of manic gameshow, in which star turns of charismatic rage and an emphasis on feverish speed has made it harder, not easier, for family cooks to transfer what they see to their own kitchens.
"The one exception to the bleak outlook is the rise and rise of local farmers’ markets, and what Pollan calls “Big Organic” stores such as Whole Foods Market where accurate source labelling is crucial to shopping decisions. From his perch in Berkeley he is under no illusion that somehow this salutary revolution is going to reach the mass of American people in recessionary times, but Pollan is tired of hearing from the better off that the reason the hired help defrosts yet another pizza, or lugs the kids off to a Happy Meal – while the gourmet trophy Viking stove goes begging – is shortage of time. The average amount of time spent on cooking, eating and cleaning up a meal, he says, is 31 minutes; the average daily non-professional time at a computer two hours, and in front of a television three hours..."