…Michael Pollan’s new book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto arrives on the scene. If the excerpt and review yesterday in the New York Times are any indication, Pollan appears to make the basic argument all of us vegetable growers make…that the closer the food is to the garden, the healthier and more satisfying the meal.
Of course, I’m really unusual among Americans my age in that this has been an article of faith with me since I was a kid. My mother is German, and she’s always found Americans’ eating habits utterly whacked, self-destructive, whimsical, ignorant, and gross. So while my friends ate Wonderbread and built strong bodies 12 ways, I had rye bread from the bakery. My friends ate Perdue, the tender chicken made by a tough man. I had chickens whose necks were broken in one surprisingly deft twist by my gorgeous Aunt Rose. Everybody else ate canned peaches. I had stewed rhubarb from the backyard.
The question is, how did the nation as a whole get so utterly weird? So confused as to trust food that comes from factories over food that comes from backyard gardens and bakeries and farms with actual farmers in the fields? I have my theories, some of them thanks to historian Daniel Boorstin, who covers the growth of brand identities brilliantly in his third volume of The Americans. Not just an uncritical love of progress and technology, but also a touching combination of wealth and cultural insecurity. In a highly diverse, immigrant-rich, and far-flung country, people could all feel that they belonged, if only because they all ate Kraft and Nabisco, just like everybody else.
Still, it’s long past time for us to grow up as a culture and change the way we consume many, many things, and food is just one of them. Clearly, if Pollan has to talk himself blue to help us do it, he will.