Reading Pollan’s Cooked

Two things are happening that make me think: I’m going vegan again and reading Michael Pollan’s Cooked–first chapter on roasting, in particular, pigs. This creates an interesting weirdness, what psychology people call cognitive dissonance and what cultural critics call tension. So the question is, why are you doing this? It doesn’t make sense.

I could throw some Walt Whitman out there by way of explanations–do I contradict myself? Very well, I contain multitudes–but everyone seems to be grabbing this quote lately. Perhaps it’s because we are increasingly contradictory. But no, I suspect it’s because of social media–one person quotes Whitman and soon you see a dozen. I suppose it’s also possible that everyone isn’t grabbing this Whitman quote, which means I’m imagining things, again.

So, instead of throwing a dead poet into the mix, I’ll try the more direct route of just answering the question.

First, I am reading Cooked because I appreciate his work, have not read one of his books yet, heard him interviewed by Wendell Berry in Louisville a few weeks ago (which is another post, perhaps), and received a signed copy, along with the other four people who went with me. Rather than read it alone, I thought it would be more fun to read it in a group while cooking for each other and eating together. We’ll cook and read cooked. Our first meeting is June 23, so as I’m host I’m getting my reading done now in case I want to suggest any structure to our potluck, or leave it open to whimsy and serendipity.

In the introduction, there’s a passage I’ve been wanting to quote, which captures why I want to read more:

“Well, in a world where so few of us are obliges to cook at all anymore, to choose to do so is to lodge a protest against specialization–against the total rationalization of life. Against the infiltration of commercial interests into every last cranny of our lives. To cook for the pleasure of it, . . . is to declare our independence from the corporations seeking to organize our every waking moment into yet another occasion for consumptions” (22). Hell, yes.

Moving on the chapter one, where the barbeque issue comes in. He has just finished describing the whole-hog smoke house of Skylight Inn, the “vestibule of hell” as the owner puts it. Here a half dozen gutted and splayed hogs are loaded onto the grill snout to butt, as the smoke fills the room. As Pollan puts it, “Of all the animals we eat, none resembles us more closely than the hog. Each the size of a grown man, hairless and pink its mouth set in what looks much like a sly smile”: this is the “hellish” reality of the bodies before us. There is nothing (yet) about the industrial farming and raising of these hogs, but perhaps for the purposes of the moment at hand, we can assume that they were raised without hormones or chemicals, allowed to breathe the free air, and to roam around to their piggish delight (as opposed to the alternative, which is “living room of hell” that we have created.

So, I’m thinking about how I can make something along the lines of a barbecue for the vegetarians in our reading group–and let the meat eaters worry about it from that side of things. Perhaps later in the chapter, I’ll find a recipe for bbq tofu . . . however, I suspect this will be a meal where I cook despite what I’m reading. And later chapters will likely be more fitting for those no longer going “whole hog.”

Which brings me to why vegan. I’ve been a vegetarian for two years now, and part of that time vegan. Without going into TMI, I’ll just say that it’s cleansing time, and a vegan diet always makes me feel inside and throughout as if the waterways (bloodways, cellways) are clean.

The other day someone I care about made a comment about “food nazis” because I can’t bear to have meat in the house that was raised industrially, killed as mass production. Critters raised in torture lots for our consumption. I don’t know why “nazi” language has to apply, and I think the person who said it probably regretted it. It’s just so easy to put “nazi” with anything that challenges one’s complacency….feminazis, food nazis. The irony is impressive, meaty! I recently heard a presentation that showed an image of Michelle Obama in front of a produce section in the midst of yelling (probably in reality she was cheering or laughing–she doesn’t look angry, though with the caption, you might think so), “Eat what I tell you to!” The strong reaction against her project to bring more vegetables into our diets surprised me, though now I don’t guess it should.

Well, that’s it for my reflection on food, pigs, vegetables, eating, sharing, reading, consumption, Nazis, and bodies.

One thought on “Reading Pollan’s Cooked

  1. I love that first quote from the book. Hell yes! I was just saying to Rick yesterday…I love that we cook our food. Sometimes it’s just worth it not to do things the easy way.


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