1. Organic food is not better for you.
2. Michael Pollan is a bit of a dickhead.
Wait, what? Well, these two topics have been floating round the intertoobz recently.
First, organic food. Ben Goldacre has a good article on the topic. Basically a couple of studies came out in the UK that showed no nutritional benefits to organic food. There is no measurable difference in chemical composition or in health benefits.
I'm actually not surprised by this one little bit. I've never been a fanatic about organic foods - I place fair trade, low food miles, and free range much higher in my priorities. I do buy organic quite often, though, and I'm not to going to stop. I'm pretty sure that a lot of the organic farming practices are better for the environment, and long term sustainability. I'm not convinced by all of the methods - old and traditional isn't automatically better. For example, what's with copper sulphate being considered organic? High school chemistry should tell you that it's an inorganic compound. It was my favourite in my chemistry set - such a pretty blue. I'm not saying it's actually bad or good; I am completely ignorant on this topic. It just makes me go "huh?"
I am also fairly sure that some of the "heritage" varieties of plants are better for you than the modern breeds - another question not addressed by these studies. We humans have been busily breeding our foods to be sweeter and fatter for millennia. We've changed that in the last century to selecting easier to transport and store, and lower in fat. But some of those bitter and sulphury compounds are the ones that are good for us; and the less intensively bred variants tend to be much higher in antioxidants and other nutrients. Australian bush foods are a prime example - super high in various nutrient levels, they are surely bound to one of the next faddy "superfoods". Oat bran, wild blueberries, wheatgrass, gojiberries, pomegranates... How about Kakadu plum, Davidson plum, akudjura or finger lime? Ooh, look, Kakadu Juice! Sounds good - get in early and beat the trendy price rises!
But these points are not at all what is addressed by the studies, and no amount of yelling "look, over there!" forms any kind of rebuttal. I really love how Goldacre phrased it; I could not imagine writing it better.
The emotive commentary in favour of organic farming bundles together diverse and legitimate concerns about unchecked capitalism in our food supply: battery farming, corruptible regulators, or reckless destruction of the environment, where the producer’s costs do not reflect the true full costs of their activities to society, to name just a few. Each of these problems deserve individual attention.
But just as we do not solve the problems of deceitfulness in the pharmaceutical industry by buying homeopathic sugar pills, so we may not resolve the undoubted problems of unchecked capitalism in industrial food production by giving money to the £2bn industry represented by the Soil Association.
So - what's up with Michael Pollan, our ethical foodie hero? Plain old unthinking sexism is what. His latest column on the merits of home cooking is mostly pretty good. But he blindly assumes that cooking is women's work, and blames feminism for its decline. Read the Salon commentary here. And Pollan's NYTimes article here. ORLY, Michael? What, you maybe think men do not need to eat? Or do you think all men should come equipped with a personal chef as a birthright?
To be fair, he does actually think that men should learn to cook. Where he goes off the rails is in ascribing the downfall of home cooking to, of all things, feminism. It's as if Betty Friedan all by herself persuaded 1950s middle class housewives that they were unhappy. Because every educated woman before Friedan just LOVED being forced to quit her job to cook, clean and care for children and wait on her husband. The intellectual joys of scrubbing the kitchen floor were unquestionable until Evil Betty hypnotised us all! And working class women are just dumb, and were totally taken in by this. Instead of spending hours making casseroles, they chose to go and work for the money to feed and clothe and house their families. Imagine! How silly! They ate macaroni cheese from a box instead of making a proper boeuf bourgignon, and baking apple pies. What could they possibly have been thinking?
Actually, my bloke does have a personal chef (hi there!), and he is very happy about it by all accounts. But that's us individually. He trades cleaning duties for the shopping and cooking. He seriously hates shopping. Cooking is OK, though he's out of practice. He used to be quite good at whipping up a pasta dinner, and unlike me he actually got the knack of steaming rice on the stovetop. He's crap at BBQs, though, which has got to be bad for his Bloke cred.
Cooking can indeed be creative and fun - obviously it's one of my own joys. And I quite agree that a certain level of it is an essential life skill for all of us. Nobody should have to depend on fast food and microwaved readimeals. But ALL of us should have the basics, independent of our plumbing. The complexities may safely be left to those of us who enjoy it - also independent of our plumbing.
By the way, one thing I'm very glad to learn from this is that there's a film of Julia Child's life, mashed up with the Julie/Julia project, coming out soon. VERY EXCITED OMG WHEN IS IT OPENING HERE?!!! *Ahem* Sorry, getting carried away. VERY EXCITED VERY EXCITED VERY EXCITED! Australian release date 08-Oct-09, US release date 07-Aug-09 WTF? DOWNLOAD DOWNLOAD DOWNLOAD. *oops, management does not endorse any naughty illegal stuff, treely ruly.*