Michael Pollan (In Defense of Food, The Omnivore’s Dillema, The Botany of Desire) has put out a call for some input into his new project. He’s requesting stories about family and cultural traditions/rules that apply to what, and how, you eat:
I’d like your help gathering some rules for eating well. My premise is that culture has a lot to teach us about how to choose, prepare and eat food, and that this wisdom is worth collecting and preserving before it disappears.
In recent years, we’ve deferred to the voices of science and industry when it comes to eating, yet often their advice has served us poorly, or has merely confirmed the wisdom of our grandmother after the fact. “Eat your colors,” an Australian reader’s grandmother used to tell her; now we hear the same advice from nutritionists, citing the value of including as many different phytochemicals in the diet as possible…
…Will you send me a food rule you try to live by? Something perhaps passed down by your parents or grandparents? Or something you’ve come up with to tell your children – or yourself?
My first thought here is unrelated – why is Pollan only using the New York Times to solicit comments, and not taking them through Twitter, Facebook, etc.? Is it a matter of weeding out spammers who wouldn’t have anything serious to say, or of maintaining an appearance of gravitas that some people still think is lacking in social networking/media? I know David Pogue has, in the same newspaper, illustrated the capability of Twitter to provide reams of answers; I doubt many people would waste time following Pollan on Twitter if they didn’t have a predisposition toward wanting to engage on this subject, and seriously. (Then again, maybe that’s a reason not to use Twitter – Pollan is probably looking for a wide range of responses, and people following him might provide some homogeneous results.)
My second thought is about my comment/response. I wonder how many people around my age (I turn 35 later this month) find themselves in my position: already cut loose from generations of tradition, with little to claim from the eating practices we grew up with, as our parents were probably at the forefront of abandoning tradition in favor of the newest fads/”science”/processed meals. My mother had the thankless job of cooking for two finicky, critical men; my father set the standard, and I followed. I’m not sure how many of her cooking choices were influenced by that, and how many of them were choices based on our financial circumstances. I do know that neither of my parents instilled in me any sense of joy in food, or openness to trying new foods. Being a well-spoiled only child, if I wasn’t eating it, the snack would be discontinued, and so any attempts at getting me to eat fruits – if they continued through my childhood – were unsuccessful enough to have fallen out of memory. I ate donuts from plastic wrappers, Devil Dogs, Fun Fruits. They always provided enough food for me, and by and large enough healthy food, but that doesn’t mean I ate it.
My wife dragged me – though that’s not exactly accurate; I was apparently more ready than I realized, and embraced the change – into eating more healthfully, with more variety, and less meat. Now, with a five year old and a one year old, we’re working on our own eating rules and traditions. Things that we value, like spending time on the weekends cooking with the girls and including them, come pretty easily. My one year old loves to pull spices from the drawer and have me open them so she can smell them. Other things are more challenging, uncharted waters around rules – “have a seat while you eat,” “no telephone calls during meals” (this one applies more to us grown-ups, obviously, and has to include computers and books as well – this last part, no small challenge for book-drunk me). We encourage them to try a bite of something new, pointing out that if someone were to give them something brown and square with a strange odor, and they were to wrinkle their nose and refuse to try it, they’d never know how yummy dark chocolate is to eat. They’re usually pretty good about this, and if they try something new and don’t like it, we try to encourage that by not forcing them to eat it.
We talk openly about our reasons for being vegetarians, but it’s the sort of thing that can take time for a five year old girl to internalize. Meanwhile, we get smug assertions from defensive meat-eaters that our kids will grow up and eat whatever they want. Proving what? Of course they will. I did, and look where it got me. I can only hope that they’ll do what they want to based on thoughtful decision making, not on what they’re “supposed to do” according to meat-eaters, unforgiving vegans, or any other “my way is the only way” food evangelists. So, I guess that’s our chief food rule, which seems counter to the idea of instilling traditions.
Anyway, here’s the link again; it seems to have worked for him, as he’s got nearly 2,000 comments to sort through.